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blessings for the broken, part one

The breaking was just as much for me as it was for him.
I see it now. I saw it then.
But my eyes are are slow to turn the image upright. . .

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homesick

My mind replays tapes of failure when I lie in bed too long awake.
Things neglected. Things forgotten. People neglected. People forgotten.
Failure that I'm not really sure is always failure.

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there is hope for your future

One month ago, the sun rose and never melted frost.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USF34-016026-E

Grandmother of twenty-two children living in Kern County migrant camp. California, Dorthea Lange, 1936

* * * * *

The morning drains of sunlight, every mother listening, watching. Praying for her babies. For this wretched world.

I delay as long as I can, uneasy that I must leave before my youngest is home safe. But I have to catch a ferry to the city. There is a party, and I am to go.

The afternoon wanes. Silhouettes skip across the paper in my lap. The words seem so strange.  Hours of preparation so pointless now.

I am to ask questions of mothers.

Mothers who nursed their babies, changed their diapers, bent low and shuffled feet behind them as they learned to walk. Mommies who kissed their little ones, waved them out the door, hollared after backs about rejected jackets, shook heads over homework left on the table. Mommas who worked hard to keep food on that table, refereed arguments over whose team was better, cheered at ball games. Moms who held onto their tall, strong boys, whispered I’m praying for you, and make good choices, and watched them jump in cars and drive away.

Mothers whose babies grew up and walked down terrible paths. Who shook heads over things found in jacket pockets. Who watched their boys make the worst kind of choices.

And now, there is shame.

Oh, God, I don’t want to see that shame. Not today.

Not today when radio, TV, internet are so full of alleged and suspected and possible motive. When words of blame are attached to a dead mother whose son has done the unthinkable.

I cannot ask about the precious toddler who became a man and drove jagged spikes through the soul, tearing flesh, shattering bones and leaving alive to bleed pain until she breaks.

I can’t know how recent the wound is. Is there callous or scab? Oh, God, I hate picking fresh scabs.

* * * * *

We step into the starry cold, greeted by bright eyes and laughter. Happy, wrestling, anxious little boys, dragging grandma and mommy clutching little sister along in the dark. We wait together at the door.

So many stupid, ignorant, unconscionable questions from reporters on this day. Ridiculous — disgusting — the things they ask children.

I search for questions that won’t hurt. “How old are you?”

Six. Seven. And a hand.

“Five?” Yes. When do we get to go in?

The door opens, brushes past my thoughts of school children . . .

The hall glows in warm light. Music. Crafts. Candy. Snacks. Games. The boys chase off like puppies, bounding, scampering.

I search the faces of grown-ups on my side of the room, a strange quiet rests on us. My eye catches the associate pastor, a man of retirement age.

I ask. And notice his eyes, filled with tears. Follow his gaze. Now there are more than a dozen children across the room, noisy, carefree.

“It’s too much,” he says, “to see little ones like this.”

Would this celebration have been so hard, if not for the day? I would not have wept the day away. Would they? Daddy in prison . . . I test the thought. No. Still difficult. Ugh.  

God, help me do this. I have to do this. I sit down at the table full of  women, paper and pen in hand. And breathe.

“His daddy’s been in prison all his life . . . my son. He’s got ten more years.” So soft, articulate and sweet. And sad. I never ask why. Never pick the scab. I ask if I can talk to her grandson. “He doesn’t know,” she tells me. “He thinks daddy’s at a camp.”

Out of the room for another breath. This time, to wipe away tears of remembering the weeks, so glaringly insignificant in comparison, of telling my own babies words to soothe the questions — how to explain to tiny souls drug rehab without diminishing Daddy in their eyes .

Another table. Another grandma. This time, it’s her daughter. And son-in-law. Leaving her with three boys, all two years apart, just like mine. Her face is full of gratitude, relief and total exhaustion. She seems my own mom’s age a decade ago when grandchildren demanded stories, cuddles, chases, hide-and-seek, swinging, lifting . . . and were handed back to mommy and daddy so grandma and grandpa could recover for a week.

I think of my own tired. I can’t imagine hers. A baby, a toddler and a five year old. I was thirty when I got that assignment. I’m sure this grandma is nearing twice that. She’s been raising them alone for three years.

Our conversation is comfortable. She is enjoying just sitting. Letting someone else entertain her boys. Her gratitude for the barely-not-a-child-himself children’s pastor who arranged this party, who called her home to tell her Your son-in-law signed the boys up for Angel Tree and would they like to come to a party and get some gifts from daddy? Grateful tears flow free.

She’d put off half the electric bill this month to get some simple gifts for her little boys, to give them a little Christmas. I’ll have to make it up somehow next month, I know, she says. But I try to give them a little joy. I nod. I remember.

“I told the boys, ‘Your daddy told Santa what you want for Christmas, and Santa dropped your gifts off down at a church,'” we giggle together.

But Mommy is far. Another prison in another state. I can barely hear, the voice drops so low. But it begins. Blaming self. Husband left. Raised two kids on her own.  If I had just . . .

I shake my head. I know this thing I didn’t know when they were babies. You teach, you train, you love, you sacrifice, you pray. And in the end, they make choices. And your prayers become pleas.

* * * * *

“Fear not.” The pastor says.

The message of the Angels to the shepherds is the message he has for us. He treads lightly over the horror of the day and reaches out his hand to offer hope.

Good tidings. Great joy. To all people.  A Savior, Christ the Lord. Born to reconcile a broken world to God.

All this deep winter day I’ve remembered a verse. The cries of anguish. Herod’s murderous rampage.

This is what the Lord says:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted,
because her children are no more.” Jeremiah 31:15

But there is more.

This is what the Lord says:

“Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears,
for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord.
“They will return from the land of the enemy.
So there is hope for your future,” declares the Lord.
“Your children will return to their own land.

“I have surely heard Ephraim’s moaning:
‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been disciplined.
Restore me, and I will return, because you are the Lord my God.
After I strayed, I repented ;after I came to understand, I beat my breast.
I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’
Is not Ephraim my dear son,the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him, I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;I have great compassion for him,”
declares the Lord. Jeremiah 31:16-20

Hope for every child in a messed up, broken family. Hope for every loving, praying parent trying to raise their babies in this messed up, broken world.

marking time


Tally Marks

Time will not be managed.

It will not slow. It will not rush. It will not freeze.

I want these short winter days to stretch long. To keep the candles going long after the power returns — careless of chores — just to finish a game of cards in the glow.

Funny how the power outage last night was a welcome relief. The frenzied pace of life is beginning to make my heart ache.

I push hard on the brakes, attempting to slow the clock. Attempting, in my own way, to live deep like my fellow woods-dweller Thoreau.

Saint Paul whispers to me with words of purpose, memorized when I was unconscious of the depth of them: Redeem the time because the days are evil. 

* * * * *

I confess I have been a time marker. Ticking off the hours, the months, the years, waiting for the passing of time to do its business . . .

Seconds til the game’s over. Minutes til school’s out. Hours til I can go to bed. Days til my mom visits. Weeks til the baby is due. Months til the debt is paid.

. . . Years til was is accepted as true . . .

The first days, weeks and months after we flushed Dave’s Ultram passed agonizingly slow.

I know Dave was counting them off.

Seconds of self-denial. Minutes of nausea. Hours of withdrawal. Days of restlessness. Weeks of coming back to recovery meetings. Months of accountability and faithfulness. Hours of clocking in at work. Months of humbly handing over receipts or handing the phone to a friend or pastor to confirm where he was.

Years of honesty.

Trust is not instantly restored. Trust takes time.

It was a terrible penance, I know, for Dave to live with me. My reluctant hope resembled skepticism, my beat-up faith expressed in anger.

I must have quit marking time some time ago . . .

I hadn’t noticed. 

But in the looking back, I see.

Time is for proving.

* * * * *

Recovering addicts mark the days. And celebrate them.

A coin, signifying 30 days. 90 days. 6 months. A year of daily battle. Two years of defeating destructive habits . . .

And now, we have come to five.

Five years and two months on a path of healing, removing heavy, bitter stones along the way.

Time heals . . . for we are no longer the same.

The anniversary passed quietly. A kiss. A moment of silence in the midst of the chaos of living . . .

Peace.

I am not in a hurry, now, to pass the time.

Time heals griefs and quarrels, for we change and are no longer the same persons. Neither the offender nor the offended are any more themselves.– Blaise Pascal, The Pensees, 1669

Epiphany

Farm woman waiting for her husband. John Vachon, 1939. Library of Congress Collection

My head is full of time.

Time to rest. Time travel. Time too quickly past.

Time renewed on a single day.

It is a strange business, this marking of time.

Time is human measure.

The rising and setting sun a gift to finite minds from an infinite God whose days are a thousand years. A reminder that life is short, a vapor. A call to live.

* * * * *
Christmas remained in our house until the 12th day, yesterday. And today is Epiphany.

Epiphany. Sudden, striking realization.

Thoughts of time awaken me this morning. Hours, minutes til rousing the house. Time ticking away til church. A new year . . . different from any new day. House, cleared of Christmas clutter, anticipating life.

I wish I could feel this new every day.

I pray. Breathe newness into our lives.

I pass through the living room, the dining room, the kitchen — clean yesterday, but full now of last night.

I sigh. Life lived cannot always be tidy.

So much for newness.

Then I remember.

. . . Too bad I taught the children in church about the Wise Men last week. Time to think creative thought is slipping. If I linger, I’ll be late…but the Wise Men.

The Wise Men. Watched. Waited. Studied. Followed.

We do not discover Blessed Newness on our own. We are led to it.

We will not return to the destroyer. The one who kills all to find one.

We will return to our country by another way.

* * * * *

Epiphany.

The calendar doesn’t match the time. I long for new, but must wait for it. Spring — and real new — is still months away.

The winter white crocus will be the first sign of new life. Bulb, planted long before the cold and rain. Hope buried deep — growing, nurtured by a freezing death in winter.

Crocus flowers bloom in the grey-dark. They do not wait for sun, for warm.

(If they were dependent on me for life, bulbs would never live.) Sun and warm draw me to the garden — not the burying, the waiting — seems so painfully futile in winter.

Ah, but I am short-sighted. I note to myself: this year, do not forget the sweet peas. Plant them when it is miserable. Bury them. When it is miserable. Or they won’t grow.

Epiphany.

Yes. There is a beauty only nurtured in adversity. A word, a whisper in the darkness of our life. We hear. We believe. We take courage.

Like Mary, surprised. Anxious. Word of an angel in our hearts, waiting for the day glory will be revealed.

How blessed the moment of epiphany. God’s blessing. God’s gift to mankind trapped in time.

In the darkest of days, a seed of hope.

Long expected. Yet unexpected.

Late in time. Yet right on time.

And then…

Release from time for those who have been marking it carefully: 9 months, westward leading star, 400 years of silence — finally broken…

Epiphany. Assurance in the form of gold, frankincense and myrrh. He is the One.

Treasured moment. Pondered for years. Thirty years of waiting. Thirty years of knowing, expecting, hoping.

Epiphany.

I breathe assurance for this coming year of moments. Allow myself to be led by grace and mark time with gratitude. With prayers. With consciousness that we are not yet what we shall be.

I will take this beauty home with me. By God’s grace. By another route.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. — Ecclesiastes 3:11

A book for every resolution

A book for every resolution

Every January, like you, I feel this urge to rid my life of excess. To start over. Fresh.

I attack closets, papers, shelves, kids’ rooms. And I make attempts to purge my bookshelves.

I’ve managed to edit the bookcase beside my bed down to  books I’ll never get rid of. These are the books I go back to over and over.

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share a stack of them with you.

The following books are about resolutions. Seven of the books in this pile have been successful at achieving their purpose in my life. Two of them are earning a place on that bookcase.

Resolution: eat right

The NEW Sonoma Diet is much more than nutritional weight loss. It’s about reclaiming meals as celebrations, making the kitchen the heart of your home and the preparation of the meal an integral part of family life. And it worked for us.

Mealtime in my busy family can become purely sustenance and dinner just another chore. I find myself eating too often on the run: standing up, in the car, in front of the TV. Now, I get a child or two to help me cook and the prep time becomes valuable conversation time. Eat slow and savor. Not just food, the time with your family.

Resolution: have family devotions

I found Little Visits With God in a church library eight years ago and for six years, everyone in our family got something out of it — including me. A verse, a brief   story, questions, a passage to read and a prayer. This little book prompted spiritual conversations with our kids from pre-school through middle school and made it easier to be consistent.

We still pray each night as a family and most nights the kids do devotions on their own — a habit this book helped us form.

Resolution: read to my kids

I must admit, reading to our kids has never been a problem. But I hated reading books that only entertained the kids and bored me to tears.

Over the years I’ve come up with a good list of children’s books that have enriched my life as a grown up much as much as they’ve been enjoyed by the kids. The Chronicles of Narnia top the list.

In fact, I think it’s time to read them all aloud again. My 18-year-old voted The Horse and His Boy as her favorite, so we’ll start there. I may even let her read . . .

Resolution: pray more

The year before everything changed in our dysfunctional life, I faithfully read and prayed through The Power of a Praying Wife. I know these prayers changed me, and I am sure the changes in Dave were somewhat a result of those specific cries out to God. Why I never picked up The Power of a Praying Mom before this year is a mystery. With three teenagers in my house, it’s a staple on my nightstand from now on.

Resolution: worry less

Every woman I know who has read Calm My Anxious Heart has told me it has profoundly affected her life. I am so, so grateful for the worry lessons Linda Dillow has gone through herself and passes on honestly and openly in this book. One of the most valuable parts of the book for me is how she decides what’s worth worrying about. Revolutionary.

Resolution: stick to my priorities of wife and mom

A dear friend gave me Creative Counterpart as a wedding gift 20 years ago, and the writer’s “priority planner” still rules my annual goals. I always list them in this order: the Lord, my husband, my children, my home, myself, outside the home. Even my prayers, when they are regular, follow this trail.

I’m going back to this book again this year — at least one of my priorities has taken a back seat for too long. Husbands can get lost in a mother’s busy life . . .

Resolution: have a clean house

I have tried every housecleaning system under the sun and have come to the conclusion that the art of housekeeping is definitely personality driven. And those of us without a sincere love of order, who could care less about piles as long as they’re hidden, who ALWAYS have to shut AT LEAST one door when there are visitors cannot truly learn housekeeping from people who are naturally offended by mess.

I want a house clean enough that I’m not embarrassed, but lax enough that my boys and their friends feel comfortable. Also, I hate daily maintenance. So The House that Cleans Itself was written just for me.

Mindy Starns Clark gets me. And my husband will concur that this was the best gift he’s ever received from my mother — next to me that is. I almost never have to shut doors now for guests. Almost. Never.

Resolution: write a book

“Procrastinating Perfectionist.” The moment I read Jon Acuff’s description of himself in Quitter I knew this book was going to light a fire under me, and it did. Read it before you quit your day job to pursue your dream. You won’t be sorry.

Resolution: be a completely different person

Sometimes you just get tired of living with yourself. You wake up one day and realize you’ve missed so much because you focused years on the wrong thing. You are unhappy with your life and can’t figure out why.

I’ve moved furniture, changed houses, states, jobs, projects — in search of contentment. If Dave was different… If my kids weren’t so…. If we had enough money…And then you come to the end of the excuses and realize maybe it’s just you you don’t like.

I had seen the hype online about One Thousand Gifts, been told I would love it. So I asked for it for Christmas. Love it is not the word. I’m thankful for it. Written by someone who was tired of herself, someone who struggles with the exact things I do. It feels like I’m reading words written specifically to me.

One Thousand Gifts has given me one word to rule all my resolutions this year: gratitude. And we’ll see how much it changes me.

* * * * *

What book have you found effective at helping you keep a resolution? 

 

 

Defeating discouragement

Russell Lee, 1936 Library of Congress

I’ve been away awhile.

Considering. Thinking.

Keeping myself busy.

Learning. Reading. Praying . . .

I write and set aside. Pour it out. Let it be. Pick up later and refine.

The process is hard. Hard because of the subject. Hard because there is much to tell and to not tell. Hard because life is still living.

It takes time to recount a story of detail. Of moments. Weeding out the unimportant. Remembering and wording the needful . . . the profitable. The useful for others.

I write, and I find. Something to resolve. Something to forgive. Something to make amends for. It’s a journey I cannot take too fast. A journey I’ve been taking away from here.

* * * * *

I dove hard into writing in September. Too hard, I think.

Enthusiastic writing, writing, writing — a book long on my mind, in my journals, in process. A story about mothering. A book accepted, encouraged, asked for. A query. A proposal. Chapters.

But I wrote with a hesitation just behind me. A thought. A voice.

Slow down. There is still so much to learn. To resolve . . .

I hit a wall.

The present needed me more than the past. Needed my prayers. My energy.

. . . I had wanted to be refined. Asked for it, even. Don’t let me write like I know what I don’t know. Useless words I’ll regret. 

I don’t want to regret writing. Not the words. Not the time invested.

* * * * *

I kept my hands busy, all the months away, creating other things. Other than writing.

Mending. Fitting. Sewing. Matching. Making.

Breathing and doing. Resting my mind from words.

And it was good. So very, very good to see something beautiful come of work. Something photographed. Something seen. Something treasured. Something applauded.

I needed to know my work was good. In my heart, to be satisfied . . . and rest from creation.

Because I am often so critical of myself. 

Perfectionism. Immobilizing, undermining, doubt-filled perfectionism.

Perfectionism: a fear of failure.

  • Fear of overstaying keeps from visiting.
  • Fear of saying the wrong thing keeps from comforting.
  • Fear of interrupting keeps from calling.
  • Fear of having to say no keeps from answering.
  • Fear of rejection keeps from asking.
  • Fear of disappointing keeps from inviting.

This is the wrestling match. The fight.

I know the truth. I read the truth. I believe the truth. I am not called to be perfect.

But fear of failure is always waiting. Always crouching at the door eager to control me. (Genesis 4:7)

This Fear/Perfectionism keeps me from writing. Fear of saying it wrong. Fear of missing the meaning. The message.

* * * * *

Then I hit failure. Real failure. Things I cannot change. Things that God will have to make right because I can’t. Life coming to a screeching, grinding halt. This is not how it’s supposed to be.

I floated. On prayers of a few close friends. My husband.

Fear is really, ultimately, control. By my worrying, I can add to my height. 

Sometimes you have to see the ridiculousness of it all. All the worry. All the caring what someone else thinks. All the trying too hard to do it right.

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Matthew 6:27

Sometimes it takes seeing them in writing — these awful things you say to yourself: You are a coward. You are a liar. You are a fake. You are worthless. You are a failure. Your writing is offensive. Give up. Go away. Shut up. You are deceived. You are in denial. So hostile, so hateful . . . calling herself anonymous, throwing stones at a glass house I no longer live in.

I finally name it. This heaviness. It’s not Perfectionism. It’s not really Fear. It’s Discouragement.

The voice that claims to know you, but knew you only in the worst days of your life. Truth barbs, twisted and tangled into a messy mass — skewed perception . . .

But after months of sleeping with discouragement, the harsh words awakened me. Called me back to my calling.

It’s so funny . . . Things meant for evil that God means for good. (Genesis 50:20)

I needed the kick. To get out of my head, as a friend says.

Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Romans 8:33-35

* * * * *

Many months ago, a friend advised me that I shouldn’t always write about our path through addiction to recovery.

It’s taken all these months away to realize she was right. I can’t daily, weekly live in the past. It’s consuming. Draining. Heavy.

I have to plod carefully through. Ever conscious of the perfectionism and fear that beckons the discouragement wandering like a lion seeking someone — crouching, ready to devour.

If I am going to write regularly, and stay with it, I have to write often of other.

“The After,” my sister-in-law called it today. Sometimes the enduring. Sometimes the after.

. . . I’m thankful for the reminder — seemingly out of the blue — from someone who couldn’t possibly know the depth of discouragement I’d felt over the last several months. A reminder of how very, very ugly our life was once from someone who doesn’t know that it is no longer.

It is no longer.

I am not who I once was — and neither is Dave. And that, really, is why I write this blog at all. The miracle of recovery. The miracle that there is an after.

* * * * *

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