This is the moment I want to share today.
Just one moment in the frozen shire. The morning is clear and crisp, full of possibilities.
Today is a gift.
This is the moment I want to share today.
Just one moment in the frozen shire. The morning is clear and crisp, full of possibilities.
Today is a gift.
“What are we doing for New Year’s Eve, Mom?”
It was the 30th of December. Plans had been made. The Vietnamese egg rolls had been ordered and picked up. Shopping almost done. Phô ingredients in the fridge. Well, almost. I forgot the bean sprouts. And the shrimp.
There was no meat in the house at all, except one leftover piece of salami. Maybe I should call it Ramen instead of Phô. Then they wouldn’t expect anything exotic like limes or vegetables or meat. Also, the noodles are mung bean, not rice stick. Technically, mung bean noodles in broth are neither phô nor ramen. Who was I trying to kid? But the broth was really good, I reasoned. I bought fresh basil! Maybe they wouldn't notice.
Did I mention the kids had been sick? Of course they were. After every major holiday for the last 21 years, someone in my family has gotten sick. So like clockwork, right after Christmas, the stomach aches had begun.
“What are we doing for New Year’s Eve, Mom?” The question repeated, jolting me out of my reverie.
“Well, dear. Three people still have stomach aches. And since someone puked on the dog in the middle of the night, I think we better keep it a little low key…Let’s enjoy our egg rolls and Phô and have some fun!”
“So, Mom. Let me get this straight." True teenage tact. "What you’re really saying is that for New Year’s Eve, we are staying home and eating soup?”
“Yeah, something like that. Want to eat egg rolls today instead? It’s almost New Year’s Eve, and there really isn’t any other food in the house.”
They were delicious.
We all said “Happy New Year” and smiled.
The next day, the Real New Year’s Eve, my kid said “Mom, did you know that some people watch T.V. on New Year’s Eve, and there is this giant silver ball thing that drops in New York City? Someday can we see that?”
“Sure, kid. Someday... Hey, there is just one egg roll left in the fridge. I hid it under the lettuce so no one else could find it. Do you want it?”
"Aww, Happy New Year, Mom."
Happy New Year indeed.
It's New Year's Day, the feast day of Mary, Mother of God!
She was an unmarried, a pregnant teenager... she gave birth in a stable...and soon found herself a homeless refugee, fleeing from persecution under cover of night.
Yet the angel told her "Be not afraid."
And she believed.
She became the God-Bearer.
Happy New Year!
Are there no flowers of joy in your life today?
Do not despair.
The seeds are all around you.
They may be in the snow for the moment, but when the heat gets turned up, and the fertilizer gets dumped on,
A thousand more flowers will bloom.
I had a moment of Peace today. It might seem unlikely. Invisible, even. But it mattered.
I saw A Bolt.
It was smaller than a dime. I was at the gigantic Mall of America, riding a merry-go-round with my kids, and fighting dizziness. The world was spinning, colors flashing, noise bombarding, and I was feeling woozy. I grabbed a horse, but it was charging up and down as well as spinning around the frenzied mall. A question briefly crossed my mind: Did seasick moms ever fly off the merry-go-round while standing watch over their kids who were buckled in atop the colorful animals?
Because I didn’t want to be the one that did.
Suddenly, in the middle of the cacophony, I remembered some sage advice I learned on a similar seasick moment on a sailboat in the Pacific.
Find one stationary thing on the horizon, and keep your eyes on it.
I scanned the MOA, searching for something, anything, that was unmoving. But EVERYTHING jumped, flowed, charged, flashed, and spun. Until I saw the Bolt.
The bolt was screwed into the center of the merry-go-round, where it faithfully and quietly stayed. It seemed to hold the whole merry-go-round world together. I kept my eyes on that bolt the rest of the ride, and although the entire mall world was spinning and racing around me, my equilibrium stayed balanced. My spirits soared! I had found balance! For one ephemeral moment, I became transformed into a Prima Ballerina. I floated above heavenly clouds of misty tulle, spinning on my toes in graceful, balanced perfection, far above the whirling crowd!
Thank you, Bolt.
I’ve never been en pointe before.
Because I focused on One Bolt, I went from middle aged mom, spun out of control, to Odette the Swan Princess.
Today when my world starts to spin out of control, I’m going to remember to find One Bolt, and keep my eyes on it.
God is my Bolt.
I introduced a kid to pastels.
It was a marvelous, quiet night. I found a forgotten old box of cast-off pastels that hadn't been used in years... I brought it out, and he smiled. It simply meant a Free License to Make a Mess. We opened the treasure chest of colors, and put some large papers down on the kitchen table. Peel the colors, break them into pieces. Use the sides, the tops, the hard edge on the bottom. No lines, just your imagination.
Scribbling makes the best pastel art.
In front of my eyes, his blank white page grew entangled with roots and vines. Nordic myth and legend spilled over a pastel waterfall, alive with mystery.
We drew together until late in the night.
No technology. No screen. Just colors and paper... And his imagination.
For Christmas, we gave one of the little kids a small point-and-shoot camera. He strapped it to his wrist, and has not taken it off. He clicks the shutter constantly, capturing fractions of moments in the cheap plastic box. When he showed me the photos he’d taken, I was quite surprised.
Is this what he saw? Really? We all have our points of perspective, I know. But he has been strolling through life, seeing things differently than I do. For example, the coffee pot is right at his eye level. He has a snapshot of a dirty, empty coffee pot. Very depressing and unnerving, I think. From my perspective, coffee pots are happiness-givers, filled with joy and awake-ness! The child also has a picture of his toes. And a photo of my nostrils when I am sleeping.
I am not sure I want to relive the moments he has captured. Not at all. Some things are better left unsaid…Unremembered. Did I really look like that as I made breakfast, Kiddo? Why didn’t you run in fear?
His photography has brought me to a new point of understanding. I want to be choosy about what I remember. I want to save the very best of each day, and put it in my little treasure box of experiences to keep.
So I have an idea.
For the next 365 days, I am going to capture a moment of Love, Joy or Peace.
And share it.
Every. Single. Day.
When Doug reads this, he will laugh, I am sure. I am an Idea Person, not a Follow-Through Person. I always have big ideas, and usually I can follow through for a couple of weeks, at best. Then I’m off, wandering after another new idea, another new project. But this is important. The days pass quickly, and I won’t get another chance at today. This is it.
I’m going to need a lot of help to stay on track. I know that some days will be so dark that I will struggle to find that one moment of joy. Too busy to find one moment of peace. Too angry to see the joy. And truthfully, the only thing that I’ve probably ever followed through on every day for a full year was changing diapers. Not much cause for joy, heh? I am going to need help staying on track here. So please post your moments of love, joy, and peace in the comments. Let’s help each other to have the best year, ever.
Okay, so here we go. This is today’s moment of Joy:
My kiddo looked at the empty coffee pot picture that I found so depressing. Just a dirty, empty, depressing coffee pot.
“Mom! No! You got it all wrong!” he yelled. “That’s not empty and dirty! That’s the exact moment the coffee started to drip through when you turned it on! See it splashing? It’s the beginning of a fresh pot of coffee!”
Are you ready for Christmas?
There is so much to do! Start checking off the long list:
Presents… ’Tis the season to bustle about, rushing to buy presents. Make sure you don’t forget anyone! Is this the right size? Oh, forget it. If a mom buys clothing for a teenager, it just ends up on the closet floor anyway. This mom definitely doesn’t know what is cool. Is cool even a word anymore? I think they say “hot” now. Personally, I would rather spontaneously combust than call my daughter’s clothing “hot”. Good grief. The thought of my little girls someday being hot is enough to engulf me in burning flames of panic. That is hot. Better stick to books. Maybe if I buy them books, they’ll be more interested in the library. Libraries are safe and quiet. And socks. Books and socks. They’ll be so pleased with their Christmas presents…
Decorate… Must I? The house is so cluttered already, that I can’t bear to do it. Can’t we just arrange your Playmobil characters on the mantel in a Christmas-y, manger scene and be happy? You can add the giraffe and the orangutan, too, Dear. I know they all want to see Baby Jesus. I’ll even light some candles. But that didn’t go so well this year. The first night of advent, the lone candle flickered in the darkness, a glow of warmth like a halo while we sang Silent Night. Then the flame scorched a hole in a lampshade. I knew it was too cluttered in here! I am done with candles.
To the delight of the kids, we do now have a tree in the living room. It’s not enough to have a huge family, a dog on the couch, and a rabbit dwelling in the living room. We also have a Christmas tree. It is completely covered with hundreds of sparkling things. We had a lot of lights to string up. This fake tree is supposed to automatically light up, but it is old and mostly doesn’t work. After searching for stored strings of lights, finding the lights in the garage, untangling the lights, testing the lights, dropping the lights, cleaning up the glass from the broken lights…I had enough of lights. But one side of the tree was clearly still dark, and all we had left were nets of lights that are supposed to go outside on shrubs. We have no shrubs. Why do we own lights like this? I figured no one will ever notice if we throw them on the Dark Side of the Tree. The next day, my mom came over to visit, and see the tree. She ooohed and aaahed and praised me completely for my newly-emerged home decorating skills. Then she looked at me quizzically. “Why did you use shrub lights?” Why, indeed.
Let this be a lesson to you.
You can’t fool Mom.
Bake… I did it. I specially adapted my grandmother’s Christmas cookie recipe to be Gluten Free. After years of trial and error, and more trial and error, they were finally perfect! “These are great, Mom!” “Can we frost them now?” “I get the green sprinkles!” The kitchen was filled with warmth and sugar and lovely memories of my grandma. We can only do just one cookie sheet before bed, I warned. Just one. We are not eating all of these cookies before Christmas! This is just a sample! So we rolled and cut out and baked and finally, we all crowded around the table to frost and decorate the one pan of cookies. As little hands grabbed for stars and trees and gingerbread shaped cookies, one little hand knocked over a rather large glass of water. Yes. Right onto the cookie sheet. “Save the cookies!!!” the cry rang out. Now, some cookies might be strong enough to be dunked in coffee, and enjoyed. But not my gluten free genius cookies. They did not fare well with the mild drowning. We decorated the few cookies that survived, trying not to stare at the mush in the pan. At least we hadn’t baked them all.
Clean… Clean? I have nothing to say on this matter. The more I clean, the more I realize that the walls need fresh paint.
You know, I can barely juggle my own regular stuff. How can I add Christmas preparations as well?! It is so frustrating! It will never be clean, let alone perfect! Our Christmas dinner will be loud and crowded, probably burnt, and someone will spill their drink, and the plates will have to be pushed aside and the tablecloth lifted and scrunched, and we will all laugh and be soggy and happy together anyway. Reading books. In our new socks.
I guess that is our "perfect".
In all my preparation frustrations of last week, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk. I needed some peace and quiet. I needed an ‘all is calm, all is bright’ kind of moment. A new perspective. In the frosty cold of the morning, with the sun just beginning to rise, here is what I found:
It's just an old barn. That's all. Run down, caving in. Severely deficient, like my home decorating skills. But some hard working people, a long time ago, picked rocks from their fields. They gathered them together, and patiently stacked them. One rock at a time, a bit of mortar here and there... added rough wood and nails. It's not pretty. It's not perfect.
But this barn is all that was needed.
It's all I need right now.
I stood at the barn door, thinking about the holy night in Bethlehem long ago...
This is all I need to get ready for Christmas.
I will muck out my own barn by going to confession, and saying I'm sorry to those I have hurt. I will sweep away the stones of cynicism, and instead try to repair faith by putting the stones to more constructive use.
I will add some hay of gentleness.
And I will wait.
I'll be ready for Christmas, after all.
That's all we need sometimes.
Around me, the plants are dry and dead, like paper in the wind. The ice is moving in.
It is so dark, so much of the time, and always growing darker.
Winter is coming, and it will be brutally cold. With it, truckloads of trouble will fall from the sky, and I will have to shovel it for months. I know it.
The world can be a wretched, cold place.
But when the sun rose this morning, everything changed.
Bright colors splashed on the lake, ricocheting off the ice crystals in a joyous explosion of light. Geese floated, weightless, like angels, through the shimmering glass of water and ice. The air was crisp and fresh.
I stood silently on the shore...
Breathing in the joy and the peace and the hope.
I thought of dancing, but I am a clumsy oaf, and the neighbors were nearby.
Instead, I laughed. Out loud. The joy bubbled up like music and my heart danced inside.
Swan Lake in my head, I glided with the heavenly geese, through the rosy atmosphere.
The world is a glorious place!
The next time you feel the ache of the weight of the world, think of a middle aged fuddy-duddy standing on the shore at sunrise. Laughing.
I hope you can hear the music, too.
7:00 a.m. Happy Thanksgiving text from the family.
9:00 a.m. Early Mass.
By 11:00 a.m., I had peeled 22.5 pounds of potatoes. I am not kidding. I am the Undisputed Mashed Potato Queen. I have prepared mashed potatoes for family holidays for many years, because they are impossible to mess up. It’s all about butter, whipping cream and vast quantities of potatoes. But about the time I put the third stock pot of water on to boil the last of the spuds, I knew something was not right.
At 1:00 p.m. We were supposed to be at Thanksgiving Dinner, for 31 people.
But Small One had a headache, a raging sore throat, and a fever of 101.5.
Time for a plan B.
1:20, late as usual, the rest of the family packed into the trucks with the potatoes and drove away for dinner. Small One and I cuddled up on the couch together.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Kiddo.” I said. “Just you and me. What do you want to do?”
“I like corn.” She whimpered, huddling under her blanket. “Can we eat corn out of a can together?”
Yes, we can.
And so we did.
After all the cooking of the morning, the only clean pot in the kitchen was an egg poacher. I was far too tired to wash dishes. So I dumped the egg poaching cups out of the pan, and dumped a can of corn into the poacher. In a few short minutes, we were cuddled up together in the big arm chair. The poacher piled on top of every other pot and pan and potato bowl in the house, and I left it balancing there.
And Small One and I ate canned corn with mashed potatoes. She wore a damp washcloth on her head.
Our Thanksgiving feast was unusually quiet.
There was no hand holding, no long traditional prayer. No cousins jumped about, shrieking and laughing, snitching treats. No games of tag were dashed under the table or up the stairs. No aunts discussed politics or sales, no uncles hammered out the details and how-to’s of organic gardening or ant farms. No sisters talked about low-glycemic desserts, and no sisters dished up huge portions of homemade gluten free pie, crowned with whipped cream. No college kids regaled us with horror stories of final exams or roommates. No one asked me to cut up their food.
Just Small One and I, together, ate canned corn with mashed potatoes. We did smile at each other.
And we were thankful.
She was thankful that she had her mom. She had her blanket. And she had her favorite food, canned corn.
I was thankful for peace. For hugs from my child. For the antibiotics that would surely cure yet another case of strep throat. I was thankful for the dirty dishes piled high, which meant that there was plenty of food for the family celebration. I was thankful for the family. Even if I wasn’t with them. I was thankful for my mom, who hosted the party in her always-clean house, for a sister who made three turkeys, for a sister in law who baked all the pies. I was thankful for the sister in law who made a special plate up for me, when all was said and done, with the best slices of turkey on it. And mashed potatoes. Lots of mashed potatoes.
I fell asleep, holding Small One while she watched Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving special.
I slept in the peace and quiet of alone-ness, hugging my feverish child, and dreaming of My Big Fat Family Parties. It was almost like I was there, in the fray.
Sometimes being absent makes me appreciate life even more.
And I’m thankful for that.
Okay, I know it's not even Thanksgiving yet... But this just arrived in the mail, and I wanted to share it. Guideposts has published their 2015 Edition of "The Joys of Christmas", and inside is a story about Stella! We're so excited! This was the big Christmas photo shoot that I wrote about in June. A great big thank you to my editor, Daniel Kessel, and to Guideposts editor-in-chief, Edward Grinnan, who writes about his brother, Bobby, in the notes from the editor. Also many thanks to David Bowman Photography for patiently taking pictures.
Thank you all for sharing in the Joys of Christmas with us!
“This is highly unusual,” the nurse practitioner said.
Of course it was.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this happen before,” he continued. “Five family members test positive for Strep throat at the same time…”
I tried to give him the lame excuse that our dishwasher was broken. Why? Why would a broken dishwasher lead to five cases of strep? Well, gee whiz. The repair company schedules a week out, and we were sick of washing so many dishes. So in the interest of saving time at the sink, we shared a water cup or two. That’s all. This is excluding all of my teenagers, of course. Let it be known that they shared no cups. Yes, the small ones and I were the only ones to share cups and therefore, get strep.
Welcome to my life. If there was a prize for being unusual, we would win. Not if there was a prize for something unusual like, say, winning the lottery. Not that kind of unusual. No, we tend to win the “5 Cases of Strep Throat at Once” sort of prize.
Last week was kind of a record, though, even for us. Five people with fevers, sore throats, and short fuses, all at the same time…it didn’t really count as “Fun and Memorable Days Off School.” We drank a lot of broth. Broth was such a hit, that we had it four days in a row. That means I didn’t have to cook, which was kind of a bonus. I just kept the stock pot warming on the stove, and voilá: Breakfast, lunch, and supper! Too bad I was too sick to enjoy the vacation from cooking.
But on the up side, nothing happened to the laundry. Nope. It’s still there, waiting for me, right where I left it before we got sick. And it has multiplied. What joy! Our Laundry Mountain is a young mountain range, and somehow continues to grow over time. I think that defies geological norms, but then again, it’s not truly petrified yet.
We got into the doctor’s office really early. To do that, everyone skipped breakfast. “There is still Halloween candy in the car,” I said. “You can have suckers for breakfast. And it doesn’t matter if you’re still in your pajamas. Let’s go!”
Thank God for penicillin. I really am grateful. You may not have been able to tell when I picked up the prescriptions, though. I had a fever and a carload of sad, crabby sick kids, all with sore throats and fevers. So of course, the pharmacy had problems filling our prescriptions. Because I didn’t want to share germs around the world, we went to a new, drive-through pharmacy.
Our prescriptions ended up at a different drive-through pharmacy with a similar address, other side of town. I rested my head on the steering wheel, looked at the poor guy at the window (who did not want my germs) and said “I am not driving across town to that other pharmacy. How long will it take to fill it here?”
Thirty minutes. We could do that. “Look, let’s all get ice cream for our sore throats,” I said, hoping that would kill a half hour. I couldn’t take everyone home and back again. We were going to stick it out and wait. But it was still morning. No ice cream shop. Fevering child number one began to sniffle. “No crying!” I yelled, my head beginning to pound. “I’ll fix it. Look, there is a McDonalds with a drive through across the street.” But that wasn’t any good, either. Morning McDonalds for the gluten free crowd is limited to an egg McMuffin with no muffin. Also no cheese, because my kids are the only kids in America who won’t eat melted cheese.
“I’m sorry, kids. But I am not paying $2.79 for each of you to have bread-free, cheese free Egg McMuffin. That’s just a boiled egg and a piece of ham. Not even if you’re sick. You probably couldn’t swallow it, anyway. Then it would end up on the car floor with all the Halloween candy wrappers.”
We went back to the pharmacy. They needed another half hour to solve insurance problems.
By then, even my best-natured kids wanted to go home.
“No, we can do this!” I entered cheerleader mode. “Look, there’s a lake here. Let’s drive around the lake and see what we can see.” Silence fell in the car, as I drove them into sleepy boredom. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. At thirty, we were back at the drive through pharmacy.
“Still having trouble with one of the insurance cards,” our faithful pharm tech said. “I mean, it’s obvious that all the cards are the same family, the same numbers…there must be a glitch in their system. I’ll need another half an hour to solve this.”
I looked at him. I had glassy eyes, disheveled hair, and white knuckles on the steering wheel. He smiled sheepishly and said he hoped we all felt better soon. I handed him the cash to skip insurance, and finally drove away.
Five bottles of penicillin, one big couch, and Netflix were all we needed.
And some broth. Out of five clean mugs.
Next time my family does something unusual and noteworthy, I’m going to ask for a Different Prize.
I have mysterious neighbors that I cannot see. Really. In the spring, a family of Wood Ducks stays in a pond nearby. Those are the neighbors I mean.
They are elusive. I hear them. I catch glimpses of their fluttering, colored wings in the tree branches. I see the ripples in the icy pond. I know they are there.
But I can’t see them.
Not clearly. Not like I want to see them. I know from picture books and the internet that Wood Ducks are extremely beautiful. But I don’t want to see someone else’s picture of a duck. I want to see the REAL THING! And I am patient.
Every spring, when they stop over, looking for a nesting site, I peer and I stretch and I hide in the bushes, trying to really see these wood ducks close up. I sit out in the cold and the snow, shivering with my camera or with my binoculars, watching. Waiting.
This is what I see:
Isn’t that spectacular? Yeah. They are blurry, far away, hidden in the branches of every tree in the forest. I can’t really say I have seen a Wood Duck, when I have only seen blurry shadows, darting past.
Now, some intelligent people I know have told me what I should do. “If you really want to see the Wood Ducks, make them a house!” They say. “It’s not hard. The ducks need a wooden nest box. Build one.”
Of course that sounds easy, but these people obviously don’t know my severe hammer and nails deficits. And if I have to use a saw, forget it. So, through my own ignorance and lack of initiative, I sit in the shrubs and in the cold, waiting.
Hoping to see a duck.
Wishing to see a duck.
I get kind of cold and mad because I can’t gaze upon the beautiful duck.
So what would I say if someone asks me “Have you seen a Wood Duck?”
I would answer yes. Yes, I have.
“Okay, then what does it look like?” that person might ask.
“Oh, a Wood Duck is gloriously beautiful! I have seen pictures that show vivid colors and bright plumage…”
“So you haven’t seen it yourself?”
“Well, blurry flashes, now and then. I sort of have seen one.”
“So how do you know they exist? You never REALLY saw a Wood Duck.”
“But I have! I see shadows and ripples in the pond. They live right in my backyard! They are real!”
How? I cannot. I know that they exist. I know that they are there, nearby. I have seen flashes of feathers. Glimpses of color… But I cannot prove to you they are real. I don’t have one to hold in my hand. I can’t show you. But I believe that one day, I will finally see a Real Wood Duck.
I believe that.
This scenario sounds so familiar…. Applicable to more than Wood Ducks.
How can I, for example, tell someone that God exists, if I can’t even convince someone that a Wood Duck exists?
I can sit out in the snow with my camera for the rest of my life, and still never prove to you that ducks or God exist, that they are real. That’s out of my control. But I trust that somewhere, someday, you might catch a glimpse, if you are persistent in your search.
One recent autumn day, I was at church when an eighty year old gentleman I know tapped me on the shoulder.
“Do you want to bring your kids over to my house?” He asked me. “I have some beautiful ducks they would really love to see.” Honestly, he didn’t know my quest to see ducks. We went to his home later that week, to visit with him. I was stunned. I knew that he had ducks. Decades ago, he had a pond in his barn, I remembered. But I didn’t know the extent of his love for ducks. He had gotten rid of his cows, built a duck habitat in his heated barn, pumped in water from a nearby pond, circulated it through his homemade pond in his barn, and built many nesting boxes.
And right there in a red wooden barn, in a field in the middle of Nowhere, he had cared for many exquisite, beautiful creatures from all over the globe. In collaboration with the University and a local zoo, he raised ducks from Africa, South America, Asia, North America, and the Pacific Islands. Wow. He had ducks. Duck wisdom. Duck understanding. Duck knowledge. And he still had some of those incredible ducks that he had raised, now preserved through taxidermy.
And from all those ducks, the Falcated, Baikal, Ring, and Cape Teals, the Buffleheads and other long tailed and fancy feathered varieties, the man reached out and gently placed a Wood Duck right into my hands. A Real One. It wasn’t moving or squawking, but we all knew that many years ago, it had. The feathers glowed with intense, rich colors and intricate patterns. The Wood Duck was amazing and lovely.
It was Real.
If you wait and watch, someday, maybe a gentle older person will tap you on the shoulder.
“Do you want to come with me?” He will say. “I have an amazing treasure that came from a barn that you would love to see…”
Today is a glorious brand new day, and anything can happen!
If I mess up, I still might get another chance tomorrow to make things right. But I don't want to think about that...Because I always mess things up. It is as inevitable as breathing.
Presented with perfection, I spill the paint.
Break the dishes.
Step on toes.
And darn it, I have to say I'm sorry.
It's a never ending cycle of failing and falling. Life isn't perfect. Maybe that's why I love mornings so much, because I in the morning, I still have a chance. I'm hopeful. I haven't messed up yet.
Really, how much can I wreck before the sunrise?
Please don't answer that one.
Just enjoy the sunrise with me, because this morning is a gift.
And it is perfect.
Autumn has arrived.
The nights are cooling down, the trees growing more spectacular by the day.
Excitement is in the air. It's in the song of the Canadian geese as they flock up, in the leaves as they dance to the ground. Even the dewdrops of the morning glitter as jewels in the sunlight. In a few months, my world will be frozen and dark.
Encased in ice.
I know that it's coming.
Like the squirrels, scurrying about, frantically stashing away acorns, I feel a bit desperate to take each and every moment of sunshine and joy and hide them away in my heart.
Keep them safe.
The beautiful thing is that the moments that I choose to seek and remember are up to me. I decide what goes in my treasure chest of memories.
And I choose hope.
Small things matter.
Especially when the Big Things sometimes get out of control and overwhelmingly negative,
small things matter.
The daily news sometimes hits me like a ton of bricks, and I feel crushed by the pains of this world. I can't write. I can't paint. Empathy hurts.
“Are you crying about that, Mom?”
Of course I am.
“You don’t even know those people!”
I don’t need to know them. I see the homeless, the downtrodden, the oppressed, and I feel their sorrow. Some great people feel called to action. They become powerful and invigorated when they see others’ needs. They are motivated to do great things and change the world for the better. Dorothy Day, Mary Jo Copeland, Mother Teresa… They are Real, they are Extraordinary, they are Magnificent.
I’m not one of them.
I see suffering, and I just get knocked down to my knees. But I am beginning to think that’s not only a bad thing. Because on my knees, I am praying. And only when I am on my knees can I see the small things that make all the difference.
Small things are easy to overlook. Like these dewdrops on the grass…
If I wasn’t on my knees, I never would have noticed them. The veins in this beautiful Maple leaf show me that there is order and design here in the universe. I didn’t make it. I can’t understand it. Certainly can’t control it. But I don’t have to. Even if I feel chaos or pain around me, those feelings do not sum up the entirety of the world. News headlines cannot take away the perfection surrounding us.
God is here, and He has it under control. I just need to pay attention to the little things.
They are everywhere. They are perfect. Just as they always have been.
And that matters.
Last night, just as the sun began to set, I began a long drive home. I don't often get to just sit and watch the sky, but last night was an exception. I was a captive audience to the most amazing moon transformation! I wasn't washing dishes, I wasn't putting kids to bed, I wasn't sorting paperwork or homework or planning for tomorrow. For two and a half hours, I just watched the moon. Well, and the roads, of course. The roads were pretty deserted, because everyone else was busy sitting on their patios, watching the moon with their kids. I called a friend to let her know how beautiful it was, and believe it or not, they had known in advance that the supermoon eclipse was coming. They had their camera all set up already. They probably even had popcorn.
I, apparently, was the only one on earth that didn't know it this was planned in advance. Like everything else in life, it took me by surprise. And I didn't have my camera with me.
But I had coffee. I had silence. And I had the moon. The night felt so ethereal and majestic; I wanted to be part of it, be in it. Being hermetically sealed in a metal car, looking through a window wasn't enough. I wanted to fly, to feel the wind on my face, and breathe in the night...
So I rolled down all my car windows, just in time to be flooded with a fog of fresh woodland skunk.
Way to ruin my dreams of night flying.
Back in my sardine can. The moon was glorious anyway, even when viewed through a window.
I made it home just before the moon disappeared completely under the red shadow...
My kids and I watched the rest of the magnificent eclipse together, breathing in the damp dark air, laughing together in the glow of the moon. No homework. No skunks.
And that's just the way I would have planned it.
“What do you DO all day, Mom?” my son asked me, a small tone of jealousy in his voice. “I mean, we’re at school for seven hours. What do you do?”
Wow. What can I say? That I sit at the kitchen table all day, eating ice cream? Does he really think that I find all the hidden Snicker bars and scarf them down with no one to stop me? They do go really well with ice cream… Okay, I’ll be honest. That could have happened.
But really, that is his fondest dream; to be left alone with the refrigerator for seven hours, with no one to stop him.
That’s not quite how it is. Since you asked, Son, I will show you what happened at the kitchen table while you were gone.
These are a couple of statues that a very patient person has been waiting to be painted for a long time. Today is the day...
The kitchen table turned into this: It was gloriously quiet and deliciously fun.
The statues now look like this:
While I was painting the seeds in St. Francis's bowl, I thought about how much I love my brushes. I have a lot of them...Some are fancy and luxurious and delicate, some are rotten-looking things that don't appear to be worth keeping. They might look like garbage to someone who looked in my paintbrush box. But all my brushes are needed, they all have a special purpose. Here are two of my favorites:
The one on the right is a luxurious, expensive oil painting brush. It is sleek and soft, the finest Red Sable Filbert. It is 100% reliable, and far more sophisticated than I am. It blends colors beautifully. It softens the lines that other brushes leave behind, smoothing all the imperfections.
The one on the left is a 99 cent cheap thing from the hardware store. It is ancient, hardened, crusted over and pretty much destroyed. But that's why I like it so much. That old brush can do things that no other brush can. Like paint abstract, splotchy spots to make seeds in St. Francis' bowl, for example. None of my other brushes can do that. It is precisely because that old brush is ruined that I like it so much, and use it so often. I need it. At times, I have taken a scissors and snipped some of the inside bristles, thinning it out even more. There's not much left of it, really.
That's why it's so valuable.
As I painted today, I did a lot of pondering about brushes and people.
People are just like my brushes... They are all unique, for their own special purpose.
And we need them all.
So Son, that's what I did today. But don't worry. The kitchen table is now cleaned off, and ready for you to eat again.
And I made cookies.
Before my daughter was born with Down Syndrome, some people painted a grim and terrible picture of what my life would be like if such a thing happened.
“Your life will never be the same!”
“Your life will revolve around hospitals.”
“You won’t have time for your other kids.”
“You will always be sad and regretful of the things your child cannot do.”
Even after she was born, a geneticist at a specialty clinic upbraided me, using primitive scare tactics.
“I know you like babies, but you will never want to have another baby after this one,” she said in an authoritative voice, towering over me in my daughter’s cardiology office. “You will worry and agonize every moment of another pregnancy. You’re old and your risks are high that this will happen to you again.”
She said this to me as my small, almond-eyed daughter cooed softly in my arm, tightly gripping my finger and my heartstrings.
Despite that doctor’s admonishments and scolding, a couple of years later, my daughter grew into a glorious, curious toddler. And I did get pregnant again. On purpose.
I was 39 years old.
At that ultrasound appointment, the doctor examined my prenatal son’s body closely. He measured limbs, organs, examined bone structure, checking all the typical markers for Down Syndrome.
“You need to have a Triple Screen done,” he said. “I don’t see results in your file. You are considered a geriatric in the ob/gyn world, so you need to have that done. The fetal matter is high risk for abnormalities.”
Wait. He had just told me I was having a son. Why was he now calling my little man fetal matter and wanting tests for abnormalities?
“Look. I’m not afraid,” I said. “I already have a child with Down Syndrome, and she’s not the least bit scary. She’s wonderful and absolutely beloved.”
The doctor looked me in the eye for a moment. He closed his file, stood up, and left the room without another word.
After he was gone, the young ultrasound technician leaned in toward me, with a confiding smile.
“I’m not allowed to say this in the office", she said in a hushed voice. "But I’m so happy for you! My friend has a toddler with Down Syndrome, and he is full of love. He has made their family’s life so rich and happy! I know how much love your daughter brings.”
We chatted about babies and Down Syndrome for a few more minutes, quietly sharing the joy that we both knew well. Babies with Down Syndrome are, like every baby, full of Love.
As an expectant parent, you may feel afraid. You will be tested, and categorized, and railroaded. You will be counseled, scolded, and warned. You may feel inept or not up to the task, or just plain stressed out, because all circumstances are not ideal. But talk is talk. Threats of doom are just threats. You don’t have to go down that path of worry and fear. Especially if your child shows some characteristic that seems unique, or challenging, or just plain scary…
Don’t lose sight of the simple truth.
Your life will change forever, because you will be filled with Love.
When my daughter was about a month old, I was holding her in my arms, speaking to a friend. A man in a suit, a stranger, approached me. He was visiting from out of town, he said. "My own son has Down Syndrome, too. I miss him so much when I travel. May I hold her, please?” he asked. He cradled my baby close to his heart, then kissed her soft, peachy face. Tears dripped down his cheek and into his beard. “You have no idea of the Love that is in store for you,” he said, and walked away.
He was right.
You have no idea of the Love that is in store for you.
That is the truth.
It’s the first day of school.
The house is quiet. Eerily quiet. They are all in school.
This is probably the first time in 21 years that I have a quiet morning. Really. I am standing in my house, surrounded by twenty one years of childhood debris. The walls are scuffed, the windows are fingerprinted. Laundry spills out of the laundry room like a lava floe, oozing into the living room. Cereal bowls and sandwich fixings line the countertop. It is a mess, and I am feeling weird.
“The school bus comes, and you’re supposed to do the happy dance!” one friend says.
“Want to come over for coffee?” says another.
But I can do neither. I have too much emotion building inside of me, and there is only one thing to do.
None of the kids were sad to leave, of course. They were ecstatic, joyful, bouncing off the walls at 6 a.m. Ready for a new adventure. Loaded down with 40 pound backpacks, they marched off as eager as Bilbo Baggins leaving the Shire.
And I am sitting here alone, sobbing to Disney Music Soundtracks.
“You’ll be in my heart, no matter what… You’ll be here in my heart Always.
From this day on, now and forever more…I’ll be there for you always….Just look over your shoulder, I’ll be there always.”
This isn’t what I had envisioned when I got pregnant, so long ago. I was on the five year plan: Five years at home with a child, then back to real life. I had it all planned out. Parenting was like a small sabbatical, a little recess on the job of life, I thought. A side dish. Ha!
I didn’t know that the agony and the ecstasy of Motherhood would sweep me off my feet and overwhelm me like a tidal wave of love, and leave me sitting here, twenty one years later, crying to Tarzan music like a lunatic.
I’d better pull myself together, because in a few short hours, they’ll be back, Trashing the Camp. If you know your Disney music, you’ll know what I mean!
And they’ll want cookies.
Here is a small thing that I found in my garden today.
It doesn’t belong there. It’s just a weed, winding its way into my garden from the ever-moving, encroaching woods. There are a million of these things out there. I rip them out without thinking of anything but the tomatoes I planted, that are ripening somewhere in the forest of weeds.
“Stop!” one of my kids yelled in dismay. He had come to keep me company. “Don’t pull the Elephants!”
“What? What elephants?”
“Mom! That thing in your hand! You’re ripping out the beautiful Elephants!”
I stopped and took a closer look.
“See Mom? Two big ears, and a trunk? These are baby elephants! Don’t pull them out, they’re my favorite.”
He ran off to play, and I was left, standing in the weeds, thinking.
Admiring the elephants.
Why hadn’t I seen these before? How could I miss these magnificent elephants, living right in my front garden?
Each flower is only about a centimeter across. They grow on thin vines, tangling all through my garden. I just dismissed them as weeds, never taking time to look more closely. But now, I was seeing things through my child’s eyes. He sees the world differently, more clearly. His sight is not clouded by experience and utilitarianism.
He sees only wonder and magnificence.
It’s right here, all around us. Wonder and Magnificence. The God who created you and me is an artist who cares, right down to the intricate details. This tiny, unnoticed elephant flower living in obscurity in my garden is living proof of the Creator’s love and care for us. Wow. Kids see things so clearly. Life is so rich and beautiful when I have someone to help me see it.
I’m going to check for elephants in my living room now…
I found these Acorns lying on the ground today. There were so many of them! They had fallen from a great height, a Giantess of a tree, really. The tree has some broken limbs from last night's storm, but she is stronger than she looks. The cracks and broken parts will heal. Trees have a way of doing that. She will survive, probably another sixty years or more. Even if she doesn't know it, she is stronger than this recent storm.
But some of her acorns had fallen in the wind. Some were cracked and broken, some were too small. All they had needed was a little more time with their Mama Tree. Just a few more weeks, really. Just time, nothing more.
If they had been given a few more weeks, then Earth would do the rest.
Like for this other Little Guy in my yard... He was given enough time on the Tree. He fell into my flower garden a few years ago, brown and plump, and Life Happened.
He got dirty and muddy. He got cracked and broken up. It rained on him a lot. Sheesh. He had a rough time for a while, just like the rest of us. But then, in all the pain and trouble, after he thought he was dead and buried, really done for, this began to happen:
And then, this. This is his future!
Every rainstorm makes that Tree stronger. Amazing, isn't it? All that power, all that beauty, all that potential, hidden away inside a tiny little Acorn...
All they need is a few short months with a Mama Tree...
And God will do the rest. Mightiness unleashed!
Sometimes when I look at my grown children, it’s as if a shooting star crosses the sky, and I catch a one-second glimpse of them when they were eight years old. Or three or five years old…
A flashback to childhood…
One burst of light, and then it’s gone.
There are moments that I suck in my breath as my grown child is talking, telling me about work and college. And suddenly, I see her as she was: Freckles, missing and crooked teeth, three and a half feet tall, telling me about science and how she is going to be an archaeologist when she grows up. Or in a shimmer, I see my little author child, pen in hand, holding up her latest story. Her braids fly wildly askew under her straw hat, which she wears to help her get in character to write. Her freckles are drawn on with brown crayola marker to look more like Tom Sawyer. “It’s all about a girl who wants a dog, Mom. And she finally gets one! That’s the happy surprise ending, see my illustration? She gets a dog!” Or, as my now-teenager asks for the car keys, and reaches out her hand, I see the chubby little fingers of her at two years old, holding my hand just because I was the powerful one who kept away the monsters in the dark. She’d grip my fingers in hers, and hold on tightly until she was sound asleep. Ah, the days when I could fix everything that was important to them.
Those days didn’t last.
And at these lucid moments, when I again see a mirage of my small children, my heart beats on my chest wall with a pang of longing, and tears spring to my eyes. I smile and reach out, but they are transformed. They are grown.
It was just a shooting star. A glimmer of what used to be.
Suddenly, I am old, and they are taller than I am. “You okay, Mom?” they look at me quizzically. “What are you smiling about?” Snap. They are adults, and they take the vision of my tiny child with them when they walk away, unknowing. “Are you smiling and crying at the same time, Mom? Are you?”
Of course I am.
This week, the Perseid Meteor Shower hit around here. Carpe diem, I say. This is one of those moments! We all stayed up until it was extremely late, and extremely dark. Then my youngest kids and I camped out, wrapped in quilts under the dark sky, and counted real-life shooting stars.
“Oh Mom! Did you see that? I saw one! I saw one! I saw a shooting star!”
“Don’t kick me.”
“Watch out! You’re crowding me! I don’t want to fall off the roof of the truck.”
“Can I have some of your blanket, please?”
“I saw it! I saw it! I saw it!!!”
“I lost my shoes, Mom”
“Pass the binoculars.”
“Did you know that stars are made up of burning gas?”
“Mom, what’s a star made of?”
“Well, she’s right. But quit worrying about burning gas! You’re not a star.”
“Foot out of my hair, please.”
“Wow! That one was huge!”
Small One nestled in my elbow, on the hood of the truck. She lisps through the new hole in her teeth, where a baby tooth fell out earlier. “I’m tho glad you got me up the thee thith, Mom. Thankth.”
We whispered now, partly because some kids had fallen asleep. And partly because we were deep in Awe.
We felt the dark silence of the universe surrounding us. Alive, burning, sparkling.
We were small.
We stayed out there until the wee hours, counting shooting stars. It was priceless.
This is one of those moments in life that will keep coming back to me.
Watching the sudden, silent bursts of light in the darkness with my kids…finding the joy in the stillness of the night.
As I carried the small ones back inside to their beds, I promised myself that in the rush and bustle of life, I will never be too busy to hug someone under the stars.
Because shooting stars don’t last forever.