The Forest Takes on a Four-Letter Word

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“Let’s go into the forest!” yells my girl from her cozy seat in the wagon.

It’s fall, and the soaring hair of the trees is towhead, mass of yellow shot through with light. That I might be doing dishes seems a scandal.

“Pomme. Pomme,” rises the little voice of my one-year-old. Why he begs for scarred crabapples full of astringent bite is puzzling, but I can’t say no. I love that my kids see the woods as a place of food.

But we don’t eat the mushrooms. Sweetpea gently caresses them with a stick, and then Xavi reaches out with pudgy hand and lops a cap off.

“Uh-oh! Uh-oh!” his tiny pointer finger tries to correct the mishap.

We continue. They climb back into the wagon for bouncy ride, bumping over tree roots and fallen walnuts with blackening husks, sharp smell that takes me back thirty years to the library grounds across the street from my childhood home.

They were black squirrels there, burying walnuts. Here in Michigan, it’s plump, red-furred ones, chasing and chirping and fluffing up the forest floor, little balls of contrariety.

Warm wind cascades through the canopy and I look up, suck in my breath. The sun is doing magic, lighting the woods with fiery fingertips, turning earthly scene into duet of glory. It is spacious, a cathedral of autumn’s joy, and we are taken in.

What is God like if in the dying He is still this beautiful?

“F–k you.” (more…)

Tattooed Gratitude

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No one would ever accuse me of having big hair.

Does that make it little? Grumpy people call it thin. Baby-fine is another good word; sounds sweet and wispy.

Of course I could wear a wig or have some extensions put in. But the actual hair, the protein sprouting out of holes in my scalp—no amount of homeopathic pill-popping or nightly brushing or schmancy-poo will change it.

My mum tells a story, “When I was a teenager this girl whispered to her friend behind me at church, loudly so I could hear, ‘Look at her hair! It’s so thin and full of split-ends.’” There is still emotion in her voice.

I look at photographs of my stunning mother and wonder why she even noticed her hair, everything about her being completely gorgeous. But she still got the tattoo with a red heart that read AWESOME HAIR. Since I was her biggest fan I ordered up a similar one, along with a few originals of my own. I used to say, When I get to heaven, I’ll have long, thick, gorgeous hair, and sweet shoe-advertisement-worthy toes, and skin that tans golden without burning.

I’m sure that’s what Jesus had in mind when he said that he was going to prepare a place for me. (more…)

34-year-old Turns 87 After Marathon

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I wonder if finishing a marathon gives you a preview of aging.

After running over hill and dale with a swarm of fellow runners and the spirit of an athlete, you feel like you’re 87. Your toenails hurt, if you still have them. Your back feels super-glued to your hips at a 45 degree angle. Between calves and Achilles’ tendons, the sore tissue forces you to hobble.

Thank God for your husband. After sprinting across the finish line (in an all-out effort to keep up with your running partner) you slow down, grab his arm and don’t let go for the next two hours. He wraps you in a silver plastic blanket, leads you to the chocolate milk, and lowers your throbbing butt cheeks to the curb.

As the sugar begins to revive your fainting bod, you let the good man help you up and limp to the gear check to meet your tired but triumphant fellow marathoners. Shuffling back to the hotel and a hot shower, the hours slowly roll by and the water rolls down your body, shedding some of the decades.

There is reward in this painful afterglow. You have accomplished something difficult. You have moved through the slog, gritted your teeth as you grunted “I can do this!”, persevered through the cramping toe and the hollering calves, been revived by the good friend who calls you forward though you want to walk. You have done something really hard.

“I have a friend who got through nursing school because of her marathon. She figured, if I could finish a marathon, I could become a nurse,” says Erica. The daily decisions to take one more step toward a dream slowly gather force, until one day you run 26.2 miles, or finish nursing school, or build your own house.

Of course there’s the stuff beyond our control: limited income, injured knees, sick children, family history…but then there is the little circle over which we have a choice. And in that little circle, even if it be but the size of a wedding ring, we can bring intention, discipline, and good companions. We can choose something, even if it is only to trust or to smile.

Watching my running girls dodder to their front doors as they are dropped off at home, I can almost see the walkers in front of each of them. It makes me laugh, and it makes me grateful. We may have strained IT bands, chafed armpits, and wet pants, but we are alive. And smiling.

A Picnic in Heaven

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This year has been full of those sunny days that make you think it’s still the beginning of September, though geese are already honking their way South and the helicopters in the maples are dry as bones. Who can resist the call of the warm sun on skin, bribing you to slow down into its transient beauty? Rest, enjoy, soak…winter will be here soon enough.

Lunches have been taken in the backyard, batting away the yellow jackets and wishing to forget all our chores and play hookie. The kids have gotten their swinging in, and we lie belly-down on the crunchy grass, reading books and rolling toward the rays as the sun moves and the trees give shadow.

It’s those moments when we return to the house and our chores and schedules that the eyes have a hard time adjusting. It’s dark inside; we are sun-blind. I would race back out and live in the brilliance of Indian summer. If only life were always autumn.

There’s gonna be a picnic in heaven and I’m gonna be there. There’ll be a great big table in heaven, with plenty of food to share…my daughter wants to listen to this every day.

“Nanu and Poppy and Grandma and Grampa will be there together, right?” she asks. “And all the people from California too!”

I laugh. Then she looks straight at me and says, “And Gracie and Ewan. They won’t be sick.”

They are acquaintances, grandchild of a colleague’s wife and daughter of a woman I’ve only met three or four times. But children, little ones, barely in Kindergarten and fighting cancerous tumour in their gut, cancer in their bones, body turning against fresh life. She says it and I cannot hold back the tears. Weeping for the surprise of it, for the hope of it, my innocent child so excited for the picnic in heaven, for the world of her longings, where all the fun grandparents will be together, everyone will enjoy watermelon at the endless table, and the bodies of babies will not betray them.

There’s gonna be a picnic in heaven…we need this hope. We need autumn days full of sunshine and bright leaves to fill us up before the bitter weeks of winter and its uncomfortable beauty. We need promise to hold us through the dark days, joy to turn back to and say, But I know God was there, He was there, and He was there. He must be here somewhere now too. We need picnics to dream of.

Your 30s Are Not About You

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“Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday Uncle Tyson…”

As we sing his 37th birthday song into the speaker phone, he is saying, “Max, please give me that car.” We hear vroom-vroom in the background, along with a baby’s cry, but the children in our living room have gathered around a djembé and are cooking up their best tribal drumming while we attempt to talk on the phone.

“So, did you do anything fun for your birthday?”

“You know, I stayed home all day for my birthday. But next year I’m going to work,” he chuckles. In the background, Max is revving his engines and sounds like he is running circles around Daddy.

My 1-year-old is jumping in the air and landing on his diaper-clad bottom on the hardwood floor, dissolving into hysterical giggles. His older sister thinks it must be fun if he’s laughing so hard, so she tries it too. Boom! Ha ha ha. Boom! Ha ha ha. Boom! Boom! Hardy-har-har!

Tyson says, “So, did you go camping recently, Rob?”

On our end, the kids are now galloping up and down the hallway, Melanie alternately dragging her brother and egging him into chasing her. The laughter and the tears are very close together.

“Yeah. Backpacking up north, actually.” A moment later, Melanie turns off the last lamp in the living room, and we are in complete darkness. Tito starts crying and walks into the coffee table. “Melanie, stop turning off the lights!” says Rob, but it’s so dark that no one can find the switch.

“Well, I should probably let you guys go.”

“Yeah,” we say. “Have a happy birthday.”

Besides the brief sentences spaced apart by screams, instructions, and pounding feet, the conversation was more like bodies on each end of the phone sharing the noises in their respective monkey houses. The thing is, phone manners aside, your thirties are not about you. These are the years of giving things up, like being the center of attention on our birthdays, or having a relaxing phone exchange in the presence of our preschool children, or laughing hard without peeing our pants.

Yep…there will be different days someday, but right now, it’s not about me. Maybe that’s the first lesson of the second half of life.

Metaphysical Minstrels

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Emily Saliers, one of the Indigo Girls, said, “There’s not many things in life you can point to and go that’s metaphysical, but music is.”

We experienced that last night, the way that music can cause you to step back and out and almost up, give you a bird’s eye view, cause you to know things you cannot even name. It was Andrew Peterson, Sara Groves, and Bebo Norman. They loved their art and their instruments, and this connection with their music gave it such life. There were the words of a benediction for his (Peterson’s) 13-year-old son:

When I look at you, boy
I can see the road that lies ahead
I can see the love and the sorrow

Bright fields of joy
Dark nights awake in a stormy bed
I want to go with you, but I can’t follow

So keep to the old roads
Keep to the old roads
And you’ll find your way

How can a few lyrics and a melody call me into a sense of the sober passage of time and a longing to live well now, in the span of two or three minutes? Why do I want to weep when he sings of the ancient paths? It is as though Something Greater reaches right in and scrapes the plaque off my mind and re-centers me in a moment, maybe even sends a divine croon my direction, the part that calls out a tear.

This is metaphysical, relating to something that cannot be seen…and I bet it didn’t hit you in the same way when you read the words above. Lovely words, but they don’t quite heave in the same way without the melody. And of course, hearing the song from the father who wrote them and discovered the music that awakened them is even better than hearing it through some technological translation. But listen to a recording (You’ll Find Your Way); it sounds a tiny bit like it did last night.

Remember to listen to music, to live music whenever possible, and give gratitude for those called to live the lives of musicians!

Please Take a Seat

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All right: so here goes. I have been teeter-tottering back and forth between so many different ideas and subjects and issues, because my personality is naturally drawn toward variety and has to discipline itself to arrive at depth (see Enneagram Number 7)…but I am finally going to heed the instructions of the author of Writer Mama, Christina Katz, and do this:

Don’t worry about ‘doing it right’ [blogging]. Just pick a topic that matters to you and an audience you feel comfortable addressing and let it rip.

I grew up very comfortable with letting it rip, at least amongst my immediate family. (I wonder what the first experience was that encouraged me toward greater discretion?–not all bad, not at all.) But somewhere along the way, the currents of adulthood swept me into them, and I forgot what it meant to let it rip. The overworked Director of Public Relations in my head doesn’t want exposure, not even a hairline crack that could welcome criticism or conflict. Or maybe I’m just a self-censoring, politically-correct, (fearful?) Canadian.

That said, I love to write, and I can’t write without allowing myself to be a bit exposed…so phooey on the fear, I’ll let it rip!

Let us, then, begin by saying that this blog will likely touch upon varied and and sundry and sunny topics…all related to the desire of one woman/mama/writer to live a full and balanced life, a life that reaches up and out for growth, down and in for contentment. There will be food, kids, marriage, and God in the topics, the gift of nature, anything talked about on Krista Tippett’s radio program On Being, whatever rises to the surface in a life that desires to live the next 35 years pleinement.

Welcome, sit down at my table, and let’s share some words and a cup of good life.

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