so live now {and do it well}

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I don’t know how much time I have left.  

bubbles

Afternoon, and autumn leaves wander and twist to the earth, fluttering through the grass and along the sidewalk.  The sun makes a blaze of the trees.  I stop for a moment just to see, putting down my work, stunned by the fragility of life.  I don’t know how much time I have left.  I feel it in the goosebumps rising on my arms as I take in the turning.  Fall always reminds me to feel grateful for moments.  Because today is always the only day I have, and now the only moment.  It shouldn’t take tragedy or loss to capture my attention.

Upstairs, I find Riley sitting on the floor in front of the washing machine, pulling dark clothes out of the basket beside her, pushing them into the washer tub with her hands.  I stop still in the hallway.  She turns to me, golden hair falling softly across her shoulders.  A lock falls brassy over her sweet-deep ocean-eyes, still displaced from yesterday’s zig-zag part, and she carefully tucks it behind her ear.  Her fingers are long and slender now.  Hers is a quiet depth.  She smiles—so beautiful, just a slight, smooth acknowledgement, resting a wadded, gripped pair of jeans against her knee.

“Hi Mom,” she says, and the smile comes because she observes and understands and absorbs more than most people would believe.  She knows I measure her expressions, searching for hidden seizures, for side-effects from the pills, for some unexpected emergency.  She’s patient, but she doesn’t like my watchfulness.  She doesn’t like to draw attention.

Are those circles under her eyes?

“You okay?” I ask her, and she looks away at the jeans in her hand, the washing machine in front of her.

“Mmmhmm,” she says, pushing the jeans inside.  I can see the glint of silver, the holes in the tub where the water trickles out.

“Why are you sitting on the floor?”  Are you more exhausted than you should be?  Seizures make her sleepy, the pills can make her sleepy, but Riley resists sleep.  She never wants to miss anything.  In the young woman she has become, I see the baby with round cheeks and gold curls all over her head who used to thrash in my arms and cry out in anger over feeling tired.  I once held her tightly, sweaty against my chest, so she’d be still enough to rest.  People with autism are supposed to be limited by anxiety—that’s the stereotype—but Riley lives full, satisfying a continual hunger for new experiences, new people, new places, despite the fact that too much sensory information at once leaves her teary and steals her breath.  I have lead her out of buildings, commanding her to breathe, rubbing her back with my hand, holding her while she cries into my shoulder.  I have seen what anxiety does to her.  And still, she walks easy, freely, into living.  She lives—awkward, silly, innocent, messy, and completely okay with every season.

“I don’t know,” she says, blinking at me.

It makes sense, really.  The washer loads from the front, and it’s easier to see when the tub is full if you’re sitting right in front of it.  I’ve never thought to do that.  She is practical and resourceful, and completely unhindered by the usual way.  Sometimes, when we ask her why, she says, “It’s just my technique.”  It makes me happy to see that she’s content—even confident about—doing things differently, in the ways that make sense to her.  But I am so accustomed to shattering surprises that sometimes I over anticipate them, as a protection.

I walk over to study her a little more closely, and she stands.  I reach for her face, cradling her chin in my palms, sliding my thumbs along the line of her cheek bones.  I smile at her and her eyes fill with tears—a sudden flood just when I feel ready to dismiss my worries.

“You sure you’re okay?”

“Mmmhmm.”  She nods, and I can tell she’s working to convince me, even as tears begin to slide down her cheeks.  I don’t know if she’s willing nothing wrong or troubled by my scrutiny, and I am instantly frustrated because I know that I will not know. What is happening to her that I can’t see? Am I passing her worries–fear–she doesn’t want, doesn’t need? We’re well past the days when I had to remember to push down on the toe of her shoes with my thumb to check for too small or limit my words to a crucial few so that she would understand, but there are still some things she can’t explain, maybe doesn’t even understand, about her own feelings.  She can’t tell me the things that would make me stop watching her so closely.

“Then why are you crying?”

“I don’t know,” she says, and her voice wavers, breaking in the middle.

I smile at her, offering her reassurance.  “It’s alright if you want to sit on the floor to load the washer.  I just want to make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m okay,” she says, nodding.  “I know you’re checking on me, Mom.  I’m not having any seizures.  I’m okay.”

“Alright, then,” I say, kissing her cheek.  “Get back to it.”  And I walk away because she needs me to let her be okay, whether she really is okay or not.  Two steps and I turn back.  “Hey–“

She looks up at me, wary.

“I love you.  I’m proud of you.” I want to say the things that matter, as though it’s my last opportunity to say them.  I don’t know how much longer I have, and not because of seizures or fear or some forboding premonition, but because I just don’t know.  And still, sometimes I take moments, opportunities, for granted.

She laughs, a giddy-free sound of joy that makes her smile wide.  And just that quickly, the heaviness I glimpsed earlier disappears.

I walk to the window and watch Zoe running around the trampoline with three other kids.  Her hair has browned with age, like mine, darker every year.  It flies out in ribbons, and even from where I stand I can tell that the strands framing her face are damp with sweat.  I smile to see her out there crazy-wild, always surrounded by a knot of friends, not yet too grown for vibrant imaginary tales.  But she’s growing tall too, and I don’t know how much more time I have left touching her sun-warm skin when she comes inside, cheeks flushed happy, smelling like the wind.  Kevin feels it too.  Sometimes he stands at the window and says what I’m thinking, “Not much more time to see her like this.”

I tell my children not to let fear steal away living. And it’s these things I say to them that echo back to me.  So I stand at the window, watching the trees catch fire in the sunlight, stretching for balance, for the way to enjoy the Fall without fretting over a Winter that might never come. Fall is a savoring season, a changing, maturing beauty.  She flames and steams and sits warm in the hands.  She is meant to be noticed and appreciated and touched, but she cannot be gripped and forced to stay.  Fall whispers a startling, careful truth, a truth that makes me gather up gifts and hold them in open hands, open for gathering more, open for the wild freedom that makes them beautiful:

The fragility of life only makes our living more significant.

harvest

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Sometimes wishing for something else, something better, something other, nearly spoils the planting.  In our hands, we carry seed to sow, seed gritty in our fingers and sweaty in the palm.  But standing in the middle of I don’t want to, we scarely imagine the blooms that will come once we reluctantly leave those hard, dead bits buried and find the courage to watch and wait.

After dinner, our son likes to disappear, as though the meal has stuffed him full—maybe not of food, because he always seems so growling hungry–but full of our warm company, of light reflected off of glazed plates, of sister-chatter, of fork-clinks, of thought too, because we force him to talk to us.  He always asks politely to be excused, to put on his pajamas, to go upstairs.

Sometimes Kevin calls Adam back when he’s half way across the living room and on his way; when I’m noticing the angle of shoulder, the jut of blade, the way our son’s pants hang low, always a little too big for his waist.  I have to buy for length.

“Aw, come on,” Adam will say, losing both patience and politeness in one moment.  He’ll lift a long, thin arm with man-sized hands—I’ll sigh, thinking “Where did he get those hands?”—and point significantly toward the staircase.  “UPstairs.  May I go upstairs, please?”

“No, I’m not finished talking to you.  Come here.”

Down go the shoulders in definite slump.  Adam tries to bend his tall frame into the most visible display of dismay he can manage.  His sigh is audible, but he makes it while walking back toward Kevin at the table.

So tonight, when we tell him he has to stay to play UNO, he looks defeated, and we are not surprised.  “Not Uno. Uno is finished.  SOR-ry.”  Sorry comes out sing-song and insincere.  I’m sorry, but not really. He never really wants to play.

“Yes.  We’re playing Uno.  Sit down.”

“Aw, come on.  Uno until…” He taps his watch with one finger, tilting his ear toward me as if to say, I’m listening.  How much of this do I have to tolerate?

“Say how long, Adam.  How long will we play Uno.”  I say this patiently, watching his face, wondering how long it will be before I don’t have to remind him of this particular sentence.

“How long will we play Uno,” he says, but resignedly, because whatever the answer, he knows he won’t like it.  I know and he knows that what he really means to say is more like, I don’t want to play Uno.  But there’s no real purpose in coaching him through that one because, well, he’s playing.

“30 minutes.  Uno until 8:30, and then you can go upstairs.”

“Yes,” he says, sliding into the chair next to me.  But we deal the cards and he leans over to me and says, confidentially, “I want to go upstairs, please.”

“I know,” I say softly, smiling.  “Uno until 8:30, and then you can go upstairs.”

“No Uno until 8:30,” He says a little louder, irritated, jerking back against the chair.  His hair is rumpled, smooth in places and in others standing up, as though he’s been running hands through, though I’ve never seen him do that.

“Okay, fine.  No Uno until 8:30.  Uno until 9:00.”  I pick up my cards and arrange them by color in my hand.  Adam leaves his in a messy pile in front of him.  He sees no need to look at them in advance, no need to arrange anything, no need to consider.  This is not fun.  This is endurance.  He knows that if he has a wild card, he will use it when he needs it but will not change the color.  He will match color ahead of number, because he is always, always, always reluctant to disrupt his routine or any established pattern. And although he loves to celebrate a winner–because he loves shared joy, it isn’t important to him to be the winner.  Games exist as an unfortunate social exercise, a series of tolerable steps.  For us, they are a tottering, deceptively simple bridge we force our son to cross in order to find his way closer to the rest of us.  Sometimes that is the most significant purpose in our have to: it brings us closer.

“Uno until 8:30,” he says quickly, picking up on my addition, turning toward me, even his eyes.

“Okay, but only if you stop complaining,” I tell him, returning his gaze.  He is so extremely intelligent, so resourceful, so quick.  He has taught me not to underestimate.

And so we begin taking our turns, and Kevin and Zoe exchange quips over skips and color changes and draw four‘s.  Adam dutifully plays and draws and waits.  And waits. And watches the time.  He claps for Riley when she wins, but when we begin shuffling the cards a second time, he turns to me, lifting a finger in front of his face.  “One more Uno.”

I shift my eyes to the clock.  We have time for two more games, maybe three.  “Uno until 8:30,” I say calmly.

One more Uno,” He says, gently, showing me his long finger, the one in front of his nose.

“8:30.”

He glances again at the clock, then sits back again in his chair, accepting.  And so we begin again, taking our turns, Riley laughing when she needs to draw cards, when someone skips her.  Adam takes turns without fanfare, simply waiting for the numbers on the clock to change.  He moves his eyes from watch to clock to cards, watch to clock to cards.  And then somewhere along the way, I lean into Adam and say something deliberately offbeat and silly, trying to get him to participate in our fun. This is not something we want him simply to endure, but something we want him to enjoy.  “Hey Adam, do cows lay eggs?”

“Yes,” he says, barely listening, barely considering the question.

“NOoo,” I say, reaching for him, playfully squeezing his arm, touching his face. And it as though the random humor of it thaws his reserve, his distance, as the words finally reach him.  He squeals, catching me with bright eyes, dissolving into a giggle, and Riley with him.  And that is best of all, because he loves her joy.  He reaches for her, flicking one of her ears with his fingers.

We flick our thumbs with the cards, slapping our discards against the table.  Every time Riley puts a card on the pile, she feels compelled to stop and carefully line up the stack.  Order is important to her.  Adam plays a wild card on top of a green “3,” and I ask him, “What color?” even though I know he’ll never change it.  I offer him all four choices—Adam, yellow, green, blue, or red?–to be sure he knows he can choose any, but he insists with now temporary seriousness.  Green.  The color stays the same.

As play passes from me and moves to Kevin, Adam leans over close to me.  “Horses lay eggs,” he says quietly, but the words crescendo as he speaks, rolling out with his laughter.

“NOoo,” I say, reaching for him again, and Riley dissolves.

“TrACTors”—he can hardly say the word, it shatters into laughter the middle—lay eggs, ahhhh…” Adam says, leaning next to me and then falling away, giddy.  His grin stretches wide and he snickers and snorts and convulses as though I’m tickling him.  By some gift of grace, I have tickled his soul, and I am suddenly lost because I can’t quite contain the wealth of it.

“NOoo, tractors don’t lay eggs,” I retort, mocking incredulity.

Riley’s laughter makes her cheeks pink, and Adam reaches for her.  He so loves her joy.  It almost seems that he seeks her happiness ahead of his own, that this is what thrills him—to see her delighted.  Kevin says “Uno,” then Zoe,  and Riley smiles and bites her bottom lip.  Adam leans into me again.  “DA—he is gasping with the humor of it—DadDY lays eggs!”

At this, Kevin laughs too and says, “What?  I do what?”

Adam squeals.  His eyes twinkle.  He shifts in his chair, gathering in our shared amusement, our laughter, our appreciation of his humor.  He has forgotten the time.  He has found a way to connect, to say something we understand, to bring us all joy—at once and collectively.  And he feels satisfied.  I see this, watching him scan our faces, watching his smile deepen until it moves his arms and twitches in his fingertips.  And it seems to have taken him by surprise, because just moments ago, he nearly wished this time away.

And I sit back, confessing to myself that I also felt weary-worn for this game, nearly too tired for the stretching, for coaxing him across the divide.  I gather up his joy—his joy over our laughter—a grace-harvest for a reluctant heart—and I give thanks that what we think we want for ourselves is not always best, that the things we reject and defy and initially wait and wait and wait our way through often do bring the sweetest lasting fruit; and still more, that the opportunity to touch each other, to let go, to bring and plant and savor joy is truly a gift worthy of our self-sacrifices and our intentional purpose.

Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.~Psalm 126:6

If we try hard to bring happiness to others, we cannot stop it from coming to us also. To get joy, we must give it, and to keep joy, we must scatter it. ~John Templeton

departure

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This week, a departure for Kevin and me, a Sabbath rest:
20141002_085327Tucked away, pulled back from the busy road and held–but lightly–by the trees, we hide beneath the fog.  Sound is magnified here, somehow, or perhaps it is that other noise removed leaves room for hearing birdsong, the cheeky chatter of squirrels, the deep-throated gurgle of tree frogs.

Here, we agree on the need for departure.

Yesterday, or maybe the day before (we have allowed for the dissolution of schedule and time, so I don’t know), we spot a turtle on the path, meandering, and we stop to consider the bright pattern of lines across its shell, the smooth intricacy. Here, we line up our hands palm to palm.  We line up our thoughts too, and they blur about the edges, like the borders between us.  I give thanks for oneness, because I never really know where he ends and I begin.

“I see more gray hair these days, around your face,” he says, and I laugh and reach for the rough skin around his jaw.

“And you’re still that guy,” I say.  “All these years, and you’re still that guy.”

He breathes and I breathe; we breathe.  We are too close to home to be completely removed from the rhythms of our normal life, and the truth is that our kids live with too much responsibility, too much potential for emergency, for us ever to breathe unaware, no matter where we are physically.  But this week, we have stretched our Sabbath moments and found quiet pockets for listening.  And as the insects crescendo, we exhale thanksgiving for seeing, for Light, for the first faint hints of red and gold in the leaves, the sight of trees jeweled with red berries, the colors of sunset reflected in water.

For the first three days, clouds held this place in shadow, like a palm-cupped treasure.  I look at the sky and see the veil of my own emotion, the thickness I carry but never really have the inclination to attend to preferentially.  We all have these clouds, and sometimes we feel swallowed up by them and sometimes the Light breaks through and reveals the blue of sky, the golden waves collaborating for the green of leaves and grass.  I don’t have to dissect the clouds to consent to the Light that diffuses them.  Today, that Light shines, warm.

20141002_085513Here, we agree again on Sabbath days, when we close down the screens and remove the noise and just decide to breathe, to see, to laugh, to taste the sweet things and hold them on our tongues.  Here, we agree on finding those carved out and set aside places with our children too, on drawing away together just to sit in God’s hands, to gather grace gifts in our fingers.  Sometimes we need little more than the space to notice the flecks of color in each other’s hair. All this connection in our lives—the tones and clatter of keys, the motion of quick thumbs across the digital gloss—it’s good and wide and even happily effective, mostly.  It dissolves miles of distance.  And some use it better for building, for sharing, for gathering.  But here, we agree that sometimes the constancy and availability of media can keep us from noticing simple stunning things like the way leaves drift down from the trees or the sudden profundity of sunlight.  We can miss the glint of webs in the grass; the thin, nearly invisible gossamer holding everything together; the dew drops shining like diamonds.  We can miss the testimony etched right into living.

So here, hidden well beneath the fog, we agree on the need for departure.  We agree that it’s significant and also good to draw away, to fast from distraction.

We agree that our Sabbaths need not be a legalistic observance anymore but instead should be a grateful and intentional celebration of grace upon grace.  As with every undeserved gift, we steal away the joy of it when we grow more critical than we are compassionate, when we assume that another’s appreciation of rest can be measured in exactly the same way, at the same time, even concocted of the same formula or balance.  I cannot tell anyone else how to receive Light nor how to capture it, but only that it is—He is–and that it changes everything about living to see Him, to feel Him, to know Him.

Held carefully separate, we hear clearly the testimony of God.  We catch stanzas sometimes quietly, sometimes shaped with words and phrases—magical, wild, beautiful.  And together, we exhale thanksgiving, especially for the precious souls who allow us, by their own sacrifices, the grace to slip away and embrace peace.

everything is broken

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Deep, empty night, and we brush our teeth, looking across at each other with eyes like moons.  We both feel hollow-carved, like vulnerable husks reaching hungrily for rest.  I have no thought except for the feel of the sheets beneath my legs.

And then, a crash.

Kevin and I look at each other briefly, asking questions we don’t speak out loud.  He leaves the room to explore, and I refuse to speculate.  I swish water in my mouth, wipe the still line of my lips with a towel, blankly observing the orderly lines of routine.

In a moment, Kevin returns.  “Well, we have a mess to clean up downstairs.” He says this evenly, walking into the closet and back out with his shoes, sliding them on his bare feet.

Mess and clean up really aren’t filling words, at least not for a mother.  I spend so much of my energy pushing back against those words, ripping them up like weeds that creep into our growing space.  I do not, in the moment, have enough strength left for mess and clean up.  I want to ask for rest first, but he sees this question in my eyes and explains.  The heavy framed mirror above the mantel has fallen away from its anchor, disrupting the things just below.  Everything is broken.  There’s glass everywhere.

Everything is broken.  Yes, sometimes.

The first thing I think, as I slip on my shoes, is I don’t want to see.  Irrationally, I wish for someone to come in with the energy no one has and pick up all the pieces for me.  I want them to restore order and beauty before I summon up the courage to be a witness.  I want redemption, just without any significant cost.

But since I won’t leave my husband leaning weary and alone over the mess, and since I don’t want my children to cut their fingers and feet, I descend.  And when I get to the bottom of the stairs, I moan.  I want to make less of this silly grief.  I want to call it a sigh, the sound that rose in my throat.  I want to say I was silent and picked up brokenness like obedience, like a Will worthy of a sacrifice.  But that would be a lie.  Instead, I mourned the loss of something beautiful, a tiny soul-oasis assembled from a collection of gathered things.

I know.  It could have been much worse.  And that’s what I tell myself as I drag the trash can into the living room, as we carefully lift the bigger shards between our fingers and plunk them in.  I tell myself that truth, that thanksgiving lies in the recognition that none of us were downstairs when everything shattered, that the glass bits now covering the chair didn’t break skin and draw blood.  Nearly everything on the mantel was made of glass.

And everything is broken.

The best living is an art, and so I pour creativity into home decorating, shaping tone and inspiration out of color and texture and symbol.  The mantel is a special project for me, a canvas I renew and change with the seasons.  I have an affinity for glass objects because of their ability to reflect and handle and carry Light.  I appreciate that the eye glances beyond the transparent, fragile thing to the substance of what fills it, the beauty it offers, without missing the delicate line of unique shape.  Glass is other, more stunning because of it’s intrinsic qualities, more functional because it yields to shaping.  When I decorated the mantle for Summer, I conjured the unique quality of light on the ocean in the golden hours, when the water looks opulently green against a pure, wide sky.  I’m sure the art of it wasn’t readily obvious to everyone, but something about it soothed my soul when I passed by or finally sat down in the emptiest hours of the day.  This particular arrangement glimpsed something I hold carefully, a gift I shelter.  Creation testifies, and creation shatters with the Fall, and just briefly, I mourn the loss of beauty.

“Sometimes it feels as if nothing I enjoy can remain untouched.”  I speak honestly, in an empty, carved-weary voice, a paper-thin sound, and flat.  I speak into the shattered fragments resting carefully on my palm.  I know better than to grip them.  I gather enough brokenness to hold without cutting myself, and then I walk to the trash can, and let the pieces–still reflecting—fall free.  The glass is beautiful, even broken.

“I know,” Kevin says softly, still finding pieces, still throwing them away.

We find glass around the corner, in the bathroom, in the adjoining room.  Glass fills the baskets, the chairs, the shelves below the TV.  The tiniest bits glitter, dangerous, and the largest ones threaten with majestic, jagged arcs.

“I just really, really liked this,” I say.  “It was so pretty.”

An hour, and we still find glass in unexpected places, scattered far, hidden in shadows.  We gasp–it’s everywhere–and intermittently discuss shattering, the way it broadcasts destruction, the way the pretty things become dangerous when they are broken.

Kevin speaks gently, from a space beyond the pieces, “This is what happens when we pull away from our anchor.”  Four years—maybe five—and that mirror hung solid.  It wasn’t the wall anchor that failed but the one attached to the mirror itself.  Finally, it just gave way to the heaviness, shattering everything in the path of its fall. This is what happens when we pull away. I stop and gather in the mess of it, and Kevin smiles. “Should I stop and take some pictures?” It’s as though he sees the writing in me, the etched script I feel.

I can see that he’s right, that the destruction left in the wake of our lost focus can extend far beyond the realm that we imagine; that bits of our broken lives can lurk sharp in the shadows, under things, in spaces we believe to be safe from damage.   Everything is broken by the Fall.  That is the nasty, jagged truth of this place.  When we think that we can stand apart from the One who holds us; when we forget how much we need His accomplishing strength to remain steadfast, when we pull away from our anchor, we fall hard and crooked and shatter Light-gathering lives.  We keep looking for Eden, longing for the untouched beauty of creation, for that unbroken joy, and it’s heaven-planted, that yearning. It’s God’s own grief over His lost treasure, over the untouched beauty of the covenant He created. Our living cuts and breaks, but He descends, allowing His own tender skin to be sliced by the shards of us.  He grips our broken pieces in His own tender palms. He speaks truth, new life, over the dead valley. He restores beauty out of brokenness at great cost, and then, because of Him, our Joy at last remains untouched, pristine, kept as an inheritance for us.

Kevin vacuums the shards we only glimpse as glints against the carpet, and I finally turn to speaking gratitude over the details, the timing, the emptiness of the room when the mirror fell.  I’m thankful.

It could have been worse.  Sometimes, it is.  But oh, I’m overflowing thankful for the Hands that collect up the brokenness of this place and grip us hard, redeeming, shaping us into something all new.  So see beyond the glass of me to the bits I still reflect, to this hope that fills full:

Because of Him we can be beautiful, even broken.

beautiful in His hands

beauty

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From a grassy field roadside, I gather up the picture of a broken barn with history clear tumbling from it’s splintered walls, the jagged boards dark, like the trunks of trees.  These planks, hewn from deadwood dragged, shaped over sawdust piles, sanded, treated, painted; nailed sharp, clean, with a satisfied whack—these planks caught the sweat of the arms that lifted them.  These once looked all new, once seemed strong and solid, fresh and functional, like we do when we’re young.  But now, the barn has settled and spread, becoming a watchful art, an eccentric mosaic, peace and wild flowers, hay heaped sweet, the deep knowledge of life lived full.

I stare at the barn as we pass, gathering in its elegance, thinking about how it now returns to what it once was, not the sleek, polished, conjured thing it came to be early, but the organic truth at the core—the raw dark wood smelling of earth.  I can’t look away.  Grass grows green in the wall cracks, as though while the structure sinks, the ground rises up to meet it. I can see the grass has gone to seed, and it twists, bending in the breeze.  This is the way for all of us—conjured and pristine and fashioned, then lived down to the easy glimpse of soul, something more beautiful if we can embrace our years and everything that comes with them.

A mile or so ago, we rambled past an old plastic monstrosity, rusty, with cavernous fixture hanging, shattered glass and mud-crusted tires, faded letters on the side where someone carried the branding away.  I can’t help but think of it now.  On the side, flat planks covered over the breathing, light-giving places, spray-painted black with just three words: mad mad mad.  Sometimes we wear our anger like those planks, and what we close out for protection might have been our only chance for light and breath and life.  So when we pass the barn, I realize it’s not old and worn that makes the carved-out spaces ugly.  It’s fabricated.  It’s the sleek shell that cannot settle, the hard surface with no open place for growth, destruction without the opportunity to absorb the changing-wind.  Plastic only empties.  Pretense cannot be reshaped.  It crumbles and litters, and the earth does not rise up to receive that which it cannot recognize or embrace as its own.  Bitterness only hardens us to fullness and strips away our elegance.

The presence of the barn at roadside creates a stark contrast that captivates me.  I want to hold it in my palm, a treasure.  A single path winds away from the barn, wide-possible and beaten-smooth so long the grass allows it.  Life pops up and flies over the path, the field—flies, maybe, an occasional moth, a bird.  I reach with my mind, not quite capturing the untamed things that I glimpse only in an instant.  I wish I could stop and take a picture.

I wonder how many voices this barn has held, what the walls could tell of foot fall and laughter, of hiding, of stolen moments, of dung and animal breath and sweet, dank life.  All of it matters—all of it gives this place its soul, the easy and the awe, the wonder and the sudden, empty pain, the abundance and the scarcity.  Rain has soaked these broken timbers, mingling with sweat and blood and shadow.  Even sun-drenched, the walls look fresh soaked, rich like fertile soil.  Wind has softened her angles and opened up her spaces, turning worn, empty holes into wild sculpture and freedom.  She tears away her shiny cloak and becomes the truth, the raw, stunning God-made truth of salty tears and unchained joy, the truth of sighing and back-aching heavy, of warmth and gathered light.  She, this old, weathered barn, sits peaceful strong in a wind-blown field, unafraid.  She laughs at the days to come.  She has learned the secret of being content.  She can do all things, because she knows her Strength.  She knows the real source of her beauty.  So I gather up that exquisite old barn, carrying her with me down the road as I travel.  She is like so many beautiful women who mentor me with wrinkled, silver-haired, life-worn love, wrapping arms about me, shoring me up, showing me what beautiful is.  They do not pretend perfection.  They sit peaceful strong while the lightening cracks and the puddles widen and breathe the truth about living.  And they are magnificent.

 

gather up the good

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Sometimes life strips us clean of words, and we sit together, quiet.  And maybe it’s that way so we’ll stop to listen.

We walk through the rain and into the funeral chapel, gathering damp hugs on our way through the door.  We sit first, and then we stand, winding in long lines past photographs and video, awards, and hats still dingy with soil and sweat, dropped on top of a polished piano as though this cherished man just left them there and walked into another room.

A week of words twisting, words sharp, words missaid and misunderstood, and I’m carved out, hollow of things to say.  I wear the quiet like a blanket, like a shield.  Sometimes I wish I could get through without touching other lives, without brushing up against your shattered places, without cutting into you with mine.  Sometimes, it’s awfully tempting to protect myself.  But, that’s never really been the way with Him.  And oh, I love Him.

It’s quiet until we get to the family.  Quiet, but not silent.  I feel sore and bruised, tender enough to hear, open enough to see, because oddly I feel hidden, like an angel-led traveler to another place, another time, another life.  He does promise to hide us—our lives (Col. 3:3), our tattered souls from trouble (Psalm 27:5), our weary bodies  from wicked enemies (Psalm 17:8).  But He’s pretty clear that when I want to hide, it’s Him I should run to (Proverbs 18:10, Psalm 143:9), not all the other things behind which I tend to cower.  God does all the hiding of me, sheltering me carefully, when I need it.

From where I stand in line, I watch people touch each other—a gentle hand laid on top of another, a clap against broad back, a time-lost embrace.  On a couch against the wall, some women dab their eyes with tissues, jerking new ones from the crinkly packet to pass over and beyond each other.  They say nothing, only carefully placing their warm bodies close.  They sit behind her—the suffering wife now widowed, close enough to reach, close enough that she can feel them.  I watch them reach for her and squeeze her hand.  Yes, it’s quiet until we get to the family, and all it takes is I’m so sorry, and the son, his eyes start filling.  He clears his throat and steps away from his grief.

And I listen.  I hear sorry and sorry and sorry and anything at all I can do and we’re here. We’re here for you.  I hear so quickly and can’t believe and missed.  Really, really missed. I hear love.  I hear laughter and stories about remember when, and it’s all history and relationships and the journey shared that matters now.  Now, when it seems as though this man left his hat on the piano and disappeared from the room.  Surely all these people weren’t happy with him all the time, surely they sometimes bruised each other badly, surely sometimes he made them angry.  But now, it’s only the good collected and kept, gathered up in clasped hands and wrapped arms for safe keeping.  Why does it sometimes take loss to make us gather up the good in each other and hold on to it?  Word says love keeps no record of wrongs, and love isn’t self-seeking, and and love does not dishonor others (1 Cor. 13:5).  It’s so like the enemy to convince us to justify the way we collect up our pain and build walls of unforgiveness and judgement around the living, the breathing, the stumbling.  Because it doesn’t take a sacrifice to love someone who’s gone.  Don’t speak ill of the dead, we say, but what about Don’t speak ill of the living (Matthew 5:22)?

I hug some more of this precious man’s family, people I don’t know, and some I’ve known so long we’ve had plenty of time to forget some of the details about each other.  It must be twenty years since I’ve seen one of the women, and I can tell she doesn’t remember my name, but she knows my face, and that’s enough.  She hugs me hard and nods and talks about how quickly her kids have grown—and mine—and I can see the thought dancing behind her eyes Come on, why can’t I remember her name? And I can also see that she’s trying hard not to let me know, that this grieving and loss she feels are more than enough for now.  She doesn’t want to bruise me with her forgetfulness.  But I am clear carved of words and knowledge too, and what I see and hear is that we share motherhood and the feeling that time comes and they grow tall and we look in the mirror at older versions of ourselves and we find unity over what we have in common.  And so, Paul pleads with Euodia and Syntyche, their names like different chords of the same song, to be of the same mind in the Lord (Phil.4:2), because when we stand awkward and carved and unsure in front of each other we always have that to agree on.  We can replace our self-protection with His sacrifice, with His refusal to defend Himself, with the way He laid down His life for us.  That kind of unity changes the tone of forgiveness.

When at last I reach this dear man’s wife, standing lonely of him at the end of the room, she’s all stripped of words.  She shakes her head and clutches my arms and looks around because she’s lost a part of herself, and she says, “I don’t know.  I just don’t know.”  We are not so puffed up of knowing when life has humbled and crumpled us, and the truth is that we all carry something hobbling.  She can only place her hand flat on the casket and look at me solid and say, “This, this was the love of my life.”  I see that the love of him is the only thing she still knows, the needing him, the wanting to be right beside him.  And I see that this is some dim shade of what it means to love with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; to trust with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; to be devoted.

In the Old Testament, when something was devoted it was destroyed, that it might not be secondarily used or kept for another purpose.  And Word says I’m to be wholeheartedly devoted to God, and also devoted to you, to honor you above myself (Romans 12:10).  Every kind of holy devotion still means the sacrifice of self–the destruction of me and me-living and me-focus and me-protecting—that my life might not be used secondarily for another purpose.  And that means that I’ll stand stripped of words and knowledge, shaking my head and tender-lost, and I’ll say to you, “I don’t know, I just don’t know.”

I don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong.

I don’t know what you should do.

I don’t know what I should do.

I don’t know more or better or absolutely.

I don’t know how to see well when I’m crying, or how to hear well when fear clamors, or how to keep from falling down when I’m weak.

I don’t know.

I don’t know anything of my own.  I can do nothing by myself (John 15:5; John 5:19).

And then, I’ll look at you solid, and I’ll say, “But He, He is the love of my life.”

And on the basis of knowing only that, I’ll open my arms up to love you, and maybe we’ll share the pain we carry and learn to gather up the good in each other.

she

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She could not have known about the day, its prickly criticism and thick heat, its challenge and pursed lips and ungracious attitude.  She could not have absorbed its unkind words.  She could not have known how it all felt gray, in spite of the sun, or how many times I wondered why am I doing this and felt God’s hands gently righting my crazy-knocked gaze.  She could not have known how much five minutes of her love, her grace, her gratitude would lift my arms when I felt unable to hold them aloft any longer.  She could not have known that her presence in my life would turn the tide of battle.

So, the only explanation is that she listens deep.  She, not the one but the many of my sisters; she who moves wild with the changing wind, who allows God to lift her hands and move her fingers and work her voice into joy and peace and mercy.  Word says He sounds like rushing water, and so she feels to me, like cool refreshment at the roots where I have settled to grow.

My phone dings, and it is she, a Facebook message that comes when I am swallowing pain like a thick knot in my throat, when the evil whisper rises to a crescendo:  Give up.  Come on, you don’t need this.

I check the notifications quickly, a habit I learned when my children developed potential emergencies, and she makes me smile—just a woman’s silhoutte still instead of a photo, in a round like a floating window.  I am so thankful for how important you are, she has typed, and, I love you!

She is a friend.

Moments later, she sends a text, The spirit of discouragement is widespread…pray for encouragers to lift up those who are burdened.  She reminds me to pray, to climb up in my Father’s lap for safety.  And as I read her text, I feel the way her prayer has already wrapped me, drawing me in, a protection.

She is a soul-sister.

Praying with you! I type back.  I had a FB message from one of those encouragers when I got home!

You understand, she is the one and also the other.

I gather the mail in my hands, lifting it from the counter where Riley has left it for me, neatly stacked.  And on the top, a puffy envelope sits all wrinkled from the trip it took to get to me.  And inside, she has sent a note with a she-knows-me gift, just a simple message using a word all made of love, a family word no one else understands.  Just simply enjoy, and love.

She is a precious, cherished aunt.

I stand holding her note, feeling embraced.  That word—enjoy—captures me with its powerful prefix en, which means to confine in or place on, and additionally, to cover on every side completely.  She reaches out and wraps me up in joy like a blanket, like a robe, like a shield.  That’s her word, I think, because it describes what she does for me always, what she has done all week.  Two minutes, five, three, and she sends me a photograph of my mom doing something or a luna moth or a butterfly, maybe with a phrase, but always that I might enjoy, that she might wrap joy around me—completely and covering every side—like her arms, enfolding.

I walk upstairs to fold some clothes, breaking away for a moment from a tangle of homework and snacks and projects and routines and supper.  I sit on the bench in the hall, just a moment, because I have to tell her:

You sent your note when I needed it most.

And you, you have embraced me all week.

You are a gift.

I lift towels from the basket and press my fingers into the warmth of them, folding them into satisfying lines, smooth, uninterrupted surfaces.  My back is to the door, and I am praying, asking God to silence the thoughts I shouldn’t have, to fill me with Light that obliterates shadows.  I don’t feel her behind me until she slides her arms around my waist and squeezes tight, pressing her nose into my spine, inhaling as though I smell sweet. I’m sorry you’ve had a hard day, she says.  I love you.  All the hurtful people, all the terribly hard things, are rotten pumpkin seeds.  I drop the towel and in my hands and turn to hug her, and our laughter falls and twists and curves around us.

“Rotten pumpkin seeds?”

“Well, if I had said just pumpkin seeds, you’d have thought about roasting them.”

This makes me laugh harder, until the healing reaches through me and into my heart.  I give thanks for honesty, that she is old enough to carry the truth:  It’s been a hard day.  She doesn’t ask me for details, doesn’t tempt me to say more than I should.  She just hugs me more often.

She is a daughter, stunning and open.

And then, she is my mother.

She is a gentle text that comes just after, a message that says, Love you, even knowing that I might not find my way back to the phone to respond.  She makes me smile as I gather my phone and rush downstairs to answer a question—someone’s calling me from below—and to stir supper simmering.

You’ve met her.  Not my mom or my daughter or my aunt or my friends, necessarily, but her She is every age and every size and every shape.  She is feeling and thoughtful and warm.  She is gifted and creative and funny.  She builds and touches and covers me up, safe.  She takes whatever minutes she can find just to lift my weary arms and hold them up a little longer, just to remind me that I’m important.  She isn’t one–not just one person or one friend or one way; she is all of us together, caring for each other, speaking life right into the days that feel like death.  She is the reminder of a sure and final victory, of a better inheritance than all this temporary.  She is Love—not the limited, conditional, if-you-please-me kind; not the lesser that means “I like you a lot, but not enough that you’ll ever hurt me;” not the one day here and another gone; not the only if I like you; not the when it’s easy or convenient; but the real thing, the Love that covers over a multitude of sins.  Yes, she covers sin with grace, with joy on every side, with forgiveness and mercy, with strength and warmth and whatever she has that day, and always at great risk to herself.  She is the Love that keeps no record of wrongs, the Love that doesn’t envy or boast.  She is every shape and contour of Grace, the stunning vibrancy of gifts given while yet unmerited.  She is the reflection of the God who loves me, shining strong so that I can see, even when my eyes are too weak.  She is the powerful gentleness of His hands, holding me.

She is immeasurably beautiful.

At the end of a hard, prickly day, when I swallow pain like a knot in my throat, she reaches for me.  She, with her many arms, with her voice like rushing water.  And so together, as one day fades into another, we move on; we grow; she and I, with our roots full soaked and tangled up somewhere deep.

Thank you, faithful Father, for the difference she makes.

how she grows

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In the car at night and I can’t see her face, just the blur of headlights and the jostle of cars weaving in and out of lanes, just the green-lit signs labeling exits.  From behind me, she speaks, and the tentative way she shapes her words tells me that she chooses this time for the cover of darkness and the fact that I can’t look into her eyes.  This way, when she tells me she thinks I was wrong, she doesn’t have to watch my face.

“Mom, you know after everyone left my party, when we were talking about my friend, about her being disrespectful?  You know?”

“Yes.”  She’s measuring me, carefully testing my tone and the speed with which I speak.  She’s listening for open, interested, hearing; and also cautiously for angry, resentful, defensive.  So I wait, focusing on the traffic in front of me, the shoe-shaped silver car in my immediate view.  The tailgate is covered with coastal stickers.

“Well, I didn’t like that.  I mean, I don’t think…….Well, it felt like we were talking bad about someone else.  You know, in that way we don’t want to do.”

“Okay…” I inhale, remembering the morning in question, the morning after the birthday slumber party.  Kevin left early for a long workout, left me tangled in sheets and half hidden under my pillows for a rare extra hour of sleep—maybe, could it be possible?—before the kids woke and needed breakfast.  I heard nothing until my mom woke me with her soft hand on my cheek, the silver hair slipping out of her ponytail.  She and Dad had been with us that weekend, visiting for Zoe’s birthday.

“I’m sorry to have to wake you, but Adam just threw up.  Apparently he had a problem with his pod last night.  He has ketones, and we’ve been giving him water, but he just threw up.  And the girls are all up.  One of them had a nose bleed and the one helping her used all the tissues in the bathroom and still couldn’t get it to stop.  We cleaned up the floor…It was all over her arms…and you know Zoe wanted us to make waffles for breakfast.  I didn’t want to have to wake you, but when Adam threw up, I thought I’d better.”

I put my hands over my face.  I remember that, turning my head up toward my mom, covering my eyes with my hands.  It had been one of those weeks when everything converges at once—Adam’s first day of school coming and all the gathering of medical accessories, the binder I’d made him to structure blood sugar testing away from home, his Open House; Zoe’s birthday and all the special she should have in celebration, the gift shopping and decorating and inviting; the other-focused things we want for always, the lifting and encouraging and offering strength to those running short of it.

“Well, you know I don’t think any differently about your friend,” I say to the brake lights, the glint of silver in front of me, wishing I could stop and look at my daughter, already respecting her courage.  “It was just a mistake.  We all make mistakes.”

In my mind, I see the morning, how I went downstairs and Mom and I made waffles for the girls, because that had been Zoe’s request; how this particular friend showed up just as we were putting plates on the table, how much I instantly liked her.  She has sparks in her eyes, this friend, and her smile turns in an unexpected way.  From the beginning, she doesn’t mind talking to me.  Meanwhile, Adam lays on pillows in the living room, looking gray.  My dad gives him small sips of water from a cup with a straw every few minutes, and from the kitchen Mom and I listen for the sound of Adam’s voice, for signs that he’s better, while we juggle hungry questions.

Yes, this morning had indeed been ripe for misunderstanding.

“I didn’t mean to say that you shouldn’t be friends.  You know that, right? I say, continuing, looking in the rear view mirror but only finding twin beams.  “I was being honest about it, though. I do think she was disrespectful.”

“She was.  I was upset about it too.”  Zoe’s words come quickly, in a rush.  “But Mom, she’s not normally that way.  I don’t know why…I think she just wasn’t thinking, that she didn’t realize.”

It’s so bright, that grace, that compassion, that looking mercifully at a human heart, that Christ-seeing.

Zoe speaks from the Spirit, and Word floods my heart, first this: And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view (2 Corinthians 5:15,16); then this: Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God (Romans 15:7); then this: A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out (Isaiah 42:3; Matthew 12:20); and then this: Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses (Numbers 12: 8)? In just this way God presses His fingers right into me.  The Spirit moves through me, a wind that leaves nothing the same in its wake, opening my ears to hear.

I see them, Zoe’s friends, gathered around our table, and it is an unusual mix—a few girls I’ve known so long that I speak to them as though they are mine too, and a few completely new to me.  This new friend of Zoe’s with the sparks in her eyes bristles when I tell another of the girls now getting up from the table—one so familiar as to know how to take my mother-tone—not to tell me she’s hungry again thirty minutes after wasting half of a waffle at breakfast.  This new friend lifts the hair off of her shoulders with her hands, gathering the long, spiraling lengths of it together behind her and murmurs, “I’m hungry ALL the time.” But this doesn’t settle with me until later, looking back.  At the time, I barely register the clue to her discomfort.

Later, when Adam finally moves off the floor and starts spinning again, when the color at last returns to his pale cheeks and I know for sure we won’t be going to the hospital today, I ask this new friend of Zoe’s not to beat Zoe’s mylar dolphin-balloon  into a wilt with her hands.  Somehow I’ve finally processed Zoe’s fleeting glances at the balloon as it rises and falls in the air.  I finally hear Zoe say, “Hey, can we play with something else?” And I finally realize that her friend ignores her, that she continues hitting the balloon, pulling it up and down, making it “swim.”

I feel as though I say it kindly—“Please don’t do that.  It’ll make the balloon deflate a whole lot sooner.”

At first, Zoe’s friend ignores me too, until I reach for the balloon strings and gather them away.

“I had a round one like this and it didn’t deflate for like three months.”

“Right.  Well, this one will not last that long if you keep hitting it like this.  You girls find something else to do, okay?”

Her eyes flash, this friend who had been so lovely in the beginning.

“Can’t you just buy another one?”

“I could.  But why would I want to waste this one?”

She slows her speech, enunciating the first word carefully, as though I am slow to understand.  “Beecccauuusseee, we want to play with it?” Thus, her poor choice unfolds.

I admit it:  wastefulness and disrespect kindle my anger quickly.  I press my mouth into a line, and when I speak again, the words are iron.  “Well, Zoe doesn’t want to play with it.  Find something else to do.”  I walk away, taking the balloon with me, and everything simmers.  But when everyone leaves, when I hand the last tote bag and pillow through the door, I openly discuss my distaste for this friend’s behavior.  And thus, my poor choice unfolds.

It’s astounding how quickly our conversations can deteriorate, how easily we move from discussing facts to making assumptions and judgments, often as we try to support and justify each other.  It is a short conversation, but one that we would never have had had I managed not to offer a commentary to anyone except the One who knows hearts.  And four days later, my daughter still relives our words, trying to figure out how to tell me that things took a bad turn on our end too.

“…We don’t know anything about her,” Zoe says, reassured by my listening, “and we shouldn’t decide what she’s like or why she said that stuff or how she is just based on that one mistake.  We all make mistakes.

I grip the steering wheel, because I still want to defend myself.  I still want to talk about Zoe’s friend’s disrespect and how it shouldn’t have been instead of listening carefully to my own conviction.  But the Spirit rushes through, writing Word all over me, and I see that my daughter is correct, that she has the heart I want her to have: the heart of grace, mercy, compassion, love, and forgiveness.

“You’re right,” I say to her.  Just that.  “You’re absolutely right.  I should not have said anything more about it.”

Sometimes, I justify critical speeches as the honest rendering of my feelings, and I behave as though the mistakes of others are more unforgivable than my own.  But the truth is that I’ve been shown immeasurable grace, and God has forgiven me far more than I could ever forgive anyone else.  It’s the worldly point of view, the self-centered one, to see other people in light of how I perceive that they have mistreated me instead of seeing them as treasured souls for whom He also died.  His love is impartial.  Every other soul is just as cherished as my own.  And I’m not to live for myself anymore but to live for Him, to be like Him.  A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  Jesus never dismissed difficult people nor stopped loving them, even when they nailed Him to a cross.  Oh how keenly I feel the plank in my own eye, and I want to remember that feeling.  I want the clear and humble view of that plank now to stop my mouth from pointing out the tiny bits of sawdust in the eyes of another (Matthew 7:3).  She loves much who has been forgiven much (Luke 7:47), and I have been forgiven so much.

I want to be a Christ-follower who loves enough to obey, who asks Him to change what I see, what I think, what I say.  And in the dark of night as we drive home, I give thanks that my daughter is also my soul-sister, that she seeks to be like Him too, and that she has the courage to expect me to live what I teach her, what I believe.  The greatest love is courageous unto accountability.

My, how she grows.

~*~

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14).

Oh set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3).

sing like never before

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Adam stands beside me and his voice climbs, higher and higher toward the sky, pushing, pressing, growing.

Sing like never before, oh my soul.

Like everyone else, Adam has different voices for different kinds of experience.  This voice with which he sings is his voice for joy, for love, for comfort.  It’s the same voice with which he talks to his dad when they share a joke and the words tumble out with his laughter.  Adam moves—forward, back, forward, back—with motion to match not the rhythm of worship but the pace of his own experience of it, and the motion is full and fast and all-encompassing.  Worship is the only thing besides being beside the sea that offers my son this kind of freedom.

I am often so attentive to skin and bone, to the sensation of the chair against my legs, the fabric of my dress laying in smooth lines over muscle, fat, vein.  I think of later, of the heaviness of feelings, of so many cluttering, dusty things still hugging my wrists, my ankles; hanging from my shoulder, stuffed in my bag or weighting my arms. But Adam’s voice—pure and imploring and bending with emotion—carries me off the floor and away from the chairs, apart from body and tired and hungry and needing, past limitation of any kind.

And yet, I ache deeply over this child of mine, finding him so limited.  I ache because I am earthbound.  I am sore over his silences, forever bruised somewhere deep, always tender-sensitive to the ways his struggle over words holds him separate.

Monday afternoon, Kevin and Adam walk in, salty and sun-touched from a trip to the beach for Surfer’s Healing.  “Oh, but that salt air,” Kevin says, laying a hand against my back, “it’s like breathing-Freedom,” I say, finishing his sentence, meeting his eyes.  I reach up and wrap my arms around Kevin’s neck to hug him, and he smells like sunscreen, all coconut and warmth.

“He had a great time,” Kevin says, filling in the sketchy lines for me—how he and Adam opened the doors when they arrived and just breathed; how the two of them rode the trolley alone in the open air; how Adam’s group had been the last of the day, and things were nearly winding down.  The surfer helping Adam had first shown Adam how to kneel on the front of the long surf board, then he had paddled out into the ocean. Together,  they waited, Adam on his knees, the surfer, whose name was Jason, laying against the board.  When the right swell gathered, the surfer stood and lifted Adam to his feet, and then they rode in on the crest.   “They caught several good ones,” Kevin says, and I can almost hear Adam giggling.  I’ve seen that grin before, that unleashed soul.  I know how my son’s laughter sounds traveling in on ocean breezes, rolling toward me with the waves.

I turn to Adam, who has been walking in circles in and out of the kitchen, spinning backward every few feet, absorbed in a thousand sensations I hardly notice unless I make it my intention to consider them.

“Did you have fun today?” I ask him.

“Yes,” he says briefly, softly, spinning away from me.

These are the moments when Autism hurts, when I desperately wish I could touch him and repair the broken things that keep him from being able to tell me what it was like to be there, how he feels.  I want him to be able to stand still and tell me what Kevin does in his stead, how his new surfer friend taught him how to make the shaka sign with his hand, the hand sign we often translate “hang loose,” but which is used in Hawaiian culture to indicate many things ranging from simple greeting to friendship, compassion, and understanding.  I want him to stop and show me, to make the sign for me in the air, to wait for me to do it as well.  I want him to say, “Mom, it was AMAZING!  I surfed!  See, look, you go like this–” But instead, he smiles–a smile that reaches all the way into his bright blue eyes–and he turns his head just slightly, seeing the thoughts, and flapping his hands a beat, he simply says, “yes,” and then returns to spinning around the kitchen.  His words stay where they are, trapped, just out of his reach and ours.

Kevin feels this too, catching up my thoughts with his words, speaking them into solid shape.  “I took him to get a snack on our way home, and he had the hardest time telling me what he wanted to drink.  He was so excited about getting a drink, and I asked him what he wanted, and he waved his finger in the air in front of the bottles, but he couldn’t seem to get the words out, even written right there.  He could manage, ‘My favorite drink is,’ but he just kept saying that.  ‘My favorite drink is,’ ‘my favorite drink is.’ He couldn’t seem to fill in the blank.”  Kevin says this shaking his head, remembering the moment, feeling it.  “It’s funny sometimes, what he can manage to say and what he can’t.  You can see that he knows, that he’s trying, but he just can’t manage to say it.

For an instant, we just look at each other, Kevin and me, sharing the ache, breathing together in a carved space where we are sheltered together by God.  This is the ache that sometimes gathers about my wrists and ankles, slowly encircling my neck, bearing down on my shoulders like a weight.  I carry it with me all the time, like a grief that never leaves, and I depend on God to help me see things rightly.  There is a hope unbound by the limitations of this world, a power and a love that have overcome these temporary troubles.  And now, standing beside me in worship, Adam testifies to that hope with an unbound voice, with a freedom of expression that shatters the shadows, a freedom most of us have only just tasted.

Beside me, he sings, “…Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes…For all of your goodness, I will keep on singing, 10, 000 reasons for my heart to find…bless the Lord, oh my soul, worship His holy name.  Sing like never before, oh my soul…” His voice cracks with feeling.  He can’t sing loud enough.

When I look at Adam, this beautiful son of mine, he wipes tears from his eyes with his palms, then the sides of his hands, then his fingers. And it makes me smile, remembering.  For a long, long time, God is So Good was his favorite song.  He cried every time.

..Bless the Lord, oh my soul, oh my soul, worship His Holy name…

“Mom.  Dad and Adam are both crying,” Zoe says, stumbling in from the aisle, rearranging us, positioning herself where she most likes to be: by my side.  She searches my face, and her eyes turn desperate.  I am crying too.

It’s the song we are singing, the song she’s missed while late in the hall with her friends or taking care of some physical need; this song that pierces, that tears down every sensation, every thought that otherwise clutters our attention.  Worship has unbound our hearts, our souls.  Singing Truth with my son has cleaned my eyes to see the goodness of God—10,000 reasons for my heart to find.  Our tears in worship are only the seeping of Living Water, welling up from within unto eternal life (John 7:37,38).  And sometimes in worship, the Spirit shocks me with sudden seeing, with knowing that clears away the shade.

Sing like never before, oh my soul.

I nod, giving Zoe a bleary smile, letting a thin tear go uncaught.

“What happened?” She asks, still desperate, burying her forehead into the side of my neck.

“Later,” I whisper, returning to the worship, to this soul-free space, this glorious glimpse of inheritance:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials (1 Peter 1:3-6).

So many of us never find freedom in worship.  We’re so afraid and so selfish and so cluttered, and that limits us.  It traps the words.  It stops up the praise before it reaches our lips and keeps our hands clasped in our laps.  We complain about insignificant details and matters of preference, never quite transcending the chairs we sit in.  And it’s these limitations that concern God (Isaiah 1:13), these things that strip our worship of its meaning.  I know sometimes God aches over us, His children, longing to touch us and remove all the broken things that keep us from fully expressing Love.

I look at my son, the way he lifts his head, the way the muscles tighten in his neck as he sings, and I see that despite the limits through which we all see him, he is most blessed.  And He knows it.

Oh my soul, sing.  Sing like never before.

that they may be one

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In the middle of the week, the Board of Directors at Adam’s new school sends out this beautiful message, and I cry, just letting it settle:

We want to express our deepest, most heartfelt gratitude to our families. Just when the weight we were carrying on our shoulders became too much to bear, dozens of you swooped in to launch our movement forward. The monumental efforts of all the parent committees as well as the monetary support from you and your individual families and friends have turned our dream into a reality. Summer 2014 will go down in history as the time our school transformed from a house made of straw to a castle made of stone. We are so relieved and excited to know that you are team-players and that we’ll be able to work through the inevitable kinks of a brand new school together. We know you’ll help us solve problems and overcome obstacles, you have already proven that! Our shared vision of a school where our children are valued and respected is worth the hard work, patience, and the blood, sweat, and tears you’ve already shared with us. Thank you for jumping head first with us into this big, scary task of opening such a unique school. We couldn’t have done it without you. In just a few days your children will walk into their new school… a school built just for them by all of us. Congratulations and thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

After a run, I prop my foot against the edge of a brick step, pressing into a stretch.  The air feels thick, and the heat of the day gathers in my face, and sweat runs down my cheeks, my neck, my arms.  I feel the salty wet dripping off of my wrists as I clutch the bottom post with my fingers for balance.  I watch as a tiny round darkens on the concrete walk, as I melt into the ground.  I imagine that these drips of me also contain the foundational elements of my stress—unbelief, self-absorption, complaint, resentment.  In fact, I ask God to draw those things away from my heart, to make it a more temperate place.

Underneath my balanced foot, I suddenly notice a curving line of ants.  Only a moment before, my focus had been too wide to see their scrolling march, but now it comes into view like invisible Ink held to a Flame.  With my eyes, I trace the path of them from one flower bed across the walk, up one step, and down into the other bed.  On the one side, they have found some source of food, because as they travel, they carry microscopic bits of something white, some more, some less.  Another line swirls back, returning empty for another load.  I stand watching them as I stretch, unable to discover the source of their food after they disappear at the base of a rose bush, traveling on across the mulch.  I find their singular effort fascinating.  It matters little how large the feast may be.  They will manage, in time, to dismantle the entire thing and take it back to their nest.  Aside from sighing over the fact that their multitudinous numbers dwell so close to our house, I am captivated by their collective strength and individual weakness.  Something echoes somewhere in my heart, where God has been reshaping parts of me, where He teaches me–bit by dim bit—to better understand.  It stuns me how creation testifies.

In eleven days, my son will walk into a new school, an innovative place where they fold all the core academic curriculum into the soil of a garden, the structure of a store.  His middle and high school will thrive on project-based learning, on pursued and shared strengths, on, well, unity behind a single purpose.  Over these last few months, I’ve seen that community is not merely a utopian ideal but is a true possibility if we can agree together on a purpose.  Sadly, it’s that last part that often comes to be the sticking point, the barrier, the broken bits of misshapen stone we throw at each other because we can’t quite manage to use them to build a fortress where we can live together.  We so often allow our self-centeredness to trump unity and divide us into condemning, arrogant camps.  Over the last months, God has written a number of meditations across my soul, many beginning with words like suppose and imagine, things like, Suppose we could become unified in loving each other well, in building, in healing, in laying our own hands as cover over the ripped and tender places in the lives of others?

When I sat in the first meeting I ever attended about Adam’s school, so much still stood undecided.  Unknown stretched wide.  But through that uncomfortable terrain bubbled a contagious stream of belief in possibility and potential, of love for children with developmental challenges, of driven, even self-sacrificing, purpose.  I could not understand, at least initially, how I could know so little of the details—the exactly how it will be—and yet feel so engaged, so excited.  Every time we met in those early days, I left carrying home bits of information to my family, with no idea how and at the same time a burning certainty of the possibility.  I did what I do in situations like these.  I prayed.  I asked and asked and asked.  Is this…could this possibly…do you want?

I knew that if we enrolled Adam in this school, if by some chance his name actually came up in the lottery (we never get drawn for anything), this would mean more than dropping him off and wishing everyone well.  I know I would be involved in raising a school, that I would need to invest whatever equipping, whatever blessing, God has given, especially as we would all be just striking out together on the foundation of two years worth of hard effort on the part of the first few who began offering themselves all the way to personal risk.

I could write so much about how reluctant I was in the beginning to actually hear this yes, live by faith answer to my prayers, how I struggled over the possible risks and inevitable sacrifices involved, how I continued to ask even long after I knew the clear answer and felt it solid and undeniable.  I could take you there and peel back the new growth and show you the place in the path where I stood still.  This decision wasn’t a light one for us.  But He said go.

And so then, we began.  We walked right into the water at flood stage.  And that’s when the real miracles happened.  That is, after all, always when.  In the moment of faith, in the being certain of what you cannot see.

We often underestimate the power of our unity behind a single purpose, how a group of single-minded people can push down a wall or bring down a hijacked plane or affect a change the likes of which we might never even conceive of alone.  Often in our most important collections, we fail to display the oneness which echoes through some of Christ’s last prayers on this earth, his prayers for us, wherein He asked, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you (John 17:21).”

At the first informational meeting for the parents of students chosen in the lottery for admission, I sat next to a lady in glasses with smooth hair—it seemed that not a chestnut-colored strand fell out of place.  She had almond eyes the color of amber, and she gave voice to the things that left me speechless.  She kept saying, Wow.  Wow. I can’t believe I’m here, turning and smiling at me with an ease so many of us have instantly found with each other because of shared experience.

They passed out committee forms, urgently calling for our help—Now that you’re here, we need youand I thought, Here we go, because I knew.  My pen hovered over the line, but I signed, and the water splashed beneath my feet.  And later, when we assembled in a familiar sort of room full of therapy tools pushed out of the way of our chairs, I sucked in my breath at the way our various gifts and histories—magazine publishing, writing, media marketing, editing—fanned into a well-rounded set of tools.

At the first family picnic for our school, I turned around to find some of the older students teaching Adam to play baseball.  More significantly even, I found Adam learning, watching them, listening, trying.  I watched him smile, and I watched these older boys just accepting him, because they understand.  And I whispered, “Wow.  Wow.  I can’t believe we’re here.”

We jumped in, a crowd of challenged families, and our giving felt–still feels– like free flow at high tide.  We offer what we have, what we know.  We offer little bits of how with open hands and open minds.  Bit by bit, our community began to take shape.  And then we learned that we would have to raise $100,000 in one month to open on time.  It was a formidable challenge given to a community together holding hundreds of other challenges in our hands while we worked.  Most of us did not run away.  What we felt together—what we feel—is the same flame of possiblity, the flicker of shared strength, even in the moments when we don’t know just how or even if.  Many of you know what happened.  You heard us asking for your help, for your resources, for your mutual investment in our children, and you responded with your generosity and your belief.  And we can’t quite find enough words to tell you how strikingly beautiful it was to see you walk right up and stand with us, offering what you have, what you know, little bits of the how.  You joined our scrolling march, our ant lines, our determined and unified procession.  Bit by bit, together we dismantled a barrier.

What you don’t know is that behind the scenes we also grew together into something special.  We became ever more unified, each bringing something unique.  Over the sure foundation offered us, we became the planks, the bolts, the insulation.  No one—not for pride or control or glory—asked me not to do what I can, not to offer what I will.  No one criticized my offering or told me how to offer it. No one failed to offer respect on any ground.  At least in my corner of construction, I heard only building, only gratitude, only grace.  And we are not all the same.  We are an eclectic assembling of raw materials—different in ages, specific challenges, personality, preferences, faith, and manner.  But at the core of who we are is one very important truth: Different is not less.  Perhaps it’s this that allows us to receive each other as we are, not wishing for something other.  We value quirky as vibrancy, not annoyance or embarrassment, and this is part of our shared purpose, to create a community in which our children will be appreciated and nurtured and challenged and valued not in spite of their differences but because of them.

I read a news article recently wherein a biologist and “ant enthusiast from birth” suggested that “humans are too smart for the functioning of the whole society.”  He said that because ants are individually ignorant, they create a smart society.  But what God has written on my heart these last months is that humans generally fail at community not because we are too smart but because we are too selfish.  For the strength of our society, we must choose to see our unity as something worth protecting.  We must discover what brings us together, what besides ourselves can and should be the focus of our living.  What is it that’s worth the sacrifice of self?  Because the new, the redeemed, the re-shaped rises, living, out of our collective offering.

 

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