Something Beautiful

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Thirst
Mary Oliver

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the hour
and the bell; grant me, in your mercy,
a little more time. Love for the earth
and love for you are having such a long
conversation in my heart. Who knows what
will finally happen or where I will be sent,
yet already I have given a great many things
away, expecting to be told to pack nothing,
except the prayers which, with this thirst,
I am slowly learning.

When Not to Worry

DSC_0919When we become mothers, women who were once carefree or serious or focused find ourselves turning angsty over all that could go wrong in the lives of our children.  We seem to stress in direct proportion to how big we feel our job is.

And I think we all agree:  it’s big.

In earlier generations, moms cared about their kids but didn’t assume they needed to be their little darlings’ entire universes.  Frankly, they didn’t think it was healthy for the kids or themselves.  But add busier-than-ever parents plus guilt plus more things to worry about (thank you, Internet.  No, really) and you’ve got a recipe for defensive, burned-out mothering from the word go.

Homeschooling does not make a mom immune to inner and outer kvetching.  It can help to turn down the temperature on our worries in some ways, only because we’re spending a lot of time with our kids, and we can sort-of take stock of how they’re doing throughout the day.  But it also presents a whole new list of things to question whether we (and they) are doing well.

In spite of all that, I’m happy with the way this school-and-mothering year is unfolding.  My oldest son turns 14 tomorrow.  I have another one who’ll be 13 in the blink of an eye, and an 11-year-old daughter who looks like a freshman.  We have had, and will have, our fair share of difficulties, new things about which to wonder, problems that will arise.

Believe me, I know.

But, looking back, lots of my parenting worries throughout the last fourteen years have not come true.  Most haven’t, in fact.  The kids are doing well, by the grace of God.  They’re turning out in spite of my failures both as a teacher and as a mom.

I want to offer encouragement in case some of you have younger kids and are tempted to worry, too.  Just keep showing up, loving them, praying for them, enjoying the time you have with them as much as is possible.

Refuse to give in to the temptation to fret.

In the end, most of what you worry about won’t come true.  And, honestly, even if some of it does, it will still be OK.

On Bearing Burdens

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I woke up this morning with a whirling mind and bruised heart so that it felt like I hadn’t slept at all last night.

My mood further plummeted when it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be able to mull over what’s burdening me in order to mentally work it out.  I’m a writer and a teacher and I have to be emotionally present and alert to do my job(s) well.  And these weighty thoughts are like mental sludge in my brain pipes.

So what will I do in the next eighteen hours?

I’ll pray every time the heavy thoughts come up today.  Like a ninja.  My problems are beyond me, but not God.

I’ll make a list of the things I have to accomplish in the next several hours.

I’ll follow that list, checking things off as I get them done without trying to decide in the moment what  comes next.

I’ll listen to music when I’m not teaching or writing.  Few things focus my mind more than hearing songs and lyrics I love.

I’ll exercise at some point, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

I’ll remind myself that today will last for exactly 24 hours like its ancestors before it.  It’ll pass.  It has to.

Finally, I’ll get on with life because that’s what mothers do.

How do you cope with burdens you can’t seem to permanently offload? 

When You’re Poked With a Big Stick

Last night, my daughter crept into our room like a wraith from an M. Night Shyamalan movie, and tapped me on the arm three times.  I opened my eyes and, while couldn’t see her, I could feel her, though it took me a good four seconds to remember where I was.

She bent over me and whispered, “The dog puked in my room, and it wasn’t lumpy or a lot, but I can’t sleep in there.”

“Ish it on your bed?” I croaked, through my Meijer-brand mouth guard.

“No, it’s on my rug,” she moaned.  Now I could make out the outline of her hair.

“Go back to bed.  We’ll deal with it in the morning,”  I said.  (Warning!)

“I can’t.  You wouldn’t sleep with barf!  I’ll run out of air in there.”

“Then shleep in the fourth bedroom!  Do not wake up your father!” I was up on one elbow now.

“I can’t do that, Mom!  I have fear issues!”  I could see her flailing her arms, or at least, that’s what I think was happening.

My husband woke up.

“Now, shee what you did?” I hissed.  “You woke up Dad, and Dad has to get up at 5:30 a.m.”

Husband heaved himself upright, wordlessly, to go into her room and vanquish the up-chuck.

Before she left our room to follow him, my daughter whispered, “I’m sorry, Mom.”  It was more of a question.

And I said, “You aren’t sorry.  You aren’t sorry at all.”

Instantly I felt familiar guilt bathing my consciousness, but I was so mad I didn’t say another word.  I flung myself down on my pillow and squeezed my eyes shut.

When my husband finally staggered back to our bed, he informed me that there was no puke, on the rug or elsewhere, and that our daughter must have dreamed it.

That the whole thing was for naught (shoot me).

Except I know that it wasn’t.  Because it reminded me, once again, that when I’m poked with a proverbial stick (and being awakened out of a dead sleep is a big, big stick for me), the ugly me, my sin nature, strikes.  I need to be reminded that it’s there.  I need to deal with it before the Lord, lest I become comfortable, and stop fighting it.

This morning, when my daughter got in my bed (something she still loves to do), I told her that I’m sorry I was so impatient, so lightning-quick to get angry last night.  That it doesn’t please God when I react to her that way.

She forgave me immediately because that’s how she is.  She didn’t tell me I wasn’t really sorry.

We hugged each other, and prayed together, asking God to make us more like Jesus, more fearless, more giving.  And then we started our day, and it was fine.

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This is my motherhood.  I’m not satisfied with being a jerk, but it’s onward and upward, because it has to be.  It just has to be.  I’m a slow learner, but I am learning, by the grace of God.  And my daughter is, too.

This is how it is, and it’s OK.

(Final note:  This morning, I also might have mentioned to my daughter that there never was any barf anywhere in her room, and that, scientifically speaking, she would probably never, ever, run out of air, except when she dies.  Because that’s also true).

The Fixer

Are you a fixer?  When faced with a problem, big or small, do you look for solutions, figuring there must be something in your life you can tweak to make it go away?images-1

Maybe it’s just me.

I find that I want to control my life, like, a lot.  This is never clearer than when some problem crops up in my life.  It might be a relationship issue, an educational conundrum with one or all of my kids, or scheduling thing, another bout of depression.  Doesn’t really matter.  When something messes up my daily rhythm I want to beat that thing into submission, posthaste.  I want it dead.  Ahem.

What I’m learning, extremely slowly, is that sometimes problems can’t be solved by brainstorming, list-making, worrying, kvetching, vision-casting, or binge-eating. images

Sometimes the best thing to do when confronted with an “issue” is to…wait.  As in, do nothing.  (As a person of faith, I assume that praying about stuff is not the same as trying to fix it, so I’m not suggesting that praying is unnecessary.  It’s very necessary).  Not everything has a solution, at least not one I can see.  And even if it does, I can’t always effect change.

So I am learning to be still, to wait, to sometimes go slow in the face of obstacles.  I am praying and watching.  I am seeing stones in my path and not reaching for the keys to my forklift.

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The thing is, life keeps going whether I strategize or not, and problems often work themselves out (rather, Someone works them out, without my helpful freakouts, thanks).  If all this seems like a call for passivity, for hanging back and hanging on a minute when things go wrong, it is.

Deep breath.

Sometimes in the midst of life’s craziness, it really is better not to try to fix things, but to simply be.

Electricity

My chest is tight, I can feel it.  My arms have wrapped themselves up in front of me to keep out of harm’s way.  I draw in a breath but the air fills my lungs only partway and gets stuck.  I am electric.

This is when I’m floating outside my body, you know?  Just staring down at my dead tree self, seeing this mother, crackling and stiff.  She can’t bend, this one, not now.  She’s tucked in her branches and if a strong enough wind comes, she’ll land on her face.  Those angry features will break off and leave her expressionless, roots in the air.

And I just feel for her.  I see her so mad and I know why.  She’s had it up to here.  But shame on her, too.  She needs to shut it up.  She needs to stop the words, those boring, expiration-date words she’s said so many times before.  You kids need to be responsible.  The tortoise is not gonna feed himself, is he?  You may not sass me get your shoes off the couch stop bugging your brother we don’t say those words your room is a disaster area I have had it with you. 

The thing is, when she starts this, this woman I’m floating above, I know it’s not going to end well.  She does too but then she’s on fire by now.  She’s buzzing with purple energy and it’s razzed me as well.  So I feel sorry because I know how hard it is to shut your mouth when you see the sass in your son’s mouth, flirting around the corners.  You want to slap him with the lightening that’s filling up your arms.  And that’s why you hug them so close to you, so they’ll be out of harm’s way.

And then I hear her say things that bore me and her, and then she’s deflated, and they are angry now, or tired, which is almost worse.  And she’s angry that she’s angry, that they’re angry (how dare they be angry?).  She walks out of the living room and into her bedroom.  But the lock on the door doesn’t work well so she slips into the bathroom and stares at her Judas face in the mirror.  I’m listening for the kids, of course, while she fumes and grieves.  They seem OK.  Their skin is thicker than hers, apparently.  They can hardly see the veins in their wrists but she can see her white blood cells whirling around, fighting and cleaning, fighting and cleaning, like she herself does from time to time.

I feel myself sinking down again.  It’s time to come home.  She whispers a prayer that sounds very like a plea.  Oh, Jesus…  Then she unlocks the bathroom door.  I take a breath and the air fills my lungs full now.  I breathe out and start over.