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Good Soil…

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Our family has this thing for piling birthdays on top of one another. Mike and I celebrate both our birthdays and an anniversary within a two week period. And 4 days later we celebrate the birth of our youngest. Our oldest two have birthdays two days apart in November. Crazy! But we got it honestly….

I used to think that Groundhog Day was a special holiday made for my parents. A bridge between their birthdays–February 1 and 3–back when I thought all the world revolved around my parents. You remember that?

Today, on their bridge holiday, I give thanks for just a bit of what it has meant to be their daughter.

My dad is one of the most curious people I know. If you asked me what is the greatest legacy he has passed on to me, I might say this is it; He taught me to be curious. He knows the name of every tree that grows in Appalachia. You think I’m lying, but I’m not. Most of the plants too. And if you sit down to look at photos from any of their many travels you will learn all about who built the railway they are riding on in Alaska and why, or who settled any given place, or just what it tastes like to eat a mango fresh off the tree in Hawaii.

This he gave to me. Maybe genetically. But most certainly by example. Ask anyone who knows me. I ask a lot of questions. Not to be polite. But, because I have this insatiable need to know. Just like my daddy.

My mom read to me before memory. My earliest recollections are of stories already well worn. Familiar. Comfortable. Loved. Mostly out of Childcraft books she earned for our family by stepping out of her comfort zone and selling Wold Book Encyclopedias. I inhaled those books as a child. I drank in any story that she told. And even when my children came along and she told them stories, that same magic sent chills up my spine. If you ever hear my mom recite The Raggedy Man, you will understand. Maybe.

This crazy obsession I have with words…my love of crawling inside another’s world through the stories they tell…it is all her fault. She opened a place in me I have never been able to close. Nor do I want to.

Today, while all of you are trying to figure out if winter has had done with us or not, I am mostly thinking about the good soil in which I was blessed to be planted. And giving thanks.

Happy (day between your) Birthday, Dad and Mom!! I love you, and am deeply grateful that you are exactly who you are. God grant you many, many years!

This year…

This morning you sleep in my house. I will cook for you. And wash your clothes. There will be music. And conversation. And laughter.

Once, this was the stuff of our everyday. Ordinary.

Not any more.

Some years grow us more than others. Such has been this year. So much has changed. And all of us have had to grow into the new of it. Today I honor you, my son, and remember…

This year you got your first real job. The kind you go to everyday. You learned to handle some pretty stressful situations. You took pride in your work and made many new friends.

This year you accumulated a whole bevy of musical instruments. And the crazy thing is you can play all of them. Your curiosity and chutzpa know no bounds. I love that about you.

This year you have wrestled (are wrestling) with big decisions about your future and how it is that you want to spend your life. You have asked important questions and looked deep within.

This year you have said a great many goodbyes. I know goodbye is not your favorite. But I have seen you seek ways to stay connected with good friends. And, of course, you have added a great many new folks to your circle of friendship.

This year you fell in love. It has been beautiful to watch you grow into love with this precious young woman. To see your tenderness and kindness, your creativity and generosity, take precise aim. She is a lucky girl.

This year you moved away. I won’t pretend to write this without a catch in my throat. But I am so proud of how you have handled yourself. I knew you were ready. I knew you would love having friends just outside your door, and you do. I knew you would sit out on the grass and play your music into the night. I did not know you and some friends would buy hammocks and erect little hammock highrises for your moonlight forays. But I am not surprised.

For nineteen years I have had the privilege of watching you grow. Watching you discover all that it means to be Jake; find the hidden nooks and crannies of the self God created you to be. It is a process that will take the whole of your life. But this year you have made some giant strides. I have never been more proud of you.

Happy Birthday, Beloved! God grant you many, many, many, many, many years! (Is that enough “many”s? 😉 *inside joke*)

21

We woke before dawn. I showered, dressed, then looked through the hospital bag for the thousandth time. We stepped out into the dark cool of the day you would be born.

There had been this moment, the night before, when I was almost sad that the secret of you was about to be over. The way you would turn somersaults in church and I was the only one who knew. The quiet conversations we two had when no one else was around. And yet, I craved your little body. I ached to finally nuzzle the warm soft of you. To see your beautiful face.

The nurses laughed at dad as he “conducted’ you into the world. He was supposed to count 10 as I pushed, but he always stopped at 8. He could only group beats into fours. 🙂

I can see you cringing at this, but I love this memory: The nurse commented at one point that you had lots of hair. Dad said, “You can see her head?!” Then, of course, he had to see your head too…

There was pushing. There was pain. And then, there was you.

You flailing and reaching and breathing air. You sticky and red and perfectly wonderful. You soft and warm against the outside of me.

I have never

gotten over

this.

And now, my darling daughter, you and I have laced together 21 years of being and knowing together. What do I say of this?

Do I speak of the stories you told at your 2nd birthday party? Of how we used to wake up and find Jake’s bed filled with toys you had delivered to him? Of that delightful habit you have of singing while you work? Of Arabia, sleepovers, movies, friends?

I have been challenged, dear one, to love better because of you. You have taught me much about being a mother. About being a human. And your generosity to others…especially to the unseen…inspires me and makes me want to be more like you.

We have had some fun, have we not? I especially treasure the time we had, just us girls, traipsing across Europe. Living out of our backpacks…in hostels…on the cheap. And having a BLAST!! Thank you for that.

Today, you are an adult. Truth is you have walked in the shoes of an adult for some time now. Quite admirably, I might add. Seeing you mother your little one is a joy. When you come in the door with shopping bags bulging and a guilty look on your face and everything is for  baby…when the two of you giggle in the back seat on road trips…when I see your gentle patience with your daughter (a quality woefully lacking in me at your age)…when you rise early, again, to go to work and build a future for the two of you…I am in awe.

The first time I held you in my arms, dear one, I was smitten. Forever. But I had no idea how rich, and magical, and difficult, and funny, and wondrous the next few years were going to be. Twenty-one years later, I love you–and like you–more than ever. I am very glad there is you in the world. In my world.

Happy Birthday, dearest Kelsey! God grant you many, many years!

Oil of Joy

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor….to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. ~Isaiah 61: 1, 3

It felt like a kick in the stomach. A word whispered across a table.

Pregnant.

In a moment life as we knew it scudded to a halt. I saw my daughter’s world shrinking. Doors of opportunity slamming closed. My heart hurt for her. For us all. It seemed tragic. Hopeless.

More than two years have passed since that night, and there have been moments of great anguish. But there has been so much more. And the world I thought I saw closing around my daughter has opened whole new places in her. I have watched her grow in wisdom and patience, in gentleness and generosity. I have watched her make difficult sacrifices for the good of another. This little one she loves so fiercely. There is softness in her. Grace.

And yes, life is not the same. Not for any of us. But we reap our daily bounty of new mercies. And our lives drip with the oil of joy.

This week, the wee one is a year and a half old. She had trouble sleeping yesterday because of some painful teeth coming in, so I held her for most of her nap. Something I have not done in a long time. As I watched the rise and fall of her breathing and felt the soft warmth of her against me, I whispered a doxology over this unsolicited blessing.  A deep gratitude. She provided an amen of sleep drunk smiles and sighs.

If you are sitting in the ashes of a broken dream just now…if yours is the season of despair…I invite you to consider what God might have in store for you. Here’s a little taste of what He has done for us…

*The first photo, as well as the last two were taken by my daughter, the mommy. The mostly unseen participant in the video is uncle Josh whom Kenzie adores. 🙂

 

Turn the Page…

Some few weeks ago, I gave birth to a darling baby boy. A little towheaded, blue eyed, bundle of joy.

Tomorrow I am carting him off to college.

I do not know how this happened.

Jake was born hungry. Ravenous from the get go. From that moment til this, he has drunk life in great gulps. Seeing deeper than most. Savoring…tastes, sounds, moments, friendships, life.

He is fiercely loyal. It is, perhaps, the hardest part of this growing. This leaving. For him. To be away from the friends who have inscribed their names into the very sinews of his heart. Away from a certain “she” who has the softest, tenderest place. And away from family…we who sometimes rub wrong, who prickle or misunderstand…AND…we who know all the stories, who have shared the houses, the farm, the dogs, the gypsy wanderings…we who have read the books and seen the quirky movies…we who have cried the deep cries and dreamed audacious dreams. We who are the always. And yet…not with. Not now.

I ask myself what I have not said to him. What I wish I had done differently. It is crazy talk, this. I adore the young man he has become. In spite of me, as much as because of me. A work of grace. Very like his Father. So very like. Whatever I might have given him could not be more important than this: He loves well. He is a passionate follower of Christ. He is curious and courageous, generous and good.

We have had a long growing toward this. All of us. This leaving. It has hovered over our heads all this summer. And we have seized and savored moments together. Precious beads to be strung along a rope called memory.

Still, my heart is sore.

I tell him he was supposed to become obnoxious so that I would be glad to see him go. He has not obliged me in this. There will be a palpable absence in our home. A marked reduction in hugs, and long happy sighs over dinner, and stories, and dreams.

We are learning to walk in the new. Our identity as a family is shifting. Again. And once again we must find our place. This is ever the shape of life.

Over the years I have recruited scripture, prayers of the saints, and words of poets in conversation with with my artist, philosopher son. And in conversations about Jake with his Father. On this auspicious threshold, I offer him a few words from that great poet philosopher, Bob Dylan. A blessing. A prayer.

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young

I could not find a recording of the classic Dylan rendering. (The one that has left me in tears this summer more times than I care to admit.) But I was happy to find this from one of our shared favorites, the lovely Ms. Norah Jones.

For you, Jake. Godspeed, beloved!!!

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Hushpuppy lives with her daddy in the Bathtub. It’s the only home she has ever known. Theirs is a meager existence, raw, uncertain. But it is also a life of wonder. Of camaraderie and spirit. “The Bathtub has more holidays than the whole rest of the world.” It is life lived close to the earth and her rhythms, and subject to her volatility.

The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece… the whole universe will get busted.

The six year old poet philosopher stitches together an understanding of the world from all she sees and hears. She presses baby chicks against her ears to listen to their heartbeat. She drinks in the music and fireworks and renegade joy as the community revels in this outside way of life they have chosen. In the wilds of the Delta. Outside the levy.

When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me flying around in invisible pieces. I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe…

Hers is an epic story. Of melting polar ice caps, of prehistoric aurochs, of floods that threaten to take everything. Of a quest to find the  mother who was lost to the river. Because her father is sick. The father who taught her to be “a man”. To be strong and take care of herself. Who protected and cared for her in the only way he knew how.

She draws her story on the walls of her house, on a cardboard box, on her bedclothes. Because it matters.

In a million years, when kids go to school, they’re gonna know, once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.

It is a remarkable film. Beautiful. Poignant. Heart-rending at times.Little Quvenzhané Wallis is brilliant as Hushpuppy. Compelling, fiery when she needs to be, completely natural. And so vulnerable, at times, that I wanted to sweep her up in my arms and take her home.

Winner of 4 awards at the Cannes Film Festival and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, it is now playing in limited release. Look for it wherever art films are played in your area. In Nashville, you can find it at the Belcourt.

Curious. Expectant. Surprised.

The evening is soft and sultry. Unexpectedly hot for May. We sit on calico covered hay bales in the long twilight shadows, while the two of them make promises. Love and cherish. Til death. I have never seen her more radiant.

Every detail says something about who they are. Individually. And as one. Bow ties and suspenders. Antique colored glasses spilling blossoms. Lanterns, paper pinwheels, and signature cocktails served up in mason jars.

He leads her to the dance floor. His touch tender, her eyes filled with love. And their deep joy becomes the music, becomes the dance, becomes the night sky and stars and fireflies and air. I can’t take my eyes off them.

They have been dancing into one another for months. A bit at a time. Here is the extraordinary thing, as they have moved toward oneness, I have seen her becoming more and more herself. As though he is liberating something inside her, and she is liberating him. A sweet, selfless love that is curious and generous, that discovers and makes brave.

I have thought of it often since that night.

 The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own. ~Benjamin Disraeli

He is an internationally renowned jazz pianist who has played with the likes of Art Blakey and Wynton and Branford Marsalis. There is a photo on the wall of him with Dave Brubeck. He talks about these things humbly. Like gift.

Then he begins to tell us about some of his students. Students who have played with Miles Davis and Sting. Students who have become headliners in their own right. He talks about the joy of helping someone find in himself something he didn’t know was there. And I am very glad to be entrusting my son to him for the next four years.

It is gift…

…this ability to see inside someone and draw out what is there. But it is gift that can be cultivated. By listening deeply. By loving generously, without agenda. By wanting the good of the other as much as I want the good of myself. By being willing to surrender preconceived notions and allow the other to grow beyond anything I could have imagined for him.

I want to love like this.

I want to live among others like this.

Curious.

Expectant.

Surprised.

Don’t you?

*The enchanting couple above are Shawn and Madeline Lemon. It is a delight to know them. Positively beautiful, inside and out. Photograph by Brandon Chesbro.

**Jake’s instructor is to be the inimitable Donald Brown. I include the following by way of introduction. Treat yourself to a summer evening in Vienna, and jazz on a Bösendorfer. (That is perhaps only ironic to piano snobs. ;)) The piano solo is about 5 minutes in. Don’t miss it.

We said we would start with dogs…

We said we would start with dogs. If the dogs didn’t die, we would have some babies. We lost the boy dog while I was pregnant, and the girl just after Kelsey was born. Despite this inauspicious start, in twenty years we have managed to not kill any of the children. Yet. 🙂

Beloved, I can’t think of anyone with whom I would rather share the beautiful, terrifying, sacred experience of parenthood, than you. Here are just a few reasons why I am grateful you are the father of my children…

  1. You are sane. Sometimes I resent it…when I want beat the living daylights out of someone who has broken the heart of one of our babies…when I can’t sleep for fretting… But, in the end, your quiet confidence brings far more healing than my fury.
  2. You are funny. Sometimes on purpose. Sometimes not. 😉  Either way, our family has laughed a lot because of you. Thank you for that.
  3. You are generous. You provide our children with everything they need. And, you give them your time, something even more precious. You help them understand the joy of ownership by coming alongside them as they work to achieve their goals. And, by your example, you teach them to give to others with open hands.
  4. You are tender. I have seen your heart break for your babies. I sometimes envy the way you instinctively know how to be with them in those moments. You impart peace, without saying a word.
  5. You are Godly. Not preachy. Not flashy. But always, every day, honorable. A man of integrity. A man of faith.
  6. You are dauntless. Whether wilderness backpacking, snowboarding, driving on the wrong side of the road in Ireland, or letting little girls put your hair in tiny ponytails, nothing intimidates you. You have taught our children to be brave. With your words. But mostly, by your example.
  7. You are creative. Do you remember how you used to make up stories for the kids when they were little? They would give you 3 things and you would weave them into the story. A bowl of ice cream is canvas to you. And I save all your beautiful letters. I’ll bet they do too.
  8. You like to play. Our children have been to some crazy places and done some crazy things. You help make that happen. You are always up for a game, a hike, a culinary experiment, wrestling on the floor, dressing up for Halloween, etc…
  9. You know stuff. Lots of stuff. About business, about electronics, about tools and toilets and how to make doors not squeak…and about who to call for everything else.
  10. You love without limits. The children have all tested this (as have I). It is the most important thing. When we try to grasp a God who loves extravagantly, without bounds, we have had a worthy example. In you.

Happy Father’s Day, my darling! Thank you for being you.
I love you. Always.

Behold…

He said most of us do not understand what the word really means. We think it means something like, “Hey, check this out!”

He said, Imagine a mother holding her newborn baby. Observe her gaze. See how her face softens. She can’t stop looking at him. She is not evaluating him. She is delighting in him. Drinking him in…

And the baby, he said, gazes at her. He has no words. But something very palpable travels to him in that gaze. Something that fortifies him. Something that will make him strong, and help him know who he is.

Behold is like that, he said.

This is what happens when I sit in silence with God. I behold Him, and He beholds me. And words are not needed. But something very palpable passes between us. Delight. Deep knowing. And I begin to understand who I am. Who I really am.

And this silence, this communion with God, becomes something I carry inside me. And it perfumes everything. It informs everything. And I see differently. I am different.

Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being…

~Thomas Merton

*A liberal translation of the teaching of Ian Cron at #Luminous12
**Personal prerogative: photograph is Kelsey and Kenzie. I made the baby in the story a boy because it reads more cleanly.

One

You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. ~Psalm 139:13-14

She plowed into her cake with both hands. To the delight of all onlookers. Some of them invited guests. Family. Friends. Some of them total strangers who just could not stop watching her.

It is how she does everything. With abandon. All in. Her world is a wondrous place. So much to discover. To taste and handle. To see and smell. To climb up and slide down. I am learning a great deal from her.

This has been a year fraught with discovery. Of fraternizing with ducks. Of handling wiggly, squiggly earthworms. Of burying toes in the dirt. Of blossoms and birds. Of butterflies and balls.

It has been about moving slowly and looking long. It has been prayer and play, sunshine and storms. It has been music, and dancing, and making friends.

We have been stretched. All of us. We are learning to see the world with new eyes. Again. We are remembering how to play. We laugh. A lot. There has been more snuggling than I can recount. I have read Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Five Little Ducks, and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom approximately a million times. Each. And every day, I watch a little life unfurling before my eyes. Like a blossom. And it is the most magical thing I have ever been privileged to witness. And I keep wondering how I got so lucky.

Happy Birthday, Baby Girl!! I love you to the moon and back. God grant you many, many years!!

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~Jeremiah 29:11

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