Posted on February 29th, 2012 No comments
I’m looking at a picture of a shadow. A plant sits on a ledge outside a yellow house – a little plant in a plastic bucket casting its broad-leaved shadow on the plaster wall. Around the corner, kids sit in the shade of the porch, lean legs stretched out or bent with arms resting on top. One girl leans against the pillar.
For years, we came to the property, empty and grassy. We imagined the bricks, stacked and mortared. We squinted until we could see the slope of the roof. We listened to words that tumbled out into blueprints on the rugged ground. The sun cast long shadows of home.
Today, this picture. One quiet moment. Soon a dog will bark. Soon a friend will come by, hand on skirted hip, with a story to tell. A young boy will run by kicking a stone. The girl at the pillar will scold him, and he will laugh mischievously as he runs away.
Soon someone will take the plant off its sun-soaked ledge. They will overturn the dirt, will shovel a hole. They will take the plant out of its bucket, place it in the ground, tamp down the soil around its stem. It will stretch its roots deep into the earth, reaching, reaching, like the shadow of the house across the field.
Posted on February 22nd, 2012 1 comment
Today is Ash Wednesday.
Honestly, I have never been a fan of Lent. In the past I’ve given up things here and there, but it was mostly because I like a challenge. That’s not a very good reason for practicing what is supposed to be a spiritual discipline. Also, while I realize my theologian friends will be quick to correct this, Lent always feels a little like we are pretending we don’t know how it ends. Like we’re making serious faces and being all emo and refraining from saying “Alleluia” (which means “Praise the Lord” by the way – and, truthfully, seems a little silly to stop saying or doing).
This year… I am into it. Not in a gloomy black-turtleneck sort of way, but in a way that says “OK God, open my eyes. Remind me of who you are. Remind me of who I am.”
And Ash Wednesday answers.
One fall, I agreed to drive a couple teenagers from our church to the local corn maze for a youth event. I was seven months pregnant, so I wasn’t up for a walk through winding pit-filled paths in the dark, but I parked the car in the lot and got out for a moment to say hello.
When I returned to my car and went to leave, my wheels spun ruts in the mud. I was stuck. Passers-by gave all sorts of suggestions – turn the steering wheel to the right. To the left. Reverse. Hit the gas quickly. All of their suggestions just made the ruts deeper and splattered mud further up the sides of my car. My husband came and jammed some cardboard under the tires. No luck. I was feeling pretty pitiful, the giant pregnant lady stranded in the dark.
A friend called Triple A, and the most gigantic flatbed tow truck I’ve ever seen came out. It navigated carefully through the narrow dirt lot before the driver told me that my car was, officially, too far from the actual road for a tow. As he left, I went to walk back to where everyone was gathered, and I tripped on a rut and fell into a puddle. I landed on my knees and palms, but I splattered muddy water from my head to my toes. Clumsy, crying, mud-splattered, exhausted, hormonal. Still stuck.
That is who I am. After a tow from the tractor at the corn maze, after the birth of that baby, after a car wash, after all the mud flecks have been washed from my hair and from under my nails – I am still that person on their hands and knees in the puddle. I would like people to see my intelligence, my creativity, my wit or my loving spirit – but most days, I am stuck. I’m stuck in selfishness, in a life that is too focused on my own house, in judgy-ness and lack of discipline and a host of other things. I can’t smart my way out, create my way out, or love my way out. I need more.
And I am reminded. Of sacrifice. Of love. Of how I get un-stuck.
Of forgiveness. Thank you.
Posted on February 19th, 2012 1 comment
When we brought our daughter home from the hospital, it was a long, dark night. I remember thinking that I would probably never sleep again. I kept sitting up, trying not to use my recently caesareaned stomach muscles, to peer over the wicker sides of the bassinet. I worried about her breathing. I was worried that she was too cold. Mostly, I worried that no one would be watching her if I slept.
Finally, I picked up my tiny little girl and carried her into the hallway. I stood there, sniffling and feeling utterly helpless. My husband and my mom heard me and came out to see what was wrong, and I raggedly explained that I couldn’t go to sleep and leave her unguarded. What if she needed something? What if she stopped breathing?
I am so thankful for my mother. She took my daughter downstairs and held her so I could sleep. For hours, my mom stared at my sleeping daughter – her soft hair, her wideset eyes, her full cheeks. For hours, my mom held her in her arms, and in doing so, held me too.
Obviously, that wasn’t a long-term solution. I had to come to terms quickly with the fact that there would be times when an adult in our home would not be awake. That is when I learned to pray for my child. Every night, I would pray and mentally place my daughter into God’s arms, trusting him to watch her while we slept.
This week, we will go to church on Ash Wednesday. Someone will dip their finger in a bowl of ashes and rub it on my forehead. It’s a humbling experience. They’re dirty. They itch after awhile. And the message given is, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Even with our church’s lovely addition of “…always in the arms of Jesus,” it is a sobering message.
After my daughter was born, I realized that having a new baby on Ash Wednesday changes everything. I wondered if they would put ashes on babies’ heads, too. I decided that I would decline if they offered. As a new parent, humility was already my friend – any grand ideas of self quickly dissipate in those first few months. But to hold my sweet little pink-hued baby, so fresh and life-filled, and to have her marked with a reminder of death – to remember that someday she would return to dust – was more than I could bear.
At the same time… I love Jesus more now that I’m a parent. I know this whole season points to Easter. As much as I love that Jesus died for my sins, I love him even more for dying for my daughter’s sins – even now, when they stretch ahead of her, guilt and pain and suffering lined up like hitchhikers on the road she has just begun to travel. Christ died for that. For her. No amount of dust or dirt or sin will separate her from God. I love knowing that through even the darkest night, she continues to be always in the arms of Jesus.
Posted on February 15th, 2012 No comments
My daughter’s piggy bank broke today. The pink ceramic one she got before she was born – a shower gift that matched her bedroom and had a few coins in it to start her savings. It slipped out of her hands and cracked open, innards spilled out, unpainted enamel and copper and silver strewn across the doorway.
Inside my brain is a symbolism sweatshop. There is a buzzing, bustling textile factory that constantly weaves meaning out of random life occurrences. Immediately I started spinning parallels between the piggy and my daughter’s infanthood, both gone, shards for memories. And also I thought of the stark white insides, how unpolished they were, and how we often don’t see the treasures inside one another until we allow our polished facades to crack.
I surely would’ve sat there sinking in bad metaphors if I didn’t have the face of one sad little girl in front of me. She sank into my arms. We talked about how much she liked the piggy bank, how everyone has accidents, how things break sometimes. I reminded her that people are more important than things, and we could get a new piggy bank since it was just a thing. And then she was OK. No tears, no lingering remorse. She went off to play with her dolls and I got out the vacuum.
I thought about how simple that conversation had been. And then I thought about how much harder it is when people break, and how someday she will learn that band-aids don’t actually fix anything and slivers of hearts can’t be swept up and replaced.
Things were getting terribly melancholic and bleak inside my head by that point, so I closed the factory down and picked up a baby doll.
Because really – nobody likes a sweatshop.
Posted on February 13th, 2012 2 comments
My daughter wears tutus over jeans. When she falls down, she has been known to say, “Ouch! Let’s put on a dress and feel better.” She thinks it is fun to try on sparkly shoes at the mall. She’s worn the same ballerina princess outfit for three days straight.
This was a big fear of mine while pregnant: what if my baby is a girl – the flowery glittery kind? How would I ever do her hair, for example? When I taught kindergarten, my least favorite day was school photo day. My five-year-old girls would arrive fluffed up with pastel dresses and shiny shoes, bows secured in hair swept smoothly back. It was darling until about two minutes into recess time, when they’d run up with dislodged bows in hand and disheveled locks falling in their eyes. I’d stick the bows back in their hair and poke them with my finger (the bows, not the kids), trying hopelessly to reposition them into an approximation of their morning style. My hairstyling failures are immortalized in portrait frames all over the hallways of Houston homes.
I’ve always been a tomboy. I can’t tell you the last time I wore a dress, and I stick with one or two pieces of jewelry. I don’t own makeup, except for a few rarely-used bottles of nail polish. Yet at age two, I found my daughter crouched behind the guest room door, carefully applying a glue stick to her cherub lips.
What surprises me the most is how much I like her girly-girlness. There are so many values and experiences I intentionally model and teach, and she absorbs them – but she is more than her mom’s invention. She is greater than my heart’s best intentions. I pour so much into her, and she is more. She is my big fear realized – a girly girl who wants me to do her hair. And it’s fantastic. She is adventurous and bright and good-hearted. She glitters. She beams. Of course the outside should match the inside.
Bring on the tutus, the ballerina slippers, and, yes, the box full of hair clips and ribbons and bows. My firefighter-fairy is off to the ball, and this tomboy momma has some hairstyling to do.
Posted on February 9th, 2012 4 comments
I love leaving the house in winter.
Let me rephrase that: I love the idea of leaving the house in winter. In reality, it is a long, tedious process of potty and hats and boots and coats and zippers and mittens, all while one child or the other is talking loudly or removing a mitten or trying to play with the cat food – sometimes all at once. Usually, by the time we are ready to leave, I am ready for a rest.
Today, in the middle of our fifteen-minute leave-the-house routine, my son grew silent and still. He was captivated by a sunbeam, one hand outstretched, chubby toddler fingers moving slowly as he tried to grasp the particles of dust. And then, he leaned his head forward, light and warmth washing over his soft, round face. He closed his eyes and smiled for a moment before standing upright again. Then he leaned in again and basked some more.
I once had a dream that felt like that. I dreamt that I visited heaven. I spoke with a friend there and asked her a bunch of questions like “Do you miss life on earth?” Then I asked her if she’d seen Jesus. She pointed to a dream-building and told me I could go see him myself. The whole way over, I was playing out conversations in my head. I had no clue on the etiquette for initiating face-to-face conversations with the Son of God. The best I had was, “Hi Jesus. My name is Jaime. I’m visiting and my friend told me I could come in and say hello.” And suddenly I was there in a room with Jesus, and before I could say a word, he smiled and said, “Hi, Jaime.” I was bathed in this beam of intense, magnetic love flowing from him. I sat down at his feet and talked with him and basked in the warmth. It was greater than any feeling I had ever experienced. As we talked, more people came, and I remember feeling a bit of panic that this love-beam-bond would break. But it didn’t. I could tell they were equally connected, equally bonded, equally loved, but our connection didn’t lessen at all.
I had the dream over ten years ago, and it is still very vivid in my memory. I just forget it sometimes, in the tedium of hats and coats and mittens.
My son gets it though. It’s about leaning into the light.
Posted on February 8th, 2012 No comments
Once there was a girl who tried volleyball. She didn’t really know anything about volleyball. But there were no cuts, and she thought it might be fun, and her friends were joining the team so she did too.
She attended every practice. She did every drill. She was easily distracted and she talked too much, but she had a lot of heart. What she lacked in skill, she made up for in passion and volume. For small private-school junior-high athletics, that was enough. She loved being part of the team.
There was only one problem: she could not serve the ball. Without fail, at every single practice, she would lob into the net. She moved forward. She angled her body. She tried a little hop first. She tried overhand. One hundred percent of the time, she failed.
The coach made accommodations. In every game, the coach would let the girl rotate around the court until right before the serve, and then substitute. And it worked…. Until one day when the coach just didn’t send in a substitute. And suddenly the girl found herself with the scuffed leather ball in her hands, standing behind the line. So she served it.
Right over the net.
The other team missed it, so she served again. And again. Three beautiful serves soared right over. The coach left her in. She rotated around the court, and when it was her turn, she served again.
At the next practice, she was back to her old net-lobbing. And at the next game, her serves were perfect. That’s how the rest of the season went. The girl wasn’t even that bothered about the net-lobbing, though, because she knew that when she needed to, she could serve.
The same girl hated gym class. Her teacher was a bit of a misogynist, and even though she hadn’t learned the term yet she knew the definition. He was also someone whose pet peeves included sulky attitudes. She carried in her head a bowl full to the brim with the many small ways he had maligned her over the year, and when her mind moved too quickly some sloshed over the sides and she oozed little rivulets of sulkiness.
The gym teacher loved basketball. He loved basketball drills. He divided the class into four relay teams and gave them the instructions to dribble the basketball to the far basket, make a layup, and then pass the ball on. If a student missed the layup, they would shoot the ball until they made a basket before passing the ball on.
The girl was second in her relay line, with four more students behind her. Her classmate passed her the ball. She missed her layup. She missed the next shot, and the next and the next. In fact, she was still shooting when every other relay team was finished and had sat down criss-cross in their short little lines. Only her four teammates were still standing, waiting for their turn. Everyone was chuckling a little by this point. And she shot, and she shot, and she shot.
Finally, the gym teacher told her that she could just pass the ball on. It felt a little like putting a bullet in a horse with a broken leg (and truthfully, a horse with a broken leg would’ve been equally successful with a basketball by that point). She laughed, and her friends laughed, and her teammates laughed and were a little relieved, and in her heart she sent little sparks of forgiveness to the gym teacher who, for that day at least, was spared her sulk.
Of course – those were both about me in middle school. I’m grateful that both adults gave me a chance to fail. The coach thought I would – even I thought I would fail. What an awesome thing to prove both of us wrong. If the gym teacher had known ahead of time that there was no chance of me making the basket, he probably would’ve modified the task. I’d rather fail at a bar set high than succeed at a bar that was lowered because no one thought enough of me to give me the chance.
A blog I love frequently reminds its readers that we can do hard things. I believe that. Also I believe that sometimes we cannot do hard things, and it is OK to pass the ball on and shrug it off when that happens. The only way we’ll know for certain, though, is if we step up to the line and take the chance. And keep taking them. Sometimes, we lob them into the net. And sometimes, we soar.
Posted on February 5th, 2012 2 comments
My daughter has been trying out big-kid phrases lately. Right now, she’s on a “Trust me!” kick. Whenever she asks to do something and doesn’t like my response, she sighs, slumps her shoulders, slinks away and growls in annoyance, “Trust me!” She’s not actually beseeching me to trust her – she just hasn’t learned the meaning of trust yet.
When she was a baby, we were – expectedly – smitten with our amazing little girl. On her first spaghetti night, we sent grandma a photo of my daughter grinning her four-toothed smile, face painted orange with sauce, little flecks of spaghetti stuck to her cheeks and chin. When my mom shared it with coworkers, one said, “Oh, that is so cute, but I could never let my son eat like that!”
For a first-time parent, that statement really stung. I had all sorts of second-guesses about my parenting. Was I doing it wrong? Was I failing my daughter in some way? Did people think I was a bad mom? Was I setting her up to be the messy kid that runs around with hair full of tangles and old lollipops?
As I processed, I decided that self-feeding was important to me. I wanted my daughter to have the sensory experience of spaghetti running through her fingers. I wanted her to practice grabbing food and bringing food to her mouth. I wanted her to enjoy the way she could leave little sauce tracks on her tray with her fingers. I wanted her to explore using utensils. For me, that was worth the clean-up.
I also realized there wasn’t necessarily one right answer. I’ve never heard of a teenager who just couldn’t use a utensil because his mom spoon-fed him when he was an eight-month-old. I’ve never heard of a toddler who didn’t know how to make a mess, because he never had a sensory spaghetti night. There is something to be said for setting a standard of appropriate table manners from a young age and reinforcing it as they grow, too.
Parenting is not a set of binary switches. There isn’t always one right choice and one wrong choice – it is a constant stream of multiple choices with varying consequences that lead to more choices. I’ve learned to research. I read books. I seek wisdom from people whose parenting I admire. I pray and pray and pray for my kids and my parenting. I make a decision.
And then, I take a cue from my daughter.
I trust me.