Thursday, May 9, 2013

It's Not Such a Small World, After All

My world is small and very, very full.

My immediate world, my home, is filled with small: small people and all their many, many (some not so small) things. My life with my children is busy and wild and close and intense and always very full. Full of activities and friends and emotions and scooters and bedtimes and fevers and kitties and treats and lost socks and octopus hugs.

My family of origin is pretty small, too, as families go, and although its members live far away, my life is filled with them in all the amazing ways it can be, even when we can’t be together in body. Technology and shared stories and common joys ensure that my mother might even know what I’m wearing today. (And if she doesn’t, she could probably guess pretty accurately anyhow.) I couldn’t imagine a family full-er of connection than mine, that purest and most necessary and most tangible expression of love people can know. Can a home be full of people who are rarely physically there? Mine is, much to my children’s and my delight. What’s 700 miles to our family? Not a thing.

My church, the place where I worship and work, is small--family small--and full of so much Good: full of God and full of joy and full of passion and full of real and full of brothers and sisters of the best non-biological kind. And my job there is full of small, too. Small people of the sweetest kind are my little congregation, and my classrooms and my heart are filled to the brim with them.

My children’s schools are small and full: full of people who love them and our small family, full of Joy (the kind with a capital J), full of exploration and activity and friends and sweetness and Love (yes, the capital L kind).

Most of my world is small. Small people, small places, small families, small things; and all of this smallness fills up the space I have right to spilling over. Smallness, chock-full and sweet. How could anyone ask for anything more than this full-to-the-brim small world? I couldn’t have imagined.

But yesterday, I got to be part of a thing--a small thing, really, a small group of people so full of so much--that filled a part of me that I didn’t know was empty. It felt a little like when your preschooler tells you through tears that he can’t possibly eat another bite of whatever repugnant, gag-inducing dinner you’ve forced on him; he’s totally and completely and up-to-his-throat full. But suddenly there’s ice cream in view, and his “ice cream stomach,” as it turns out, has plenty of room. And who ever knew he had an ice cream stomach in the first place?

I never knew I had an ice cream stomach, either. But last night mine was filled to overflowing, with ice cream of a flavor I never even knew existed. I’ve been so satisfyingly, deliciously full of dinner here in my everyday world, I never knew I was missing out on dessert.

Thank you, Marty and KeAnne and the rest of the cast of the inaugural Listen to Your Mother Raleigh-Durham show, for last night’s dessert. It was delicious and sweet and has left me wishing I had lingered over it longer, found a way to make it last. And oh, how I wish there were more! Thank you for helping me rediscover my ice cream stomach. Does that preschooler who only managed to choke down three ridiculously filling bites of mama’s special gruel need dessert? Of course not. But some days, what that preschooler needs is a treat, plain and simple. Thank you, Listen to Your Mother cast, for the reminder that sometimes it’s best to eat dessert first. That sometimes, even if my small world is deliciously, satisfyingly, delightfully, overflowingly full, a little taste of the bigger world out there could be just the dessert I needed.

Monday, April 2, 2012

acquainted with grief

(with apologies for cross-posting...which is about all i have time for these days)

“a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” i was absentmindedly chopping potatoes; luke was at school, and anastasia was happily unloading the tupperware drawer. suddenly, that snippet of a verse from isaiah 53 was running through my head. although i’ll admit that i have been the last few weeks, i wasn’t at that moment feeling particularly sorrow- or grief-filled. but for whatever reason, God chose that moment to give me those words. “acquainted with grief.”

to be honest, when i think about that phrase as it describes Jesus, i’m tempted to think, “yeah, but not this grief. He can’t understand this sorrow of mine.” do you do that, too? it’s fitting, i think, that i was suddenly struck with that thought on the threshold of holy week. my suffering and sorrow worse than His. my grief more unbearable than That. really?

i trust i’m not the only one that thinks that way some days. i’ll admit (dare i say confess?) that i’ve been reading the hunger games books this week. the tale of an astoundingly creatively repressive government, devising ways to slaughter its citizens, is appalling and nauseating…and thankfully fictional. but what of the places on earth where governments do just that? where citizens are in fact murdered by violent dictators and appalling regimes? forget my silly unbearable suffering; isn’t theirs beyond His understanding? surely. i’m not much for comparing sufferings (here are my thoughts about that, if you’re curious), but surely those persecuted citizens’ suffering is worse than mine. and surely He doesn’t understand theirs.

does He?

writing has long been my escape. but unfortunately, despite a more-powerful-than-ever need for solace in my life, this isn’t the season for me to write. as i chop potatoes, i am solely responsible for all of my children’s needs, day and in and day out; my phone is never far from my pocket, anticipating as i always am calls from various people in official capacities, deciding innumerable details about my life and my children’s; my ministry is ever and always on my mind, either in the forefront with planning to do and curriculum to write and emails to answer, or percolating in the background, ideas simmering and sputtering at all hours. and i most want to write about what i know, what i experience; but there are some seasons of life when those things are not fit for public consumption, for recording on the page or the screen. not for now. those things are mine alone, and not to be shared. except.

except when i heard (did i hear it, exactly?) this snippet of a verse from God, here on the cusp, the very edge of the week when we revisit and re-learn just what it means that Jesus is in fact acquainted with all our sorrows and griefs, more intimately than we could ever imagine—when i heard that, i couldn’t help but write it down. to remember. and to share. for the days unlike today when, in fact, i am overwhelmed by the sorrows and griefs that i deep down believe to be impossible for anyone else to understand. my suffering is not my own. maybe that will mean something to you today—or another day—too.

and as i attempt to deflect the tears from my potatoes (good thing i planned to salt them anyhow), i’ll thank God afresh for that, for holy week, for the reminder that—try as i may—i can’t possibly own those sorrows for myself.

Friday, February 17, 2012

how long?

anastasia is eleven months old today. it's hard to imagine that she has lived almost a year already. but then i think about how much she knows, what a little person she is turning into, and i realize she could hardly be less than eleven big months old. it is pure joy--almost--to get to know that little person: spunky and opinionated and charming and coy and comical and busy-bodied and smiley and snuggly and so much more. almost pure joy, except for that one little part that's pure heartbreak.

as i nursed her to sleep yesterday, i met the heartbreak for the first time. she was in that drowsy place, that cozy, full-bellied-but-not-yet-all-the-way-asleep place, that ready-for-the-pacifier-and-tucking-in place. so i made the pacifier swap--success--and snuggled her for just one more minute, wrapped in her blankie, before i stood up to put her in bed. and she looked up at me with those about-to-be-a-whole-person eyes, and she gently reached out from under her blankie to touch my face. and in her drowsy eyes, i saw sadness. not baby sadness, the kind that results from a diaper change or being strapped in the car seat or being left behind by luke as he runs outside to play. not hungry sadness or too-cold-after-the-bath sadness or banged forehead sadness. this was a deep and thoughtful and questioning sadness, glimpsed there in the eyes of my almost-toddler who is much too young for that sort of look.

of course, as she reached up to touch my cheek, i doubt if she was really that kind of sad. she was drowsy and snuggly and thinking something between nursing and dreaming, for sure. but what i saw in her eyes, really, was the potential for sadness, the reality that, before i know it, she will know that kind of sad. and it shattered my heart. because, in that moment, i felt more desperate than i ever have for her to stay a baby, to keep her from knowing that kind of sad ever. and simultaneously i knew that she would know it, soon, sooner than i can get my head around. and there's nothing i can do.

it is a mama's biggest heartbreak, i think, or at least this mama's: that we cannot protect our children from pain forever. not broken arm pain or fell-off-the-scooter pain or ear infection pain; certainly, we can't protect them from that, either, and that's hard. but broken heart pain, broken world pain--that's the pain no mama wants her child to ever know. i would give anything never to have to see that wistful sad in my children's eyes ever again. but it's long past too long ago that luke learned something of that pain, and it's so very too soon that the look in anastasia's eyes will be real sadness, too.

sometimes, sometimes i can find hope in that. sometimes it can remind me that the longing i feel for my children to be free of that broken-world sadness is a reminder to long for a world that's not broken, to long for the promise we cling to of eternal life where there are no more broken arms or broken hearts. sometimes. but yesterday, this mama who would have her almost-toddler stay a baby with an intact heart could only grieve the heartbreaks that she will have to face, the heartbreaks that her big brother already has. yesterday, this mama could only cry out with the psalmist, "How long, O Lord?...How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?" (psalm 13:1&2). must my almost-toddler know that sorrow, too?

(photos by sonya ewing photography)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

avec le coeur

It is such a secret place, the land of tears. 

the little prince is not a children's book. but perhaps you already knew that. am i the last to know?

which isn't to say you shouldn't read it to your children. on the contrary, luke and i just read it together, and it was wonderful and delightful and such a treat for both of us. but maybe even more for me than for him.

i can't remember the last time i read it. whenever it was, i certainly didn't understand it. i know i read it in high school french class. in french. no need to explain why i didn't understand it then. (did they really expect us to?) i suspect i've read it in english, too, especially since luke has two copies of it on his shelf. but if i did, i certainly didn't understand it. when i pulled it off the shelf to read to luke, he told me he had read it just the other day and didn't get it. so that made two of us who were ready for a rereading.

let me stop here and say that you need to read this book. if you haven't read it--or, like luke and me, didn't get it when you did--go read it. maybe before you keep reading this post. i think you can find the whole thing online, even. in english. it'll only take you an hour. because i'm going to spoil it for you, at least a little bit.

or just keep reading...but don't say i didn't warn you.

the little prince is from another planet, a tiny little planet of which he is the only human inhabitant. there he loves and cares for a vain rose whom he doesn't understand, and whom he is sure is unique in all the universe. he is just a boy, and he goes out on a mission to make friends. along the way, he meets many different people from many different planets, each with his own lesson to teach. he finally ends up on earth, where he spends a year, toward the end of which he meets the narrator and tells him his story. he is a boy of endless curiosity and deep insight, who always asks questions and never answers them. he is wise beyond his (how many?) years, and he teaches our narrator much about love and what really matters. at the end of his year on earth, he needs to return home, leaving behind his too-large and too-heavy body. his leaving looks like dying, but he reassures our narrator that he's really just headed home to his star. thus the narrator will always look at the stars--all of them, as the little prince's is too small to find--and remember his laughter and lessons about love.

a mysteriously wise little child on an inexplicable journey, with many questions to raise and much complicated wisdom to share, loved by a narrator who would never fully understand, who had to leave his heavy earthly body in order to go Home much too soon.

today is eliza's birthday.

for luke, who loved it despite the fact that the ending was "a little sad," the book was probably not about his sister at all. it was about the fallibility of the narrator (do you think he was making it all up?); the lessons the prince learned from the people he met on other planets, the snake who spoke in riddles, the fox with the wise heart (i think that man is greedy); the narrator's broken plane and how he miraculously fixed it (he said he had a wrench); the narrator's age and identity (he's not in any of the pictures!); the little prince's wardrobe (the colors of his clothes keep changing); the pronunciation of the name of the tree that is the the little prince's achilles heel at home (is it bao-BAB or bao-BOB?). he loved it, couldn't wait for anastasia to get down for a nap or for the night so we could curl up and read some more. but i'm pretty sure it wasn't about his sister at all.

which should maybe be part of the very definition of good literature.

Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

Monday, December 19, 2011


the magic is gone. or so i thought.

i accidentally said something to luke a couple of weeks ago about what i was going to put in anastasia's stocking. he was not really surprised: "i already knew santa wasn't real, but you just confirmed it for me." we decided it would be our little secret; after all, anastasia still has many years of santa-belief ahead of her.

despite the secret being out, luke still wanted to go visit santa at the neighborhood clubhouse nearby. (he made this decision having confirmed that yes, santa would still bring him a gift, even if he wasn't real.) i managed to scramble to get the gifts for the kids over there in time this past week (everyone knows that the mamas are the elves, of course), and this saturday, we headed over to meet the big guy.

when he got off the fire truck (that's how he arrives here in the sunny south where there is no snow for flying reindeer), luke looked at me and snickered, "that's a teenager! his beard is falling off!" yes, the magic was gone, apparently.

and then it was luke's turn to approach the not-so-big guy himself. (and anastasia's, too, of course; she wasn't sure what she thought of the beard.)

 having smiled for the camera and dutifully thanked santa ("i saw his mouth under his fake beard!"), he sat down to open his (and anastasia's) gifts. first, he was shocked to discover that santa had the very same wrapping paper we had at home. "how did he know that's the kind we have?" but the biggest shock came when he opened his gift. it was a game, the very game he had just told me about the week before (fancy that). and anastasia's gift was a little toy phone, just exactly the sort of toy she loves these days. luke was flabbergasted. "how could that santa possibly have known just exactly what we both would want?" he could barely believe it.

maybe the magic isn't completely gone.

(as we discussed the strangeness of this coincidence on the way home--and i tried to convince him that maybe that shabbily-bearded teenager was actually the real santa after all--i asked luke how else he could possibly explain the wrapping paper and the perfect gifts. "i don't know, mama," he answered. "it's one of those questions like the chicken and the egg: too complicated to figure out.")

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011


this is not the season for blogging for me, nor facebook nor christmas cards nor much social engagement at all. but every year, i share the entry i have written for our church's advent devotional, and today feels like the right day to share what i wrote this year. the entire devotional is available as a free download here, and it's definitely worth a look if you're the kind of person who appreciates this sort of thing.

in quiet anticipation, and wishing you and yours all the blessings of the season--

Have you ever seen a child who has fallen, maybe running on the sidewalk, tripping and banging his chin on the concrete? Or maybe misjudging a curb on her bike and skidding knees-first onto the pavement? Or climbing to the tippy top of the jungle gym, only to slip sweaty-handed from the last rung and end up eating mulch? If you’re a parent, no doubt you’ve seen your children suffer something like this. And even if you aren’t, if you were ever a child yourself, you can certainly remember some experience along these lines. What is the look on that child’s face, there on the ground, bruised and bleeding and dirty? What is his cry from that place of disgrace and pain?

Mommy! Daddy! Help me!

But what happens when you rush in to collect the weeping victim? Is he immediately consoled? Does she grin peacefully and settle right back into her bike riding or jungle-gym climbing? Rarely. Even if the wound is nothing serious, even if your response is immediate and adequate, the recovery takes time. The child may refuse to settle down, refuse to catch his breath, refuse to have her wound washed, refuse to “get back on the horse” and try again. Which, frustrating as it may be as a parent, says nothing about your parenting and everything about the experience of suffering: even when we trust the response and know the healing to come, we can be slow to accept the comfort of that certainty. And no one blames the child for wailing at his playground misfortune or for hating having dirt scrubbed from her skinned knee. Pain is pain, and we are right to rail at its violence, even when we know and trust the relief to come.

In Psalm 77, the psalmist expresses our grown-up version of the same experience:  “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted,” says verse two. It’s the child’s cry from the sidewalk: “Daddy, Daddy!” and his continued weeping in the father’s quick-to-respond arms. He refuses to be comforted. But here’s where we learn from that injured child, because despite the lack of immediacy to the recovery, the child does not hesitate to call out for her parent, every single time. “Then I said, ‘I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High. I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.’” It may not be a conscious thing, but that sweet victim of the pavement remembers that Mom is always there to scoop her up, time and time again, and she will call out to her this time as always, knowing that, as always, her skinned-knee-healing deeds will be mighty this time, too.

This Advent, this story is my story of longing, of the place between sorrow and joy. We wait all year for this, don’t we? Our hands are outstretched without wearying for the gift we know is coming, even if we refuse to be comforted in its promise, desperate for it to finally be here. My grief and suffering seem to be concentrated more and more each year in this season of anticipation; I can only believe that’s serving to remind me to long ever more fervently for the God of Psalm 77 who works wonders, whose might is known among the peoples. Who scoops us up off the sidewalk every time, without fail, and comforts us until we stop refusing to be comforted, just as He always has. This place between sorrow and joy, between the pavement and back-on-the-bike, is the place where we learn the true meaning of advent, coming

 “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). This year, I’m glad for the challenge to begin rejoicing in anticipation of the morning, even here in the sorrow of the night.