Beauty for Today, Too

I could not stop crying yesterday even as my kids hung around me and looked stressed, even after I stared into my HappyLight until it felt like I’d journeyed to the heart of the sun. Today my face is an old water balloon, like I knew it would be.

When I slammed my alarm off and opened my Bible this morning, this is what greeted me:

“All flesh is like the grass

And all its glory like the flower of grass.

The grass withers,

and the flower falls,

but the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And this word is the good news that was preached to you.*

And, friends, that’s truly where my hope lies–and my grandmother’s. It’s not in tightening or whitening creams, not in regimens or good lighting or even temporary good health. Our hope lies in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by which he purchased forgiveness of our sins, and it lies in the promise of eternal life with him. The promise of himself as the ultimate gift. It really is more than enough for today, tomorrow, and forever.

*1st Peter 1:24-25 (ESV)

Beauty for Ashes

There is something bizarre about staring at your 39-year-old face in the mirror, the one that’s held up ‘til now (more or less) but is beginning to give up the fight, not all at once, but in little slip-ups under the eyes and near the nose, while also thinking about your dying grandmother. She doesn’t want to die right now, but pancreatic cancer doesn’t care what she wants, and you watch the familiar melt away, one day at a time. She doesn’t pencil in her brows anymore or wear the pixie-cut wig she paid so much for during chemo. That’s how you know where things stand.

You look at your own face and think about how you’ll get even older than you are now, older than this. The fat pads that have already begun their Emperor Penguin march down your face will sink further until they hang like chicken cutlets toward the center of your expression—you’ve seen it on others–and you think about the way you plan to hold them up without plastic surgery, like Natural Woman magazine said: Smile even when you aren’t happy.

But you know you’ll keep being shocked at your reflection until you die because your grandmother is shocked at hers and she’s 81. Only in her case, the fat isn’t resting along her jawline, log-jammed and soft and sweet. It’s gone. And you realize for the first time how very good fat is, how much you love and need it to feel normal.

You start crying, again, because you love her so much and because it’s unacceptable to watch her evaporate like this. You think about the futility of everything, of the hair color you use and the tinted sunscreen, of the 10K you’re trying to run. You hate yourself for wondering if your tears are, even now, speeding up the aging process. You dab your eyes with toilet paper (never tug), and you Google medium coverage CC creams that cost a little more than you can afford. Because you can’t not care, God help you, though none of it matters in the end. You notice your eyes get small when you cry, but are nice enough under makeup, what with your inherited good eyebrows. Like her eyes used to be.

All the hanging on, the self-pity, it’s ashes and dust. You’ll end up there anyway, you think, if you live long enough. People say

Embrace your age,

love it,

it’s only a number,

 beauty is ageless,

you’re only as old as you feel,

beauty is skin-deep,

death is natural,

 circle of life,

she lived to a good age,

she’s leaving behind a legacy of love.

Noise.

You want to see your grandmother again in the New Earth, where everything sad has finally come untrue, and you want her to be thirty and strong and sexy with her tiny waist and red lips and shiny black hair. And you want to run to her and grab her up and swing in circles while you both laugh and she raises one arched eyebrow and says, “Hi, darlin’.”

So you’ve decided you’ll wait ‘til then. You’ll watch your own face melt and keep smiling. You may even accept the process of dying after a while. But you don’t have to like it, you remind your reflection. You don’t. In the meantime, you’ll be happy for her, whose glory will soon be more shocking than you can imagine because she’ll bathe in the light of Jesus and he’ll have made her smile forever.

*I said I wasn’t going to blog anymore–or probably not–or not very much, but here I am, posting this blast of grief because of what’s going on in my life right now. So be it. Sigh*

Further Up, Further In

psx_20160512_125110Recently, I went back and read the first post I ever published on this blog, and it reminded me why I started blogging in the first place. I’d just come back to the U.S. after living in India for three years. I was grieving. I didn’t know how I was supposed to be in this new/old culture. Writing helped me to bear witness to the confusion of repatriation and to the eventual clarity that time and distance gifted me.

After a while, cultural commentary/navel gazing snippets morphed into other kinds of posts, some about homeschooling, some about learning how to be a stay-at-home mom without losing myself completely. And then there were updates about the new global adventures I ended up on, ones I didn’t see coming.

But then I wrote a novel. And another one, and then one after that. I still blogged, but it felt different, like digging in a sandbox without a shovel. This summer I attended an enormous writers conference where I thought, This whole fiction writing thing isn’t beyond my reach after all. And I didn’t blog once.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Last Battle,

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…come further up, come further in!”

He gave these words to a noble character named Jewel, and he wasn’t talking about writing, but about Aslan’s Country. Still I resonate with them when I think about writing stories.

Which brings me to this: I’ve been thinking I need to step away from blogging. It’s been enormously helpful for me to write about what bubbled to the surface of my brain these last few years, but now my brain is full of fiction. I won’t delete this space, but it may gather dust. Or, who knows, I may come back to it one day when I need it most. But I suspect I’ll probably just keep writing–and living–stories.

Thanks for reading. It’s meant a lot.

Newsletter

I’m considering moving from blogging to sending out a monthly newsletter (in which I keep friends updated on the goings on around here, including info about writing projects I’m set to complete) .  If you’d like to be on the receiving end of something like that, sign up for this blog using your email address and I’ll make sure I deliver it to your inbox.

Quick Lit

stack-of-books1

It’s that time again when I participate in Quick Lit, a down-and-dirty review of the books I’m reading, for better or worse.  I’m on a binge these days, which is how my reading life seems to go half the time.  During the other half I realize I’m reading nothing longer than an article or, heaven help me, a blog post.  Happily, I have a list going just in time for the link-up.  On my nightstand are

Beyond the First Draft, John Casey.  This is a writing craft book but it reads like a memoir and, well, I loved it.  Some craft books are so technical I feel like I’m inside a Swiss clock when I’m reading them.  Others are so woo-woo I might as well be watching Oprah.  This book is a collection of essays and it’s both beautifully written and informative.  Yes, please.

Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin.  This book is helpful for deciding on and implementing useful daily habits.  Padded out with research and plenty of anecdotes, it’s both a practical and breezy read.  Rubin posits that habits make us who we are and that we can and should develop ones that propel us toward living according to our values.  While the author comes across a little heavy-handed at times, her writing style allows the reader to clearly “hear” her voice.  A good thing.

Woe is I, Patricia O’Conner.  OK, it’s a funny book on brushing up on grammar that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.  But I’m a writer and I have to remind myself how to use the tools of the trade.  Did I mention it’s funny?

The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis.  This one’s for my kids and it’s the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia, a beloved series I started reading to them at the end of last school year.  Fast-paced and layered with meaning, it may be my favorite of all the books in the series and seems especially apropos in dark times such as these.

That’s all for now.  Well, not really.  I’m skimming Decoding Your Dog and already feeling guilty about making my dogs kiss me when they’d (apparently, according to the authors) rather not.  But, you know, I’m trying to get better.  And that’s my list for now.  What’s on yours?

 

 

 

A Better Burden

I’m on my second cup of coffee and it’s well before 7 a.m.  I’ve woken up at 5 without an alarm for the second morning in a row.  This is unusual.  My stomach flirts with the idea of rejecting the scalding black liquid I keep sending down into it because it wants to be asleep like my teenagers are, but I keep on sipping.

Being awake turns out to be what I need.  Now I can think in straight lines.  The breath of the box fan tethers my brain to the real, though, if I’m honest, the real isn’t strictly better than the dreams.

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The world has lost its mind, like I’m sometimes sure I’m losing mine, and this forces me to ponder Things That Matter. Should I have had another baby, I wonder, now that the kids are stretching toward adulthood like the potted ivy on my side table?  (There is nothing like housing a human in one’s core to realign everything).  But there’s the self-destructing world–that giant live coal that blisters our souls as we walk on it.  There’s us.

And that’s when I realize I’ve been tired for a long, long time.

I reach for my coffee mug, but this time my stomach is not playing around.  I need more than caffeine can offer anyway.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” he says to me, to us.

I fill up my lungs, let the air out slow.  I close my rusted eyes and choose to believe Him again.

(This).

The Next Thing

This summer has been a doozy.  I lost a grandmother, rode the rails of the cancer train with another grandmother (still riding), had a grandfather fall and break his hip–and this while he suffers from late-stage Alzheimer’s.  I’ve been on an extended family vacation, finished a manuscript, tried to sleep at night (and found myself unsuccessful).  I’ve done my level-best, along with millions of other Americans, to ignore our political candidates and their latest absurdities, but found myself horrified anyway when I peaked through my fingers.

All in a few weeks’ time.

DSC_0690This summer has been a doozy, yes, and I’m almost ready for it to be over, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t necessary.  Everything we go through, each day that passes, is, in its own mysterious way, a necessary part of the whole that makes up our lives.  Our experiences shape us and we shape them (which is what writing is, in the end, the shaping of events into stories we can tell until we begin to understand them a little).  God helps us with the shaping, and that’s a good thing since he’s the one who holds everything anyway.

Still, I look forward to the coolness of fall, the reassurance of routine.  I prepare to kiss summer goodbye this time without a hint of nostalgia.  It’s almost time and I’m ready.