he still talks to me: a birthday reflection

Somewhere along the way, someone told me that if I took the time to listen to my kids when they were little, they would still talk to me when they were older.

I’m not always the best listener. My mind is always full of story and music. I have to stop the noise to hear.

But 17 years ago today, God gave us our second child — a little boy who learned to talk before he walked and was always full of words.

Maybe because his big sister “read” to him. Maybe because he read to himself. Calvin baby reading newspaper 001

Thoughts and ideas came out the moment he could form the words to speak them.

“I know a idea,” he would say.

And, “Dat be fun, mom? Dat be fun?” He would say, half — I think  — to see if I was listening. Sometimes, I admit, I wasn’t.

Some of my favorite conversations in these verbal explorations, were Calvin’s talks with his great-great grandma.

He was 2 1/2 and she was 98. She repeated things and he was happy to listen: “I’m going to take you back to my farm in Texas,” she would say. And he would play along, “Do you have cows?” And she would say, “We just have cotton.” Around and around.

Calvin age 2 chatting with grandma Bolton 001

Look at their sweet hands. They had all the time in the world to listen to each other. And neither cared if or what the other repeated. A perfect, beautiful match.

* * * * *

Somewhere along the way, someone told me that if I took the time to listen to my kids when they were little, they would still talk to me when they were older.

It was really hard. Four of them all at once sometimes. And I failed to stop, focus, and really listen time and again. But by God’s grace, they kept talking, and became skilled at getting my attention. Baby number four would hold my face in his hands to make sure I was listening.

“This family needs a talking stick,” I remember hearing from a teacher. “Everyone in this house has something to say.”

They did. And sometimes, they were things I needed to hear. Yes, I was still the parent. And yes, there were times I had to ask them to be still. And yes, sometimes be still was yelled in impatience . . .

But other times, when I listened, I heard unexpected whispers of truth.

One time, when our family was homeless, and jobless, and new to Washington and staying with gracious friends for months, and we had a car accident, and our money ran out, and we were praying for a home and job and everything we could think to pray, I loaded the kids up and drove through the countryside, and warm October sunshine filled our van. And my four-year-old-who-is-now-seventeen asked all the questions in the world. And I answered distractedly, caught up in my own questions of God.matthew 21 verse

A song came on the radio and went like this,

By a roadway in the wilderness, He’ll lead me
Rivers in the desert will I see

Behind my seat, my boy’s deep little four-year-old voice asked yet another question, “We’re in a desert, aren’t we mommy?”

Amazed, I pulled out of my thoughts and listened to the song, and hope washed over me.

“Yes, we are baby.”

And God will make a way. 

* * * * *

As much as I failed to listen perfectly, I must have listened often enough to this boy. He still tells me his ideas and plans, just like he did when he was four. His head is full of stories and music, too . . .

And you know, I’m still learning how to listen.

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middle age, metabolism, and Monday

I figure I’m right in the middle of the August of life, which is still summer, if you know what I mean.

Someone used “middle age” to define my season the other day, and I have to say I was a little offended.

Although — to be fair — if I’m blessed to live for 90 years, and I’m 45, I guess technically you really can’t get any more middle than that.

It’s not so much denial as perhaps my failure to adjust to the change of seasons. I figure I’m right in the middle of the August of life, which is still summer, if you know what I mean.

Well, maybe I’m more like August 22nd in a perpetual last-week-before-school-starts frenzy of doing all the things, buying all the things, trying not to feel to awfully bad about all the things on your summer list you didn’t get to, and rushing to Office Max at the last minute hoping you get to the college-ruled composition books before all they have left is One Direction. And in front of me is September, when the Pacific Northwest weather’s suddenly rainy, then warmer, then cooler, then cold mornings and intensely hot 3 p.m.’s and you’re sitting on the sidelines of a soccer game in Seattle in October getting a sunburn . . . (don’t read too much into that).

So, half way through my 45th year, I suppose I should accept that I’m staring down autumn pretty hard.  And I think I’m finally okay with it. Except the lack of metabolism.

No. This is serious. I’m in a season where merely looking at sugar is the new actually consuming sugar.

I’ve got fat now where I used to be super smug that I didn’t. Watch out, young braggarts. Even after four babies I had a flat stomach. Had, being the operative word here.

And there really is only one solution to this problem. (Well, of course there are others, and I know them and need to do them, but do please hear me out here . . .)

Mom jeans.

That’s right. For the first time since the 90’s,  I bought a pair of pants that hits me at my natural waistline. Surprisingly, they’re far more comfortable than the hipsters I’ve worn forever, and they seem to have the side benefit of reducing the muffin top. Who knew?

Also, I could actually wear the size I still am in my head, which was quite pleasant because that never happens with low-rise jeans. And hey, if I don’t tuck my shirt in, no one will ever know . . .

Unless, hypothetically, in your rush to get out the door to work you accidentally leave one of the forty-six stickers of marketing brilliance on the jeans and walk through the office with a shiny Ultrastretch plastered across your bum.

It could happen . . .

And also . . . I just realized why I fit into the size I thought I should. Wow. Really — just now.

But seriously, last week was hard. I had to go buy clothes, and I would so much rather buy that cute little red-fluted crockery dish than try on thirty-six dresses that are decidedly NOT “all about that bass.”

It was so traumatic, I yearned to stop in Trader Joe’s and buy dark chocolate covered anything to make me feel better.

And then it hit me. Duh. That that’s part of the reason I’m feeling crappy about the shape I’m in. I can’t eat like I used to. And that is so sad. Partly because it’s just a bummer and partly because I have a houseful of men who can pretty much eat whatever they want and run it off.

I resisted Trader Joe’s. (cue applause)

I have to face the reality that at my age (yes, I said it) and with my metabolism it’s going to take long-term commitment and discipline. The for-the-rest-of-my-life kind.  Cuz if I told you how many calories a person my age and my height and tiny bone structure needs, you would cry for me. Or you would say, Oh Honey, learn to love running.  

I guess I say all this because the need for discipline is hidden around every corner of my life right now. And I see value in the daily and the mundane — as much as my flibbertigibbet spirit resists it.

So here’s my simple prayer for a new week:

God, help me to accept that my body is not what it once was, and please help me take good care of it now. Help me embrace a season of discipline without becoming obsessed. And please help me resist the free M & M’s  at work, you know how much of a temptation they are on Mondays. Amen.

Happy Monday!

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P.S. What’s your favorite thing about your current season of life and what’s the thing you could really just do without? Write it here in the comments. I would love to know!

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our harvest of one

Less of a post, more of a picture.

My youngest son and I planted a garden around our house in the woods this year. Just a little one.

I neglected the lettuce til it was consumed by slugs, I failed to thin the radishes, and the peas were sparse.

The cucumbers fared much better and yielded several jars of pickles, the topping for a few salads, and a relish tray for a potluck. Our single tomato plant produced several delicious tomatoes, enough for a few BLTs and burgers. And the corn we grew in a container — which apparently doesn’t work well — gave us a mutant we affectionately called “corn nubbin.”

The prize of our modest crop, however, was this beautiful little sugar pumpkin. This hearty harvest was the lone survivor of six plants of trailing vines, dozens of blooms, and nearly a dozen tiny starts that didn’t get bigger than a cherry tomato and paled into mush. We tended this little pumpkin carefully, and set a dessert plate under it to keep it off the ground . . . and get it used to its fate. 🙂

This sweetie pie has a special center place in our home now.

Our harvest of one . . . to share with you.

Have a blessed day of rest,

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hope from a season of despair

On Thursday night I sat at a round table with co-workers and friends in an enormous room, dining on filet mignon and jumbo prawns, and witnessed contagious, hilarious generosity. Just the sort of evening to breathe new life into a tired writer.

I’ve been a writer at a marketing agency raising money for nonprofit organizations for the past six years. I’ve written for prison ministries, for family ministries for humanitarian aid, justice ministries, rescue missions. The stories entrusted to me help spread the word about what our clients do and raise money so they can keep doing what they’re doing.

Several years ago, on my first interview trip, it struck me that even though my life had been Sunday school, Church, mission field, Christian family, and I had had zero exposure to illegal drugs, when these men and women talked about coming to the end of themselves, I got it. Though our lives couldn’t be more opposite, the end result was the same.

The devastation that drugs and addiction bring to a person and a home are universal. Neither Dave nor I went to prison, we didn’t get a divorce, our kids weren’t taken away, and yet we came to the same breaking point as an addict on the street: God, I need help now.

As wonderfully fitting as my work is, I confess that I get discouraged. I feel like I’m writing everyone’s words but my own. My name doesn’t go on anything I pour myself into. The fruits of my creative labors are for somebody else’s benefit.

But on Thursday night I sat at a round table with co-workers and friends in an enormous room, dining on filet mignon and jumbo prawns, and witnessed contagious, hilarious generosity.  Just the sort of evening to breathe new life into a tired writer.

Items up for bid at this included float plane excursions, U.S. Open tickets, and time doing various things with people like the Seahawks’ Kam Chancellor, the Sounders soccer team, and Macklemore.

And they didn’t go cheap. The minimum bid for anything in the live auction, hosted and called by local television personalities was $1,000. A night on the Mission’s Search & Rescue Van with Macklemore sold for $25,000. A donor called in from his hospital bed to pledge $100,000.

I don’t know who these people are, but I know they believe strongly enough that broken people can be renewed to open up their wallets and give $1.5 Million to help heal them.

A man named Richard told his story. He’d been homeless and a meth addict for years, and he laid on a park bench for five days and asked God to take his life. Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission’s Search and Rescue Van found him there and when they asked if he’d like to spend the night in the mission instead of on the streets, he said yes.

A year later he’s standing up on stage at this event telling 500 people that God did take away his life. He took away the life of addiction and drugs and hopelessness and gave him a new life in Christ.

I also witnessed the very thing I wrote about two days ago. That thing about monks and how we defeat discouragement and depression and acedia with serving and working with our hands.

The keynote speaker, with a net worth of $100 Million, famous for his role on a successful TV series surprises us, “Tonight, I’m going to tell you my story.”

And his voice breaks and he says, “I’m not afraid of anything, I’m known for being a shark, I don’t have weaknesses. Except . . .” And he weeps out words of devastation, of losing his kids in a divorce.

And he says all the money and fame and prestige could not heal the most painful hurt in his life. He was in such deep despair he went to the balcony and contemplated ending his life.

Afraid of himself, he called a friend and said, “I need to help someone else right now, or I’m going to die.”

That friend sent him to Seattle where he labored at the Men’s Shelter, alongside men like Richard. Through choking tears, he tells about going out on the Search and Rescue Van with Richard and how they found a man who was crying in a park and the two of them prayed over him and served him, millionaire on one side, homeless meth addict on the other.

And in the end of his story, this broken mega millionaire says: simple acts of service fixed me.

Stories of hope and revival lead to other stories of hope and revival.

No way in my life did I ever dream that our worst season of despair would turn into a season of philanthropy. Impossible that I would heal while writing words that help raise millions of dollars to help hurting people. I suppose about as impossible as a grateful meth addict reviving a billionaire.

* * * * *

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treasure the doing more

Somewhere over the past few years, I’ve lost a little of the fervor for living the current season of my life. Sometimes, it’s wall to wall crazy and I don’t have a moment of quiet til after midnight.

I got home late from work tonight. Missed the boys and Dave by a few minutes, I think. They’re off to soccer practice and workout time at the Y with dad.

Though the September sun was still shining mad and hot just down the road, our house in the shadow of the woods was dark and cool.

When I opened the door, I noticed the dryer and dishwasher going. As I flipped on the lights, I saw the tidy kitchen and dining room. Elves. I’ve wanted them since I was a little girl. Best of all, was the distinct aroma of Pillsbury crescent rolls.

In wonder and delight, I opened the fridge. Yes, the boys had made dinner for themselves . . . and they saved a plate for me. Two pizza roll ups sitting on a plate with a little dish of marina, covered in cling wrap.  I called, just to be sure. Yes. They saved it for me.

It occurred to me, as I settled in on the couch in silence and put up my feet, that we’ve been parenting kids for twenty years.

As I bit into calorie-laden deliciousness, all the sleepless nights with the child who made them vanished. Well, technically they vanished a long time ago, along with the rest of my memory . . . But no. Actually, I remember the nights too well. Especially the year it seemed I sat upright all night, every night rocking, praying, singing, giving nebulizer treatments so the one who made these tasty treats could breathe.

Years ago, now. Fourteen. My third child. The one who introduced me to a new level of stress because for goodness’ sake, I only have two hands! How in the world am I supposed to hold onto the third one? The one who proved to me once and for all that I can’t do everything and expect to be good at it.

I left full-time career world when my oldest was born, wandering back in to education part-time here and there. But a few weeks after baby three was born, I realized I could not stay up all night with a sick baby, teach and go home to make dinner, do lesson plans, grade papers, and still have time for three kids.

This precious little boy who kept me awake at night, singing, rocking and praying took me to the absolute end of myself. He was the one that finally made me let go.

Nearly a year after he was born, sitting next to a bathtub of kids, I read an article that changed me.  “Goodbye Dr. Spock” by Anna Quindlen was printed in Newsweek in November of 2000.  I still have the article, water stains and all. These are the words that stayed:

I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Treasure the doing.

I took it to heart. I finally shelved the “how to be a perfect parent and have perfect kids” books and just plain parented. We cooked. We made messes. We had picnics. We went on adventures. We talked. We read stories. We made playdough. We painted. We spilled legos all over the floor and built things. We made towers and knocked them down. We sang. We banged on the piano. We had dance parties. We stayed up too late. We read all the books aloud.  We skipped school to play in the snow. We got lost. We planted seeds. We made cookies for the seasons and decorated them. We all went to swimming lessons together. We tried homeschooling. We prayed long prayers and asked God for things like trampolines. We sat in the back of rehearsals til we’d memorized every line. We stood on the sidelines of soccer games in pouring rain. We played “what’s next mother” to clean the house. We yelled, and laughed, and we let our cat have kittens. I didn’t even try to be successful at anything else, I didn’t have time.

When the kids were all in school, and Dave lost his job, I went back to work part-time and it took years for us to figure out a new rhythm. Seven years later, the house has decidedly lost the battle for my time and I let the kids watch way too much TV. But the boys clean, do laundry, cook. It’s wonderful. My house isn’t going to win any prizes, but it doesn’t really matter. We work together so we have time for each other.

* * * * *

I wrote all that a few weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about it constantly. Somewhere over the past few years, I’ve lost a little of the fervor for living the current season of my life. Sometimes, it’s wall to wall crazy and I don’t have a moment of quiet til after midnight. Like today — which I will tell you about tomorrow.

Treasure the doing more than the getting done today. Every moment adds up to life.

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P.S. That’s my 14 year old’s baby face. And I still kiss it every morning and every night.

1500 size Live the SeasonWhat’s your season? 

the healing power of daily discipline

We’re all in a season of something, we might as well live it.

You can do anything for 30 days.

I said this a few months back — before I’d really thought it through.

I’m a great starter. I’ve got vision, enthusiasm and energy for something new almost always. But finishing takes every ounce of discipline I don’t have.

Take the “30 Day Shred” for example . . . I enthusiastically accepted a friend’s challenge  and kept at it for approximately ten days.

And then we went camping. And then I had to write a website for a client. And then, no matter how much Jillian yelled there is no modification for jumping jacks! I make 400 pound people do them you can do them, too! my ankles and knees began to tell me things I’ve never heard my body say before . . . things I really can’t repeat.

I’m a big thinker. A dreamer. But the daily grind, the day to day . . .  it takes everything I have to fold my clothes and put them away. It’s so daily! That’s why cooking is my favorite home chore. I can create, dream, and delight my family. Frankly, no one is all that delighted by my tidy room. I’ve asked.

To be fair, it’s not that I’m completely unable to do anything consistently. I brush my teeth every morning and every night. I’m just not so disciplined.

Over the years, I’ve embraced this freedom and turned it into an art:

  • I’m spontaneous, creative, I do my best work at the last minute. (All true.)
  • There are more important things than having a clean house. (Also true.)
  • I’m a Mary not a Martha. (Not so much true. I’m more of a daydreaming Mary who decides at the last minute to be a Martha and then pleads for all the Marys in the house to help.)

This “procrastinating perfectionism” has worked for me for years. Years. In just about everything.

At least I was. Until I hit a wall.

About a year ago, I ran out of words and writing became a chore. The problem is, writing is my job, so I had to find a way to recharge. Plus, I love to write.

I read books. Memoirs about writing. Self-help books for writers. I did exercises. Nothing really worked. I was deeply discouraged and it affected everything. I withdrew. I gained weight. I became listless and apathetic.

And then I came across a book about monks and acedia:

The desert monks termed acedia “the noonday demon” because the temptation usually struck during the heat of the day,  when the monk was hungry and fatigued, and susceptible to the suggestion that his commitment to a life of prayer was not worth the effort . . . .

. . . . I have come to believe that acedia can strike anyone whose work requires self-motivation and solitude, anyone who remains married “for better or for worse,” anyone who is determined to stay true to a commitment that is sorely tested in every day life.

Acedia & me  – Kathleen Norris

That was it. Acedia was what ailed me.

Anxious to discover the secret to defeating this demon, I devoured the book in a week. If you’re anything like me, you are not going to like the answer I found. To battle acedia, monks turned to simple, daily discipline serving through the doldrums. Working with their hands while talking to God, creating a rhythm that renewed their passion for prayer.

I know this to be true. If I was writing at home, I washed dishes and carefully cleaned the kitchen, praying as I cleaned. I spent four hours deep cleaning my bathroom. I washed everything in the house and folded every piece. I went for walks with my boys. I said yes to invitations and activities. After a while, I needed a pen and a notebook next to me while I was making dinner again.

I wrote and wrote. And it felt so good to be writing again.

About that time, I ran across another month long challenge: writing every day for 31 days.

I mentioned it to Dave — who is very happy that I’m writing again. But he said, “You’ve never done 31 days of anything. The last 15 days will be a surprise.”He’s right. So I’m taking lots of pictures just in case I give up and this becomes 31 Days of Cats.

But I figure, maybe I’ll have to clean something every day in order to write every day. In theory, if I am successful, I should end up with a spotless home. In theory.

So I’m taking the challenge. Because discipline really is reviving me.1500 size Live the Season

I settled on a theme, wrote out a list of posts and ideas, tidied the blog, played around with graphic arts and I’m ready to go.

My theme for the next 31 days is contentment: Live the season. I expect I’ll write about parenting, recovery, being 45, and relationships among other things. Some days will be serious and others not. I mean, I’ve never done anything like this before. Who knows what will happen?

No matter what season you are in,  I hope you’ll follow, add to the discussion and share posts with friends.

We’re all in a season of something, we might as well live it.

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