Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year of Healing

Jesus is a healer.  This year I'm going to let Him do His work in me.

(As if I had a beautiful, ever-loving savior.  Once He begins a work...)

This thing that I am:  mind, body, soul.  Whatever this instrument is:  His hands while He is absent in body here.

Let it:  Live.  Love.  Laugh.  One mighty prescription written for me to see in various locations here:

1.  On the doormat in front of my dad's front door.
2.  Over the archway in my sister's kitchen.
3.  And today, on my grandma's sweatshirt.

I will take them each day.  The most effective cure is usually the simplest one.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why it's scary and exciting to become something else.

Geez louis, I'm one heavy chick these days.  (FYI:  I'm the only one allowed to refer to myself as a "chick" or a "skirt."  Don't test me.  I do have a minor in Women's Studies, which included a free handbook with instructions for how to turn sexist remarks into delicious casseroles and right hooks.  Strangely, I'm not uncomfortable with "dude.")

I was just writing this to Michelle:

Perhaps it doesn't matter that I can't remember her name, but some author I love once said that moving creates ripples on the surface of your life and that you must be patient while the movement stills itself before you attempt to "settle in."  I suppose it's akin to not anchoring your boat during a storm.  You have to be willing to endure the turbulence of newness.

I was embarrassed by my post yesterday because it seems self-contained and self-absorbed in so many ways.  (Embarrassment is such a useful thing--pointing to areas that need work, places that are raw, shy, mistaken but still "true".)  What's so interesting about my pain that I'd want to live in it, cultivate it, grow it, nurture it?  It's like some exotic and captivating plant that requires all my attention.  (Clearly, ferns fall under this category, too.  That's why I don't have one.)  And all the while, the time investment, the energy and devotion this dark magnet requires turns my heart and hands away from others.  The only way out is out.  Help someone.  Move.  Do it now.  (Truly this is the only way I've ever found to cure what ails you, and the heart of why and how we must die to the self in order to reflect Christ's love for each other.  My pain must never become more interesting to me than another's need.)

I'm not really sure how (or I have been unwilling) to accept the pain of loss, the heavy disappointment in my own choices and actions in the past, the present and those I know I'll make in the future.   And I know where I should hand this, but it's so hard to do.  Why is that?

(She entered her closet and cried there with Him.  A necessary, ongoing confession.)

On the brink of becoming something else, something stripped clean of fear, something other, something completely foreign--the work He is doing is the work of newness, and the unsure footing is the turbulence that must be approached in complete faith.  Beneath the wire, there appears to be no net.  So walk ask if you never fell.

("At what point did you doubt?")  Otherwise plummet.  His hand extended.  All is forgiven.  It is always already so.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

And then sleep overtook me.

I was set to write a few thoughts down last night after Nora fell asleep.  We were curled up in my bedroom circa 1982-91 (and a couple of summers that required a bit of rest and recovery between semesters at school.)  And, bam, it was the next day.  Well, it wasn't so much a "bam" as it was a slow sort of leak into unconsciousness that eventually allowed time to pass without notice, sort of how a tire goes flat.  That must be why we say we feel tired.  (I know.  Many of you will probably stop reading after this point because of that horrible pun.  Believe me.  I understand.  I have to live with it everyday.)

I've been on the road with Mom and Mike and Nora visiting family in Colorado--the snow is falling, so the mountains and trees are beautiful--all lumberjack and fur trader.  We've watched 8 or 9 deer across the way on the side of a hill moving up to the top where the cemetery is located--my grandpa is there, another friend lost in high school.  These aren't the things on my mind though.  What I wanted to say is this:

I can tell He is at work in me, but I can't tell what it's about yet--only that I feel elsewhere.  Part of me feels like a dog licking wounds she can't even locate.  I am attempting a tight-rope walk between then and now.  When reflecting on the past seems deadly.  When you're right in the middle of it all, and you can't look back, and you can't look forward, but you need to understand both directions in order to find your footing in the present, to know how to continue.  It's a leap to go from feeling like a dog to being a tight-rope walker.  Just imagine a dog tight-rope walker.  There, now we've got a bit of continuity.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Driving and staring long distances.

7 hours sitting in the back of the pick up on the way to Colorado
and the big sky obliterates the distance ahead of you.  The sun
sets the silence from (you are living in the past) the passing cars.
From the window you see a daughter face her mother and tell her
one by one how many mistakes she's made (caught and gotten away with)
and the road behind her, though she can't see it now, is made only of stories
and stories continue to tell and retell themselves
until they no longer resemble the road behind her
but the distance others have yet to travel.

(Your life is more than your story.  Tell me:  what else is it then?)


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Doing jigsaw puzzles with your mom can be hazardous to your sleep.

"Have you seen this little gray, speckled piece?  Hold on.  Let me get a pen."

"Why did they even cut the picture up in the first place?"

"Mom, that's not a puzzle piece.  That's a potato chip."

"How long have we been sitting here?"  "I don't know.  How old are you?"


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Love Notes

Give me Your peace, Your freedom, Your love, Your burden, eyes, Your hand, Your heart, Your words, Your night and day, Your food, Your rest and work, Your light, Your spirit.

Your water, Your faith, Your tears, Your blood, Your voice, laugh, hand, Your sight, Your patience, heart, Your news, Your praise, body, Your song, peace, and yet again, Your peace.

The light broke in me, so shatter and shine through the parts of my life that seem cracked and dry, dark and scared.  Afraid to feel, to fail, to fault.  I'll give you this knowing You can make something good of it, that you'll know exactly what I mean before I do.  Lift this with me if it be mine to lift.  I know you'll say one way or another.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Miracle on 16th Street

Driving around York with Mom and Nora drinking hot chocolate and looking at Christmas lights, there is a row of houses to the left that could double as a landing strip at La Guardia and to the right are fields and  rows of trees black against the graying sky, and I can't take my eyes away from them.  There is something in the layers and the colors: field, trees, field, trees, sky--various shades of gray.  And when we drive past those other houses with the giant blown up Santas and polar bears, my eyes find single leaves hanging from the trees, filigree and lace silhouettes.

I was thinking a couple of weeks ago that miracles pervade everything in our lives, but because of their repetitive and stable nature, we stop seeing them.  Cuts heal.  Light shifts and gathers.  Water pools.  I don't know.  I guess that's one reason I always wanted to be a poet or a painter--to try to document the miracles like the kind I saw tonight--the silent ones that just happen if we notice them or not.  We change.  We grow.  We age.  Miraculous.  Language: miracle.  This:  miracle.  Love:  miracle.

God becoming one of us...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Over the river and through the woods

Just a quick stop in to say we are at Grandma's.  I am crocheting till my heart is content.  Tonight, I will sneak out of the guest room and sit with my mom late into the night, something I wish I could do more often.  And we will sip a beverage of some sort or another, I will continue to work on this giant, rust-colored afghan, and we will talk or we will be silent.  I learned everything there is to know about moms from her.

Tonight, I look forward to learning even more.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Little Things List

1.  Nora dressed as an angel in her Christmas gift to me, frame of popsicle sticks around her gentle gaze on baby Jesus in the manger, a star above:  "You can use it as a picture frame or as a hat."  Her joy and confidence.  Her patience with me when I'm not patient.  Playing Barbie for two days straight.  Cracking her up with Ken's "bad back" antics.  "I have one hug left tonight.  It's for you.  And let's make a deal:  let's take care of each other the rest of our lives."  Amen, little daughter.

2.  The Miseducation of Lauren Hill.

3.  An armload of incredible books found at Et. Cetera.  The remnants of a retro dish set called "Blue Heaven."  Calling the women there:  "I was just there and I can't stop thinking about blue heaven."  "What?"  "I mean, can you set something aside for me?"

4.  Joe March.  Marching on.  Your heart (k)new my heart.  A finger stained with ink.

5.  The joy of waking up slowly, drinking coffee in bed while Nora explains how robot kitties sometimes run out of battery acid.

6.  The gift of knowing when I am paying more attention to the flaw in the glass rather than to what good it can do pouring itself out.  Give it away.  Give it away.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Who is responsible for the mess in my closets?

As my brain has been thawing the last couple of days, my pulse regulating itself to a rhythm opposite that of "Flight of the Bumblebee"--as all these tiny, necessary undoings take place, I've been looking in my closets.

Okay.  I know what you're thinking here.  Given my usual sense of symbolic import while waxing and waning about life's deeper mysteries, you are thinking I am talking about something other than a closet.  But, dear reader, I assure you I am actually talking about my literal closets (though they will probably be held under a symbolic lens at some point in this post...)

What I want to know is this:  who has been coming into my house and throwing stuff in my closets?  I mean, seriously, I would never create a physical hazard like the ones I am discovering here in my own home.  The only person capable of this kind of chaotic, potentially deadly, anti-feng shui, tetris meets jenga nightmare would be my sister Julie.  (Julie, you know it's true.  Remember when we lived together in college, and the strange apartment we rented was designed so that I had to walk through your room to get to my room?  Remember how I missed an entire semester because I couldn't find a way out of your room?)

It appears that anything I couldn't deal with over the last few months got thrown in a closet:  60 pounds of stuffed animals?  No problem.  Throw them in the closet.  Limited edition VHS box set of The Terminator.   Well, I might need that later.  (Opens door, throws object into dark space of closet.)   75 bubble wrap envelopes from .01 +3.99 shipping purchases--I hate to waste them.  Shower curtain rod?  Empty picture frames?  Shrunken sweaters?  Surely I can unravel those and make a scarf.  (Pile lands on floor of closets, obscuring view of Terminator box set and rolled up poster of MADD race car.)  Why are there rocks in there?  I mean, why did I throw rocks in my closet?

I can only guess what the skeletons are saying about the kind of landlord I've become.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Break(down)

When I am not runningaroundcrazy (shout out to Teagan for the word convergence) while classes are in session, I find I am easier to be around, relaxed, quicker to drop to the floor for a game of "Don't Wake the Monster" with Nora, a better conversationalist while on the phone with my sisters, a discerning shopper, a book reading, biscuit-and-gravy-eating-at-the-gas-station-in-Utica-local and a better cook.  I show signs of slightly improved muscle tone.  I become a skilled crossword puzzle-ist, a crafter-- a stare into space for as long as you like woman at (not) work.

And when I am at work, I am all those things, too.  Just faster.

Let this break unwind the places wound too tightly around the world.  Remember there is work being done you can't even see, and this is your real work.  Now is the time to connect with that and when it begins again, never let go.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Love and Work

Tonight getting out of the car after visiting Ila at the retirement home, the moon glows through the clouds over the grain bins and the windmill, and it smells like pigs.  A man's work left behind for his son and then who?  Three generations now.  And I stand there too long making patterns out of the tree branches--a kite a cross a shovel a hand extended.  "Mommy.  Mommy."

There was a man, Merle--Ila's husband, born in a house where the garden sits now.  Tomorrow he would have been 92.  I found out yesterday that he passed away a week ago.  And there was a stillness there in the tree as I stood with the smell of his legacy, his father's too, not a bad smell at all, really.  And our lives aren't separate.  If anyone ever tells you they are, they don't know how much of our love and work takes place for years and years after we've died.  It goes on in me, in you.  Strangers are working in you now--the apple tree planted 130 years ago.  The cathedral that took over 100 years to build.  The cobblestone streets in Seward.  Merle's fields and pigs.  This house.  I put together some Rhubarb and Apricot jam we made in August from the things growing here on the place, a couple of colorful dishcloths I'd crocheted while watching Westerns, a card asking that the His love comfort her now.  "He was so quiet.  He was like my mother-in-law, so quiet, and a saint.  I suppose I talked enough for two."

I will do my best to pull the weeds, plaster the cracks, prune the trees, plant a few new ones, keep the soil rich where you were born almost 100 years ago.  The apples are sweet.  The ground is good.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Home Making

I'm feeling fragmented but in a joyous kind of way--when life sparkles, reflected in pieces.

Reading my friends' words of making homes and traveling, moving things, gathering objects--reading of leaving things behind, what we can keep, what we must take with us until we've "worked through it"--until we've convinced the ghost to go home.  Making a living space large enough for our lives, for our friends, for our soulmates, rewiring, removing, letting go.  The temperatures and textures of our arrangements.

Everything must change.  We reach for our own lives placed high on a shelf.  "Higher.  Reach higher.  Higher still.  I know you can do it."

It hurts--taking it down, peering into the shape of it.  A remarkable thing.  So new.  I remember feeling this terror and awe the first time I held Nora, her tiny arms flailing in the too large universe, her skin so new, afraid the air would burn, the sounds would deafen.  The light would blind.  This life is too much.  And yet, it is everything I can and must do.

Love without fear of it not returning.  Love--because it is what eases the space into itself like your body slowly being lowered into the unbearably hot water of your own life.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Good night, friends!

Tomorrow:  because I did the dishes, because the coffee will automatically start brewing at 6AM, because I still have miles and miles of papers to climb, because it took turning on every light in the house and singing, "I Will Survive" at the top of my lungs.  (You may be thinking, "Hyperbole?"  Not in this case.)

Because of this:  I will wait for that miraculous transformation that takes place between who I am now and who I will be after a few hours of rest.  And then, I'll try again.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing, Mama

Too much on my mind:

1.  The madness of shoppers and the parking lots surrounding them.

2.  Nora wanting to talk (shy, hesitant, afraid to uncover it) tonight before bed about what to do when kids make fun of you.  My nose stings.  I bury the tears before they emerge (the awkward girl-self, the too tall, too strange looking, high-water pants, gap-toothed, wallflower, third wheel).  You tell them this is how God made you and He doesn't make mistakes, Nora.  In my mind I'm thinking: run.  Run away from them.  Get as far away from those words as possible.   Tell them this:  Go defeat someone else.  I've got work to do.  It took me so long to learn this.  I learned it from you.

3.  Art and motherhood.  Motherhood and art.  Who first said there was a conflict there?  Again, I say:  Go defeat someone else.  They are one and the same.

4.  I paint.  I plant. I write.  I see.  I love.  I pray.  I cook.  I listen.  I long.  I sing.  In me, there is no difference between my life and my art, my prayer and my life.

Everybody needs a change
A chance to check out the new
But you're the only one to see
The changes you take yourself through 

Don't you worry 'bout a thing
Don't you worry 'bout a thing, mama
Cause I'll be standing on the side
When you check it out

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I must be growing up.

I'm not sure what to write about tonight.  There is a sort of hum inside me that can only be explained by a week filled with the warmth of loving company, with prayers passing across tables, music and language filling a room, opening my (fragile-hoping) heart.  And it's only Wednesday.  It's only December.  It's only 2010.

Nora's birthday.  A night on the town.  A first Christmas program.  A song lifted.   A train constructed.  A word read.  Cookies made.  Grading in tandem.  Language left in love.  Healing and recovery.

I am usually introverted, born quiet.  Preferring the quiet space of a mesa, a page, a field.  This is so new, this feeling that I am more myself around people than alone.  (Still--I hear Him calling me to shut the door of the closet and listen.  Look.  Be still.  This servant is listening.)  We meet Him in both situations.

Talking to a friend this morning over bisc(q)uits and gravy, we both agree that as time passes, we become better at being who we are.

I am grateful for this realization.  I am grateful for those people who continue to teach me how to love.  (Including you.)


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Shelter and the Things We Carry

I'm listening to this great song by Ray LaMontagne called "Shelter."  The message is similar to that of a Bob Dylan tune that says this: "But if I can save you any time, come on, give it to me.  I'll keep it with mine."

Ray's song says this:  "All of this around us will fall over.  I tell you what we're going to do.  You will shelter me, my love, and I will shelter you."

I like both of these plans.  I suppose that's what they have in common--my fondness of them.  I'm working on the schematics right now, and they include both concepts.  This is going to be a pretty great machine if I can just get the building inspector to approve the unique wiring.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Word to those Graduating from College (or moving on from anything really)

One of the more difficult experiences I have had as a human is that of change.  When something is working, I tend to cling to it, repeat it, knowing that the previous success of that activity must surely be mirrored in each subsequent repetition.  When I was a student, I understood the rules for success.  If I showed up, did my work, and used my head, I could usually pull through.  And that's what I did for four years.  In fact, it's what YOU have done these last four (or more) years.  You've been present, you've applied yourself, and for the most part, you knew what to do because you were a student.

But all that is about to change.  God has a way of forcing us out of our comfort zones.  Have you noticed this?  One need only look at the changing seasons and how we must adapt to them to know that change, transition, transformation are all part of God's plan to challenge us, to keep us reaching and working toward a closeness to Him that only the sloughing off of the old life can bring.  For a long time, I was under the illusion that it was up to me to learn how to adapt, that part of the test was to see how well I could make do, on my own, a victim of good old-fashioned self-reliance.  But I know that I do nothing on my own.  Not one thing.  And this is such a relief.  I hope it is to you, as well.

I think there is a bit of this notion of self-reliance attached to the concept of graduation, isn't there?  "Well, here you go:  a bucket of knowledge.  Now, go out there and use it.  You have everything you need."  Many of you may have felt this voice in your ear as you've approached this final week of your college career, felt it settle around you like the weight of a brick necklace.  But this has never been the goal at Concordia.  And you knew this in your decision to spend the last few years in the middle of Nebraska.  You have known from the beginning--that what you were given here you would be asked to return to others as you left Seward and found your place in other towns. 

Even so, that fear of the unknown appears when we feel the most vulnerable, the most new:

We think:  I'm on my own?  I have to DO something with my life?  This is the end?

I know how terrifying and exciting the answers to these questions can be.  One moment, you can't wait to move on and the next, you're curled up in your bed hugging a pillow and wishing you would have failed at least one semester's worth of Gen. Ed. classes just so you could put off graduation another four months.

But let me tell you this, and I will try to tell it to you as plainly as possible:

You were never, nor will you ever be alone.  You are not expected to be self-reliant.  In fact, now, when that blank page sits before you on the desk of life, now more than ever is the time to bend the ear of your heart to God's word and to the space created in prayer.  In faith--knowing He has brought you here to this terrifying, this thrilling new beginning so that you might know again and again that in life you will be continually asked to accept the breaking of your old life, your old self so that you can be His new creation again and again forever.

Many of you may not know what the future holds, but truly, not one of us does.  You are simply in that blessed and awkward position where the present moment and your future meet in full force.  God would not have brought you here to this point had He not known that you were ready.  Trust this place in your life as being exactly what you needed. 

And I can tell you this:

There is no end.  What you have been given, what you HAVE given here at Concordia is yours forever.  And the lives you reach, the light you shine into the hearts of those you will help in the future (and you WILL help others--knowing you, I can say this with all certainty)--this too is part of His plan.  All things connect in His love. 

So let this seed of your life break open.  Bear the weight of the change.  Bravely (because you were made with courage) take up these moments before you and become other than what you were.  Onward.  Upward.  Toward your becoming.  Toward Him.

God bless you as you continue to grow in His perfect care.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Woman leaves dirty dishes in sink, goes dancing.

I am leaving the dirty dishes in the sink tonight.  I never leave the dirty dishes in the sink.  I know.  Many of you reading this right now probably have dirty dishes in your sink and you might be wondering what I think of you.  And I'll tell you:  You are terrible people.  Just terrible.

Ah....but seriously.  I don't leave the beds unmade.  I don't leave the dishes dirty.  I make the coffee the night before.  Every night.  And this might be why I feel like dancing right now.

I'm not talking about the nice kind of step-to-the-side, step-to-the-other-side kind of dancing here.  I'm talking about the kind of dancing that makes you look like you are either on fire or like you just volunteered to test whether or not the barbeque was ready with your bare feet.

A few dirty dishes in the sink and I suddenly want to live on the edge, live dangerously--dance like I used to dance in grad school when too much poetry and language theory made me yearn for a voice louder than the one in my head and the one in my books.

I know you've been there, too.  There comes a point where you either get up and dance like your life depends on it (see audition scene from Flashdance) or you just do the dishes over and over again and hope nothing in your life changes or gets too out of hand or makes you stretch beyond your normal activities because there you KNOW what will happen.  But this control is an illusion, baby.  (Visions of discotheques dancing in my head are making me break out the lingo.)  I dare you, Lisa.  I dare you to leave the beds unmade tomorrow.  I dare you to just let it be.

Double dog dare you.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Now:  Wind and cold and finally wrapped under this comforter after a day of gifts.
                  Safe, warm.  Nora sleeping.

Earlier:  Morning coffee with Nora.
Breaking out the recording equipment with Emmi.  A joyous song lifted up (3, in fact.)
A plate of cookies and a poem (a heartsong) left in secret beside Lucky's goldfish bowl.
A message from Robin, her warmth, her hug.
The Gift of the Magi with friends who laugh and laugh hard (possibly during inappropriate moments during the play.)

Everyday:  I needed this today.  Friends and the time to be with them.

Always:  Help me to actively seek more of this good company in my life.
                Let me be good company to others who may have prayed the same prayer tonight.

Now:  Good night, friends.  We're in this together.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I love Nora's birthday.

Small things and incomplete sentences:

1)  A morning spent with Nora and her 9 preschool friends practicing for the Christmas program, celebrating her birthday, and helping with a field trip to the Community Center.  "I love you" scratched into the star of a stranger, handed to a child, "You can have this."  Mr. Brown Can Moo and a chorus of hearts singing with abandon:  "Gloooooooooooooooria."  White cupcakes with chocolate chips pushed into the fluffy white frosting.  So good.  My first time baking something for Nora's class.  An honor.

2)  Mrs. B and Miss S driving all over Utica's back roads as I followed them to the school.  (It was only 3 blocks back.  Apparently they were trying to make fun of the fact that I still wanted to follow them just in case I got lost with 4 small children singing "Jingle Bells" at the top of their lungs while throwing Teddy Grahams at the back of my head.  It seemed legitimate to me.)  Nora's teachers were in hysterics when we pulled into the school parking lot, both of them bent over laughing in the front seats of the minivan.  "What is this?  The Dukes of Hazard preschool?" I asked them as we unbuckled everyone from their booster seats.  I love Nora's school and the people there.

3)  Walking back from the Chapel with Nora's small, warm hand in mine.  She reaches my hand up to her chest, palm down and tells me that she has put her heart there for me to have and "I love you, Mommy."  I think most moms can attest to the fact that kids often choose the strangest times to tell you they love you.  The first time Nora told me she loved me was in the cracker aisle in Walmart.  I stopped, pulled her out of her seat in the cart and just held her right there in tears.

4)  Reaching into the freezer for apples for the birthday dessert, I notice that I've written, "(How do you like) Them Apples?" on the baggie, obviously the same person who wrote, "Wouldn't you like to be a pepper, too?" on all the baggies of green peppers lives in me, and I am grateful for her small gifts of humor meant only for me, knowing I would need a little extra something in the future.

5)  Nora says to me, "Do you know, Mommy, I adore God."  I find her one morning bent in prayer.  She looks up:  I was praying because I don't really feel like going to school today.  And then I know why "I love you" happens at the most random moments.  Because He is everywhere.

Happy Birthday, Nora.  God be with you and protect you.  I love you.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Waterline (Possibly Maybe)

Reflections of the final day of classes, the day before Nora's birthday, the day I felt so far away from being inside my life because it was happening so hard.

And I needed a quieter music, one that would unwind the knot that's been in my left shoulder.  Relax.  Relax.

(Try harder to.)  Relax.

And I am reminded that I tiptoe on the edge of wanting to be perfect, failing, suffering the lost footing miserably.  Get over yourself, Smith.

Christ lives in your heart.  This alone is perfect.

More growing pains.  How to be a haven, a house for the Son?  It seems so hard sometimes because of who I am and how much I rely on my head rather than the Spirit.  Lean not on your own understanding, stubborn child.

I need Spirit.  Less speaking.  A presence that holds me still when I think I should be running.  A hand that stills and breathes and summons.  A note sustained.

At the end of the semester, saying goodbye to these good people, all of whom I'll miss.  The time we spent working through all of it:  the writing, the giving, the sharing, the reading.  Leaving each classroom for the last time, I turn around and touch my lips with my fingers, a silent "thank you" for the space He created for us.  And then, it's time to move on.

He will continue to find new ways for my life to be made and lost, this rolling over, the drowning and the recovery.  That hand extended as the lips slip below the waterline.  Speaking silently, a kiss for the water.

I apologize.  I think I'm heavy tonight with change.  So be it.  Help me understand, Lord.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

When I miss my sisters, I write about them.

I'm the oldest of three.  We were a wild bunch, wrestled a lot.  We'd push all the furniture to the outside wall of the living room and throw down WWF style, leaping off couches and inventing new ways to incorporate the carpet burn into our defensive strategy.  Eventually, we had to make it a rule that we stay on our knees the whole time and absolutely no one was allowed to get a running start from the top of the staircase, jumping directly into the ring, which was made up of all the couch cushions.  You can do quite a lot of damage from the standing position especially if you've had over 4 gallons of grape kool-aid to drink that day, which we usually had as evidenced from the perpetual purple mustaches in all our childhood photos.  There's nothing like three sugar-addled, furniture rearranging, maniacs shouting, "Go for the eye!  Go for the eye!" to make your parents question whether or not they would have actually preferred boys.

Truth is we watched a lot of The Incredible Hulk back then.  Julie spent a good 2 or 3 years telling people not to make her mad because "you wouldn't like me when I'm mad."  And it was true.  Everyone in the family including aunts and uncles felt Julie's wrath at one point or another.  Though she never turned green or ripped off her shirt or anything, she did go for the shins and hard.  After she'd given you her verbal warning and it was clearly not taken seriously (and woe to those who actually laughed!), she'd just pull that little Osh-Kosh B'Gosh shoe of hers back like she'd just slung a bow and arrow and--swack!  Shin splint.  What else can you do when you're only 3' 6"?  (Don't answer that.)

Sometimes when I look into Nora's face, I see my sisters there and I'm suddenly 6 or 7 years old again.  Having children does so many miraculous things to your heart and your memory.  Watching Nora practice her Viking sword fighting techniques with an empty paper towel tube, I'm suddenly back in the ring with Julie and Rasa.

I wonder if they'd be willing to go just one round when I see them this Christmas.  I'll bring some kool-aid just in case.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fishing Dreams

My Sisters on the Fly book came today, and I'm having dreams of finding a vintage RV, some fishing poles, and a dutch oven.

I don't even know what to do with this dream but dream it for the time being and see...

It's so new, and I love it.

I figure I've got two choices:  do it or don't do it.

That simplifies it quite a bit.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Motorcycles, Deer, Birthday

I'm not sure what this is about, but I have a strong urge to rent a motorcycle and one of those little side cars for Nora and drive across the country with an 8 ball black helmet, a red scarf and goggles.  I would probably carry a large supply of fish crackers, too.

Exhaust and exhaustion disappearing behind me.

When I was 4 and lived in Apple Tree Trailer park, my dad would break up hay bales in the front yard during the winter, and the deer would come down.  We'd watch them a long time, our breath on the glass softening the scene, as if it needed to be any softer.  Silent night.  I remember this because my dad had a motorcycle then, and he'd take us up into the hills on it.  There was a stream there, and he'd park the bike, and we'd wade and crawl on our bellies, our legs floating behind us as we pretended to be alligators.   Then back down from this other world to the one we usually lived in.

Nora turns 4 on Friday.  Will there be streamers?  Oh, yes.  Cake.  Absolutely.  Motorcycles.  Not yet.

But I'm still going to wear goggles.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Growing Pains

She is digging with her shoe a tiny, secret spot in the broken land 
And into it, she places a seed she pulled, a glowing tooth
Out of the mouth of a  dream she had about her unborn daughter
Who covered her mother with a sheet of paper and waited
Shy behind the door for the word: Grow.  

Even when it isn't comfortable or convenient.   

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Up early to read more of Matthew and stunned by "At which point did you doubt?"  The feet slipping beneath the surface, the hand extended.

Grading in bed, I wait to open the blinds until well into the morning.

Finally up and showered while playing Arcade Fire as loudly as possible and dancing in the kitchen as a way to summon my strength, warn the enemy that I am stomping and I am dancing, grabbing my keys and out the door to McDonald's because "the Inn at Panama was full" to find Cody and Adam and a large fry and coffee as we discuss their writing, which is inspiring to me.

I get a migraine and have to wait until the sparkly blind spot moves out of my field of vision, so I can drive.

Nora and I return home for an afternoon of pretending to be elves wrapping Christmas presents.

Sitting outside in the dead, yellow grass, singing to the 7 yellow farm cats as I explain to Nora that they are sitting there with their backs to us as a way to test us, see if we'll attack.  Eventually they turn around and watch us through half-closed eyes.  One rolls onto her back, and I figure it will take a few more days of this until one of them finally approaches.  I feel like I'm in a movie called Dances with Farm Cats.

Playing kitties and mommy kitties.  Nora sticking her tummy out.  My fat cat.

Crocheting, eating ice cream and pretzels, watching the game.

And that was the day, beautiful, beautiful day.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Ya know, one of the hard things about the 365 blog challenge is that some days are just kind of rough, and when you go to sit down and write--oh, who am I fooling here using the second person--when I go to sit down, I feel that writing about this roughness is somehow bad.  But, because I have to believe that whatever brings me to this point must be a way for me to come around to another point, a better point, then I'll go through it, if that's what He asks of me.  So, I debate about how to write about a day like today, and I think the best way to balance it out here is to include as much of the good with the bad as I can because as James Baldwin writes, "the tale of how we suffer and how we triumph must be told."

1.  Wanting to warm the car up this morning before an impromptu trip to the doctor (Nora is sick again and I am a worried mother), I throw some boots on, a sweater, run out and Lynn is out back working and I hold my hand up high toward the sky, and he holds his up in the sky and we keep them there for a good long time.  It wasn't like one of those flap your hand around kind of waves.  It was a kind of salute, I suppose, one that said, I see you there working and I see you there with your daughter, and we thank you for the fruitcake and I thank you for taking care of the house and here we are and, yeah, it's cold, but here we are.

2.  Words from friends and family saying I am doing okay, making good choices, being a good mother, and I am saved by their encouragement, how they sustain me.  I want to tell them as I told Nora last night, "Did you know, Nora, I am almost always talking to God, even while I'm putting these socks here into the laundry hamper?"

3.  Running around Walmart for medicine, there's a single long, black cardigan hanging on the rack for 15 bucks, the sweater I've been needing for awhile now in order to hide my...uh, I grab it and continue walking around looking for the Christmas light section and when I finally make it there, I look down and realize I'm just carrying around an empty hanger.  Feeling like someone who forgot to attach the dog to the leash, I have to figure that wasn't the sweater I was looking for after all.

4.  My mom's Christmas open house at her pottery studio in York was a big success.  And I'm proud of her.  If I weren't already sitting so close to her, I would lift my hand up into the sky and hold it there for a long time in her direction and it would say, "I see you there, Mom, working and making things with your hands, and they are beautiful, the same hands that shaped me and this wood burning stove is really hot, don't you think?  Should we open the door?  Man, I love peanut butter cookies with a hershey's kiss on top."

So there, suffering.  Take that.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

And then he said,

"You are more than your story," and I had to rewrite everything.  More importantly, everything rewrote me.

Breath:  where the edges meet and fade together.  The light from two passing cars intersects, and we can no longer tell who owns which portion of it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lists often help when you can't think of a paragraph

Little Things:

1.  The new faucet in my bathroom.  SO shiny.  SO working.  I like shiny.   I like working.
2.  Nora saying goodbye to Grandma last night:  "Good night!  And a happy new year to you!"
3.  My friends and their adventures both internal and external.  What this inside does to the outside; what the outside does to the inside.  Their courage.
4.  Only 6 essays left to grade.  Alarm set for 5:30 AM.  I feel like I'm running through quicksand and then my mom says, "Don't give up, Lisa."  How did she know I was even thinking about giving up?  Was it because I couldn't remember how many p's are in appreciate?  Did she see the look on my face that said, "You teach at the college level?!  How did that happen?  God, are you sure you want me to teach?  Wouldn't I be safer in sales?  Perhaps you aren't aware of my spelling issues.  Oh, wait.  I suppose you are.  Well, all right, God.  If you're sure."
5.  Two new books in the mail about preserving seeds and feeding your family on a 1/4 acre of land.  (I skipped to the chicken nugget and mac n' cheese section, naturally.  Looks like I'm going to need some chicken seeds.  Eggs.  I mean eggs.)
6.  The saying, "Don't want to waste your time chewing the cabbage twice."
7.  [                                                                                                                          ]

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Like a Locked Room

This quote comes my way in rounds, once every 5 or 6 years from a poet I have loved since the day I read his poem about an anemone and wondered how a man could understand so much about yielding.  At the time, it seemed like something only women did, something only a woman could understand.  Now I see that peace only comes with yielding, taking in, taking on, holding, listening, not acting so much--just...being there, and this is available to everyone.  I guess that was a tangent of sorts.  But friends, it is late, and I am tired, the candle burning late and early because I'm searching and can't afford to waste the clues left by the sunrise or those that are whispered from one star to the next.  So, this post will be like I feel tonight:  a bit worn down.  (And something in me knows this is a symptom of self-reliance, that American curse.  Yield, I said.  Yield.  He didn't make me to do it alone.)

Oh, the quote:

Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Monday, November 29, 2010


Lynn, the landlord farmer who grew up in this house, stopped by today with one of his famous fruitcakes.  It was in a tiny paper bag with Nora's name and a happy face drawn on it.  Nora was so sweet about it: "Oh, thank you so much for thinking of me.  I'll put this away right away."  She proceeded to remove it from the paper bag, peel off the saran wrap, shaking it off her hand down onto the floor while placing the fruitcake carefully into the fridge.  These are not the kind of fruitcakes you want to use in the annual Fruitcake Toss competition.  Lynn makes really good fruitcakes.

I wonder what it must feel like for him to walk into his house and see my pictures, books, Christmas Tree, Nora's toys thrown to the wind...all of it in the places where he remembers seeing his own train set, Hardy Boys books, 4-H ribbons.  I feel self-conscious as he stands in the kitchen, which is simultaneously Ila's kitchen and my kitchen.  Each of us has a strong love for this place, and it is this love that keeps the roof shingled, the floor swept, the air living and breathing.

I was just reading about homesickness last night--the kind of homesickness you feel because you understand deep inside you, in that place where God dwells, that this earth is not really where you belong.  You yearn for something you've only vaguely recognized.  I suppose it works like a homing device or like E.T.'s heart.  It groans with longing when it is far from what it knows.  It responds autonomically with joy when it is in close proximity to those things it recognizes as being part of our real Home.  It leaps.  It flips.  It swoops.  It falls in love.  It is love, and it opens the front door, the one you'll only walk through once.  Inside us is that key.  I want to know Him, to make a home for Him here within until He takes me through to see what I only saw as through a glass darkly.  A part made perfect.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Saturday, Nora and I were carrot-diggers, pulling the row that had grown sugary sweet with the extended season.  (The longer you leave them in, the better they get.  Plus, they "keep" in the ground.   If you want to preserve carrots for an extended period of time, put them in your basement covered in sand in a 5 gallon bucket.  I can already count how many of you are jumping out of bed right now to start your own carrot sandbox.  Anyway...)  The ground was partially frozen, but the sun was warm and the three-pronged shovel Mom and Mike bought me was working great--err, it's like the spork of shovels--sort of a shovel and a pitchfork but with only half a handle--I should learn its name.  Anyway, we dug the whole row out in about 15 minutes while pretending to be rabbits.   Last year I used a small garden spade and it took so long to do I about banned carrots from the garden party forever.  I think I understand why Scarlett O'Hara stood up with a single carrot clasped in one hand after hours of digging and declared she'd "never go hungry again."  She had plans to get one of those shovel sporks, too.

Six months ago, these carrots were nothing but a seed packet of hardened, miniature dreams.  Next season, I plan to learn how to preserve some of my own (seeds, not dreams--though that would be nice, too.)  This seems like essential knowledge to me, right up there with hand washing, bread baking, spare tire changing, and kid hugging.

So, in my refrigerator are 15 pounds of the most delicious and oddly shaped carrots you'll ever meet.  I planted "Rainbow Carrots" and they turned out purple, pink, orange and white.  Each color has a slightly different flavor.  I feel like a kid looking through the Sears Christmas catalog searching for carrot recipes. (Do ya'll have a copy of The Joy of Cooking? Mmmm....)  Cream of Carrot Soup with ginger and orange juice...Spicy Peppercorn Carrot Pickles...Roasted Carrots with Butter and Honey...Carrot Cake...

I hope my life can be full of these small adventures--that I will someday learn how to make the crocheted, beaded snowflakes without looking down once like my Grandma and Aunt Dottie do while watching different versions of Jane Eyre just to compare notes on the various Mr. Rochesters.  The cookie recipe I know by heart.  The song that always finds the notes as it comes out of my throat.

The vision of Nora galloping on tip toes through the house wherever she's going--this is the kind of joy I mean.  Something new and small each day...something you can learn by heart because your soul was made for loving it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mad Libs, Houseplants, and Care

A trip to Et. Cetera (absolutely AMAZING second hand shop in town) yields a 200-page book called "Success with Houseplants."  Who knew it was that complicated?  I mean, should I offer to buy them a drink and how often?  Ask their sign or whether they prefer partial or full-sun exposure?  Is that too forward of me?  Do I mention any unsightly mealy worm fuzz between their leaves on our first date?  When is it safe to tell them that I think I love them?  What if we argue?  What if we don't argue?  I just want them to like me.  I like them.  I think it can work.  Don't you?  I have faith this book holds the answers.  I mean, there are books about cooking, sex, the fall of the Roman empire, and the meaning of life with fewer pages than this.  

Let's take a closer look here.  Page one:  "Variety.  Diversity.  Change.  These words and what they stand for are at the heart of the world of house plants.  A potted plant is not a dainty, objet d'art.  It is a fascinating organism, which will respond dynamically to all the appreciative care you can give it."  

Whoa.  Is this book talking about house plants or is it talking about...all of us?  I mean, try substituting your name here:

Variety.  Diversity.  Change.  These words and what they stand for are at the heart of the world of [your name here].  [Your name] is not a dainty, objet d'art.  [He/she] is a fascinating organism, which will respond dynamically to all the appreciative care you can give [him/her.]

Yeah.  You might be thinking what I'm thinking here.  This is an empowering book, not just for house plants but for all of us who are in the caregiving profession (and that's all of us, folks.)

Now substitute your partner's name, your child's name, your pet's name.  The name of a country.  The name of your pastor.  Your teacher.  Your student.  The name of your president.  The name of your mother.  Your father.  Your sisters and brothers.  Your enemy.  Yes, even that.

200 pages.  Indeed.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Still House

(To be quiet.  Watchful.  Working with hands.  Responding in love.  Kindness and guidance.)

This still house tonight is the house
He has made for me
out of all the different possibilities,
the different configurations of houses
and occupants.  This still house
tonight is the house He has made
for me.  Let me not desire another.
Because He knows exactly what I need
better than I do.  Because I trust Him
more than I trust myself.  This still
house tonight is the house He has
made for me.  And this must be
exactly what I needed
despite how stillness aches.
This still house is good and
fills with sound tomorrow.  But
what is tomorrow when the house
is still tonight?

(He must have heard something I couldn't make out.  A pattern in the silence.  The deepest call of this heart bouncing like a mute ball, silently down the hallway.)

Thrown but not caught.  Resounding.  Throw it again, Sam.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

My mom's stuffing is better than your mom's stuffing.

Well, there might be a little room for a close second, but, seriously.  My mom makes the best stuffing in the world.  So much butter.  So much bread.  So much butter and bread condensed into a single mouthful.  Even one spoonful, I'm sure, has the density of a black hole if you could compare calories to atoms.  In fact, Stephen Hawkings warns us against attempting to put too much stuffing in our mouths at a single time or we'll will warp the space/calorie continuum.  But when it comes to my mom's stuffing, I live on the edge.  And that edge is my belt.  But I figure that's why they made belts with more than one hole.  Am I right?

And just a little tip for all you folks out there who still need to remove the crust from sandwiches:  I have been saving every crust from every PB and J that I made Nora this year in a bag in my freezer, and that's what we used today.  Yes, it has taken up some room in the freezer that I could have used for Totino's pizzas, but it was worth it to see something I would have just thrown away being used today.  It really is true:  one step at a time, one crust at a time, one bite at a time, and you'll get there.

In this sense, I'm thankful for the abundance of very little because very little eventually makes a whole lot of stuffing.  And that's a blessing indeed.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


1992.  I was turning 18, my senior year, living above a bar in downtown Rifle, Colorado called The Red Lion Pub.  Writing in my journal on the floor of that studio apartment, the one that always smelled of Hamburger Helper despite the fact I never cooked the stuff, in blue ink "You are getting too old."   

1982.  Rasa, my youngest sister, makes shoes, hats, coats and pants entirely out of tin foil for my toy poodle.  Such a sweet present.

2003.  The big 3-0.  We play a live radio show that night, covers of Johnny Cash, 20 bucks woven between the strings of an old acoustic guitar strummed like you can hear that train a comin': ccchhhhk, chkuh. cchhhk.  For my birthday, Jason at the Flicker Bar mixes me something called a "Jackie O."  It has umbrellas, sunglasses, suitcases, scarves, sadnesses.  

2010.  Nora and I in the guest room at mom's house.  Thankful for time, how it passes, how much healing is done from one year to the next.

1983.  My first slumber party.  We pretend we're in a band from Scotland and lip sync to "We're Coming to America" by Neil Diamond at least 4,374 times.

1973.  The doctor asks my mom if she can wait a little bit longer to have me so he can catch the Thanksgiving game, so I wait.  Back home, Mom and Dad watch Saturday Night Live and time the contractions.  



Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pinch Me: I Must Be Dreaming

1.  1984.  My mom comes home with Prince's Purple Rain album, purchased at the Rifle Dime Store--the only place in town that carried records, lipgloss, prescription medication, and gum until Walmart moved in.  The Dime Store is closed now.  I had my ears pierced there when I was 10.  I rode the 1 cent pony right before the bees sting, earring gun, grown-up-now gold studs were in place.

2.  1978.  Standing in shorts on a fire ant hill while my dad talks to a man I don't recognize.  The man slaps my leg hard, his red fingers burned there.  I'm speechless but for the tears now welling.  "Fire ant," says the man but I'm not sure if I wouldn't have rather been bit by 100 ants instead of the sudden sting of a stranger.

3.  1982.  First snow.  The light is gray through the homemade curtains.  I get up slowly so I don't wake my sisters sleeping beside me.  Pants.  Socks.  Boots.  Shirt.  Coat.  Two more pairs of socks on each hand.  Walking outside, the endless white fields reach into absolute silence.  I breathe in too quickly and the air burns my nose.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Adventures and Rest

Nora and I have been knocked out with a pretty hefty flu for the last week.  Thankfully, Nora is doing much better after being put on some antibiotics a few days back.  (And, yes, I finally made an appointment for myself.  The Smith in me doesn't do doctors.  Or dentists.  We pull our own teeth and walk off broken bones.  It's genetic, I'm sure.)  It's been so hard to sit still.  With plans for Christmas cookies on hold and four solid days in pajamas (tomorrow I am definitely putting on some "daytime" clothes, possibly mascara), I got in bed tonight feeling like I'd about seen enough of that bed when suddenly this random thought appeared:  Watch Alice In Wonderland, you know, the new one with Johnny Depp.

And I did, and here's what I'm thinking:  What would my life look like if I viewed it as some amazing adventure that required that I find my own "vorpal sword" and with it faced at least 6 things I thought were impossible before breakfast, even a frumious bandersnatch?

At one point in the movie, the Mad Hatter tells Alice that she has lost much of her muchness.  Basically, he's saying that when she was a child, she was much braver, but somehow the (adult) world had made her a coward, somehow less of what she was made to be.  What was I made to be?  How can I be brave?  What does it mean that I was made with courage?  What should I do with it?  Where is my help needed?  Open my eyes, so that I might do this work.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Biggest Stack of Essays I've Ever Seen. Ever.

Okay.  Get a load of this:

I'm not trying to brag.  I'm not even trying to gain your sympathy, but yes, those are all the essays I need to grade over Thanksgiving break.  Some snafu in my perfect teaching plan went south and I ended up collecting over 100 essays the week before break.  I was thinking back to when I was a student and hated the idea of having a paper hanging over my head the whole break, one that I'd stress about each day, inevitably resulting in "anxiety snacking" when the holiday was already one of the more calorically threatening ones out there.  Despite the heartache and heartburn, I wouldn't begin until the night before it was due.  (Yes, I was that student, the one who always turned in her rough draft as if it were the final draft.  The one who relied on one or two accidentally insightful discoveries to carry the weight of the whole essay.  The one who read the book, loved the book, and I suppose that impressed the professor enough to warrant a high score.)  So, thinking back on that poor, tortured student who felt guilty the entire Thanksgiving break for procrastinating her work, I made all the essays for my classes due BEFORE Thanksgiving.  Oops.   

Now, don't get me wrong.  I actually love grading essays.  I savor them.  I have a really nice pen.  I get to drink a lot of coffee in one sitting.  I pray before I start, asking God to help me see the potential, the brilliance rather than the occasional grammar smudges-- the seemingly random appearance of the comma  or the complete disregard for the gravitational laws that govern MLA formatting.  But when you are looking at 100 essays, the math starts to get a little daunting...

I am beginning to see the irony here--the other day I posted about God giving me the work that I need to be doing.  Well, folks.  Here it is.  And, yes, I am grateful despite the fact that these essays actually weigh more than the turkey most of us will be cooking over break.  There is something to be learned here.  Sometimes the work we get is pretty challenging.  I mean, sometimes it's going to seem impossible.  But just you watch.  It won't be.  It never is.  

Have you ever noticed when you are doing something in Him, how that thing seems...graceful?  I mean, it's almost too easy to do.  You think it should be harder, but it isn't.  It feels natural and good and kind of exciting.

I see each of the minds, the souls, the hearts bent over the glowing screen to write each word...hope upon hope.  Word upon word.  And I get to see each silent secret they put down there on those pages.  And I hope these writers felt like it was the easiest thing they've ever done.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Work: What is it good for?

I'm noticing it's been 10 days since I last put something up here.  Where have I been?  Working.   I teach for the English department at Concordia University.  I remember the first time I was shown around campus right after I'd moved to town from Georgia, still not quite sure what I was doing in Nebraska but certain there was something I was supposed to find here.  (Sidenote:  I was both shocked and encouraged that there was a sculpture of a naked man on campus--I often hold my office hours there if the weather is nice.)  Now I know what it was that brought me here:  the long string of prayers I'd released into the night skies like anxious kites waving above my bed as I held Nora-- waiting for the monitor she wore to sound off signaling to me that her breathing had stopped for longer than 20 seconds -- these prayers had been answered.  Nora was off the monitor, I was finally near family, and had found a farmhouse like the one I'd dreamed of for so long, even down to the windmill.  When I walked around the house the first time, Nora on my hip and wet leaves clinging to my boots, everything was dead and damp but I could still see the life here.  I peeked through the window into the kitchen and could smell cookies and bread.  I saw the hardwood floors and knew how many times I'd wash them.  I saw the apple trees, asleep at that time, and counted the apples I'd peel, mix with sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and freeze for apple crisp later.   I looked into the long expanse of Nebraska fields surrounding the house and felt the breath I'd been holding for so long finally released in that space.  Air.  Sky.  Dirt.  Breath.  Home.  And it all came about from a "random" conversation in a combine between my landlord (he grew up here in this house) and my stepdad's mom.  (Well, prayers are often answered this way, yes?)

And more prayers were answered.  I spent a semester teaching and learning poetry with 12 Concordia students every Wednesday night for a semester.  I'd been with Nora 24 hours a day since she'd been born, and for the first time in a year, I found myself brave enough to leave her side, brave enough to begin talking about language when words had seemed so frivolous for so long.  It seemed that getting Nora to where she was had taken almost everything I had--from the discovery of a blood clotting disorder at the beginning of the pregnancy that meant two injections a day for 9 months for me (into my stomach, no less--I'm definitely over my fear of needles now), Nora not gaining weight and me finally finding someone who could explain why (not just, "you are under too much stress and not producing enough milk"), to her stop-breathing episodes, the frantic CPR, the monitor, the worry.  I knew all I had to do was wait.  The doctor had said 6 months and she would grow out of it.  And we had made it.  She was in the clear.  Beautiful, strong, brave Nora.

I was astonished to be teaching again, like I'd entered some secret room made just for me.  (I don't mean it to sound so self-centered--it was simply a very precious and crucial and necessary place for me, one I knew God had brought me to as a way to bring me closer to Him and as a way to recover from such an intense year).   The final night of our class, we gave a poetry reading at the Gallery, and I drove home with the sun setting and my heart bursting like sequins, and the May air smelling like life could spring instantaneously from a seed that you'd held for too long in your palm if you'd just uncurl your fingers.  I pulled up the gravel drive, walked in the door and was told to go look behind the house.  It was dark by then and the moon was walking its way up through the trees.  While my stepdad Mike and my mom had been there watching Nora, Mike had tilled a patch of ground for my first garden.  I walked up to it, this big, dark square of earth in rows and mounds and I got on my knees and cried.  I thanked God for hearing me and pulling me ashore to this good ground.  Everything, I mean EVERYTHING that night was telling me to live, that I was ok.  It was time to stop letting worry be my work--to drop that exhausting and worthless weight.  It was time to get down to my real work, to give, to listen, to grow.  I knew for certain then that all I had to do was ask to be shown the work He wanted me to do, and He would give it to me whether it be the work of being Nora's mom, an English professor at Concordia, a house keeper (in the truest sense) or an occasionally successful gardener.

But before I fall into the trap of thinking I am "earning my keep" with God here, this passage occurs to me:

"Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?  Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he hath sent."  John 6:28-29

Start there, Lisa.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Light Exposures

1. So, it feels weird to be writing so openly in a blog, and I am finding it interesting what I decide to publish and what I keep private. It's exposing all sorts of aspects of my person--the egoist, the sinner, the show-off, the self-hater. It is harder than I thought to write an honest word, one that helps rather than destroys. (I consider deleting this paragraph because I start so many sentences with "it" and because I wonder...I need to stop wondering. Start wandering. Curriculum means "journey." I learned this talking to someone today about "Edgar Poe." How strange that sounds, though it is technically correct.)

2. (And already I can hear Him calling me away from all this "I". Yes, there is Light and there is The Word and now let's talk about what words are made of--breath and spirit combined in sound. Muscle of hand connected to the head of all things traces a thought on the white light page. Like my good friend under that cathedral there--it's so simple and so complex--the architecture of light, the space of the word contained in our heart, in the heart of the world that continues to call us out of this world and into that heart that is the wor(l)d beyond, within, beyond...I am not sure. Despite this lack of clarity in me, I still know.)

3.  Tonight: While walking through campus like a hungry baby bird with my head tilted to the sky and the moon and the trees, I understand this is not the climate of the earth. I realize I am weaving, and wonder if I will be mistaken for a drunk or a poet or a baby bird. The breeze comes from another planet, one with our summer's warmth smelling of the browns and yellows of autumn's decay and rust. The combination was disorienting. I duck inside the building but secretly want to explore this new planet until very early in the morning.

4. For the Word He gives me to wear: an armor, a shield, a sword. HOLD THE LINE. HOLD THE LINE. HOLD THE LINE. For the love of God. Hold the line. (A line held in my heart. A memorized muscle.)

5. So many encouraging notes and conversations. May the love He gave me find a way back to those friends.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Courage and Fragility

I am waiting for words.

I imagine but I do not do:  the simplicity of hand-washing the dishes, finally peeling and freezing the apples, baking the pumpkins, unraveling the rust colored yarn from an old afghan, combing Nora's hair.  Silently.  To speak through motion, through repetition, through stillness, and patience, and watching.

The more fragile I let myself be (I am the master of self-containment), the more courageous I become.  Can this be right?  It must be.  It has to be.

There were deep-throated barks coming from the yard at midnight.  Big dogs.  I could tell this already.  When I opened the door, cold on my legs, I saw two pony-sized neighbor dogs pawing at one of the kittens.  And I yelled and I ran them off, but the kitten was gone, stillness in the grass, the other two mewling from the tree.

This is not the first I've buried, and as my landlord says, nature has a way of taking care of over-population.    I found myself in bed later writing to mom about one of the kittens being "taken out."  And I regretted having said it this way.  It was beyond regret.  There was something wrong in my thinking, something hardened.  I can always tell when something isn't sitting right with me.   I feel a sort of stillness of the blood, like ice drawing a line through my veins.  I told God I was sorry I had spoken so coldly about one of His creatures, one He imagined and made and loved.  I told Him I couldn't let myself feel for this one little kitten because I knew there would be more kittens, more tiny deaths in my life.  And the answer was so clear and so good:  Mourn this kitten, and I will bring you healing when you are ready.  So, I cried.  But I didn't cry all night.  It stopped.  And I knew I had responded the way I had initially wanted to respond but had choked back, all business and shovel.   And it was as He promised.  He never left my side as I let my own heart break so it might continue to love.

I am really just a little seed under the pressure of water and weight and heat.  Inevitably I will need to break open if I am to produce any fruit at all.  Give me strength.  (And You do, even today--three Thank You notes, a card from a friend afar, and a note written in pencil on a torn piece of cardboard left on my desk that simply said:  Just so you know, you are loved.)

How the words arrive.  Alleluia.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Light and Its Current Location

This is a list of "little things" that relate to my current location, but this location is much more multi-dimensional than I can explain.   But that's no excuse for "not trying" to explain.

1.  I am relieved to have a soundtrack to my life right now.  

"It's not so impossible...It's a long life.  Better pinch yourself."
"Get real.  Get right with the Lord."
"I love you."

I'm thrilled knowing that Sufjan Stevens' newest album Age of Adz has hit #7 on the Billboard charts.  I can already tell you what position it's hit for me:  somewhere between #1 and a little bit above that.  OK.  I know he uses auto-tune, but it's SARCASTIC auto-tune.  There's a difference.  

2.  Nora's daily exclamations:  "I'm as stiff as a rock!"  
We spend about 20 minutes everyday working out the tangles in her hair.  There is no work greater than the work I do to serve her: the cups of cold water, the meals made, all the nighttime stories, pretending the same scene again and again until her imagination is real, until my real is imagination.

3.  I work with and teach and learn from such remarkable people--funny, smart, gentle, and alive.

4.  There is a sort of scientific miracle I'm learning to look for in strange variations in the light.  I've documented them:
  • the underwater waves of the electric red eyes dancing on the side of the boxcars as the train passes at night 
  • the rainbows I find on my spoon, the dish water, the kitchen walls cast from the prism in my window
  • the lambency of light passing through the tree leaves landing in our hands on the couch
  • a path of light on the tile floor in TLEC that moves beneath my feet no matter where I place them
  • certainly the moon racing down the railroad track alongside my car like Charlie Chaplan's hat always kicked out of reach
  • the light of the moon through the screen door, through the windmill, through me
  • the refraction of light through tears growing like frost on a window pane as I squint my eyes
  • All Christmas lights

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Letter Revised for My Many Sisters (and the men who love them)

And, sisters, be careful of the things you purchase that require mending for there will be a hefty amount of mending to do anyway--the skinned knees, the heart broken, the bread burned, and the moments that slip away before you've had a chance to string them together in a meaningful, unforgettable way. 

And while you have been given the gift of repair, the gift of needle and thread made of your tears and your deep knowing ways, take a moment to consider your own stitches, unraveling in places, held strong in others and take the time to meet God at those places, to hold those places to you as a garment fit for a queen.  For while you are made mostly of the strong stitches, the open places, the tears and unraveling allow you to breathe, to cry openly, to make something new from the places you have come apart.  We reconnect.  We recover.  We remember and we receive.

I wanted to also warn you that you may be inclined to become too attached to what you do, looking to it as if it is who you are.  And while we should always honor the gift of our work and do those works with all our hearts--the work of the daughter, the mother, the sister, the learner, the teacher, the work of the painter, the poet, and the wife--do not forget that before you are any of those things, you belong to God and your purpose is to love Him with all your being.  For when you trust Him and love Him, you will find solace anytime you feel you have fallen short as a daughter, a mother, as a wife or a sister.   As I've grown older, I've come to realize that those titles, the ones that women so often cling to like a life raft--student, teacher, waitress--they are momentary occupations.  Don't worry, my dears.  Don't worry.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Voice. So it is.

Partly the fear of this space has had to do with claiming a particular voice.  Because voice is character and characters have conflicts, I have avoided this voice.  Because conflicts lead to epiphanies and epiphanies lead to action, I have avoided this voice.

I am (passive voice), I think, perhaps I might be ready to.  Write.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I suppose I'll start with the end.

Should I have allowed the garden to die?  When do you stop watering it?  When do you just let it go?  And now from the window here, I see the tomato plants, all 10 of them hanging like burnt weeping willows from the wires and ties and fence posts I used to support them, driving the posts into the ground with the ear-biting clang of the metal striking down, me in a smelly t-shirt, in the summer, working the dirt for the second time, knowing more but not everything.  So, you stop watering at some point, and you let the garden slump back to the earth.  I wrote that last year.  This year I would write something like this:

Well, there goes the garden.  Thanks, garden.  See you later, garden.  God willing.

I am learning that a successful gardener doesn't rely much on her own knowledge.  A successful gardener relies on the knowledge placed already in the seed, in the dirt, in the water, in the sun, in the wind, and in the worm.  Tell me this secret, and I will leave it alone to do its good work.