Tuesday, June 25, 2013

If You Love Me Tell Me a Story

I have been told throughout my life both that I am very good at hiding my feelings and that I am miserable at hiding my feelings. I haven’t figured out which of these statements is true, although I suspect both are. Most likely what happens is that when I would most like to hide my feelings I am unable to, and when I would most like somebody to just know what I’m feeling I have it all very conveniently hidden away.

This might have something to do with why, as a general rule, I steer away from t-shirts with slogans on them. And bumper stickers. There is very little of what I want to present of myself to the world that can be summed-up to fit on the front of my shirt. The words reveal exactly too little and too much for my comfort.

But there was one t-shirt I’ve always been sure I would wear, ever since I saw it in a catalog many years ago: If you love me read me a story. If I could change one word it would be even better: If you love me tell me a story.

*        *        *

Sunday night I walked my mom out to her car to say goodbye. She drove down to visit for roughly 38 hours and we packed it as full as we could, considering the short period of time and the fact that although every day now I feel a little better I am still not fully recovered from my bout with pneumonia.

Her visit was too-short-but-good. Saying goodbye was hard, because there were so many other things I still wanted to say and because apparently you never completely get over just wanting your mom at certain times. But somehow it was okay, anyway.

And the moon—it was so beautiful Sunday night.

So I decided even though I was tired and should go to bed that I wanted very much to try to get some pictures, to capture and hold what I saw.

*        *        *

My parents taught me, reading to my sister and I every night before bed, that a story = love. The lesson has  proved inescapable. Listening to a good story never lost its magic. In fact, each new story I hear connects and builds on the old ones, and the magic only increases.

*        *        *

I haven’t had much success with moon pictures. I know very little about shutter speed, or exposure time, or even the manual settings on my camera—it’s still sort of new, and so far I have been very undisciplined as I get to know it, content to learn as I go. Most of my pictures are despite any skill or knowledge on my part, not because of. But I got some pictures. Most of them looked from the previews like they weren’t going to turn out. But a few seemed to have promise.

So I stayed up even later to upload pictures. This should have been quick and easy, but I’ve been having technical difficulties. It took forever. My computer was so slow I finally gave up and went to bed. Spent most of Monday morning trying to coax moon pictures onto my screen, hoping they would not disappoint.  

*        *        *

Stories teach me. They change my mind, open my heart, set my hands and feet in motion. They comfort and heal, they tear open wounds, they force open eyes. Sideways, though, not straight-on, which makes them seem gentle for all their strength. They are light, shed or reflected. Meant to be listened to. Meant to be shared.

That sharing—I think that’s where the love is.

*        *        *

The pictures I hoped would turn out were for the most part a blurry disappointment. Not a single picture I took Sunday night reflected what I saw in the sky. Most of them were out of focus. None of them caught the light and detail I fell in love with, or the tremble of leaves in the wind. Two pictures, though, were clear and beautiful, true in their own way. I have no idea how I got them. 

Somehow it is still art, just not all mine.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

A Few Things I Find Immensely Hopeful

The fact that if you look for beauty you can find it.

The fact that beauty will also sneak up on you,

or even jump out right in front of you.

Even if you weren’t looking.

The possibility of endless color, endless variation, endless good.

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Just Words

concatenate kän-`ka-tə-nāt v: to link together in a series or chain
battue ba-`tü n: the beating of woods and bushes to flush game; also: a hunt in which this procedure is used

Two definitions I can’t get out of my head. They’ve been floating in the background since they appeared, one after the next in my Word a Day calendar,  during my first two days of sickness.

They’re not really words I want to walk around using. But their meanings seem to have their own soul-sound, separate and more gentle than their spoken sound. The meanings, and the timing of them, linger.

to link together in a series or chain

Do you do this? With books, for instance? One leads to another, which leads to another, and you look back and find they have been stepping stones across a river of despair, or lack of faith, or confusion. Or with music—one song, one composer, one album leads to another and you find your taste, your self, who you want to be?

the beating of woods and bushes to flush game

Maybe at one time or another you have felt yourself—mind, body, and soul—working on something. Waiting for some answer or insight. But it can’t be forced. It may be years before you can look back and see it. Or, maybe more accurately, years before you can look back and see it better. Always, maybe, it will be through a glass darkly. And still you find yourself beating at things, hoping something will come fluttering out into the light.

They’re just words, but they’ve been talking to me about a process. Being sick has fed into it, too. I feel both like I’ve been chasing something out and like I’ve been following a path, linking light to light, insight to insight, to get myself where I need to be.

That’s where you are right now. Physically and otherwise. That’s you.

I feel like I’m writing to you from some foreign place, friends. Today, day 10 of pneumonia, is the first day I’ve noticed a real difference in my breathing. And I still need to rest.

And these words—just words, but also a presence with me in this strange place—they speak of things that are just and true:

Sometimes you have to wait.

Sometimes you have to keep making links, following the chain where it leads.

Sometimes you have to flush out what’s hiding. Even that, I suppose, takes a fair amount of waiting. 

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Grace Notes

“Let writers beware who from the start know too much about what they are doing and keep too heavy a hand on the reins. They leave too little room for luck as they tell their stories just the way Abraham and Sarah, if they know too much about what they are doing as they live their stories, leave too little room for grace.”
—Frederick Buechner, “Faith and Fiction,”

I want to tell you about one of the few times I was sure I knew what God was doing in my life. When I got pregnant with my third child, a lot of things were up in the air. My husband was in school full-time and working almost full-time. I was embarking on my first year of homeschooling. We had no idea what was ahead as far as a job, or where we would live next, or anything else, really. But I was sure, absolutely sure, that this child was a sign of God’s blessing. I was sure that everything would be neatly tied up, just like I’d hoped, after our two years of upheaval. The baby was a sign, and I took great comfort in it.

And then I miscarried.

A miscarriage was one of those things I knew I could never handle. It is something I still don’t really know what to do with—that blessing given then taken away. And it reminds me that there are other things from my please-not-that list still waiting for me down the road. I’m not looking forward to them. And yet there is nothing to do but face them. 

And yet, also, there is more to them than their pain.

It strikes me now that the weeks following my miscarriage forced me to realize my life was not going to be the tidy little story I would have written for myself. And I was very attached to that story. Everything fit, and it was so lovely and shiny. It allowed for a few bumps, of course, because one must be realistic, but nothing too tough. It was in fact sort of smug and boring. If I were to find it in a book I can pretty much guarantee you I wouldn’t bother reading the whole thing.

That doesn’t necessarily make the story easy to give up.

I had an inkling of where the tough stuff in life can take you but I only imagined the hardness of it, because that part loomed so large it was hard to see anything else. I knew from other people’s stories about the grace that came along with it in a yeahsureofcourse sort of way. But I’m not sure the grace really starts to take hold until you need it.

I could not know until it was time how clear it would be that even while I mourned my loss there was no denying the two precious children who were with me. I could mourn—I had to—but I did not have to mourn everything. And so I was numb and I cried and I loved them even more.

I could not know until it was time how certain moments could stand out in such a way that I now carry them with me, treasures I don’t quite understand.

*     *     *

Agrement (ah-GRAY-mahnt, mahn) noun: 1. Formal approval, especially one given by a country to the proposed diplomat from another country. 2. Grace notes: notes applied as an embellishment on a piece of music. From French agreement (approval, agreement, pleasure), from Latin ad-(to) + gratus (pleasing).
—from A.Word.A.Day with Anu Garg

Somehow these two definitions work together in my mind.

Grace notes are ornaments, hung on choice notes. You cannot ornament every note, or you would lose the melody. But certain notes, yes—especially the ones you want to stand out—and that is something that strikes me as the formal approval of a note. This one—here at the height of the phrase, or here towards the end—I want you to notice this note, especially. It is telling you something.

And often, but not always, a grace note is a dissonance—a note from outside the scale, that would sound out of place if it lasted too long. Dissonance, in order to highlight. In order to heighten the beauty.

*     *     *
There are moments that stand out from that fall:

Let some things go. This seems small, in a way, but it was freeing: it suddenly didn’t matter if my kids mixed their Play-doh colors. It was okay to use all the glitter on one project. Yes things got used up, ruined, wasted. Except none of it was wasted at all.

You don’t have to understand it. I like to understand things. At some point, something in me needs desperately to arrive at some sort of conclusion about pretty much everything. Even if I have to change my mind later. And my beautiful conclusion here was, You don’t get to know why. You don’t need to know how much of a person lived inside of you for such a short time, or anything else about this. This is just where you are. You can trust that it’s taken care of even though you can’t grasp it.

The trees, dying. It was on a family walk that it struck me how amazingly beautiful the trees were. And how surrounded I was by things dying. And that, even though I don’t think of death as the end, I still think of it as loss, and fading-away, and pain. But trees—trees facing their winter-death go out in glory. Arms stretched to heaven, they blaze, intensify, burn with color, they make you see the sky differently, they take your breath away. And it made me want to live like them, no matter what.

*     *     *

I cannot pretend to know the purpose of hard things. If you had told me, while I was reeling from a miscarriage, that it was for a purpose, or somehow for the best, I probably would have nodded in agreement. Weakly. Inside it would have torn at me.

I cannot say I understand better now, or that I do not carry scars.

And yet from that time I also carry these moments that glow.

A grace note alone is a trifle.

But with the melody—or in the telling of the story—not the one I wanted, but the one I have—there is richness. Beauty. Certain notes standing out from the rest, moments that shine through the story I didn’t know I could want.

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Oh Joy

“I think it’s all done now.”

“What’s done, honey?”

“Well, you know how you were supposed to rest? Because of your cough? You’ve been resting a lot, and I think it’s all done now.”

That was Sunday afternoon, a few hours into my rest. It’s not done. (And Youngest is not feeling any more patient today.)

In exchange for being sent home instead of being admitted to the hospital for pneumonia, I’ve promised to be very, very good and rest. And, honestly, my lungs are helping me back that promise up.

Sleep is another story, due to some of my medications. Walking, laughing, talking all wear me out. Internally I am running marathons.

But I am resting. Couch-or-bed, mostly. Oh joy.

The thing is, it is so not boring.

I finished some assigned reading (from Oldest):

And some more assigned reading (from Youngest):

(I finished my assigned reading from Middle a while back):

I’ve also been (much more slowly, because it's rich and delectable and true) reading this and oh—loving it so much:


Doctor Who with Oldest.

A bracelet-making tutorial with Middle.

Coloring with Youngest.

Lunch in bed today with several guests.

Resting—Oh, joy!

I admit I’ve been dealing with deep discouragement. Getting sick is the least of it, although it’s a very large cherry on top. (And I love the cherry, by the way, fake as it is, especially if you will give it to me without the whipped cream. But you know what I mean, right?)

Here is something I know about creativity: to flourish, it often needs limits. Walls. Trouble, even, if you want to think of it that way.

Maybe beauty is the same way—the kind you want, not the kind you think you want.

Maybe it’s that way with all good things. Light in the darkness, water when you’re thirsty, warmth in the cold.



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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Things to Love

Plants that thrive when they’re ignored

Blank paper + a quiet afternoon


After the rain

Company when you’re sick

A gift of the happiest giraffe in the world

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Breathe it in—

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
                                                                                                                         —Anaïs Nin

Breathe it in—
this new flower, head bowed to the rain, shy
but opening, just the same.

Make it your own—
the sureness of the blossom,
the ease and cool of rain,

this waiting prayer—
breathe it in, take your fill,

let go.

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