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What it Costs

Silas is a mix of snot and fumbled fingers. His wad of toilet paper in his front pocket is at the ready for when frustration signals his nose to run. Or for when his brain says, “enough,” and I’ve asked him to try one more time. He can catch the tears there, too.

I’m in my usual seat, to his left, sharing the piano bench that is big enough for his whole bottom and most of mine. For fifteen minutes I coax him to read yesterday’s notes, last year’s notes, today’s new notes. Only he doesn’t remember what they look like. I point at each note with my finger, moving it up and down like an elevator as the notes raise and lower, but his fingers still guess at what he thinks I want him to play. This key? No, this key? The notes are black ink on a white page—a tangle of same-looking squiggles.

I count one-two-three, one-two-three over and over again and ask Silas to move his lips with mine. He tells me that it’s easier for him if he doesn’t count. I insist. And we start the measure over. Then we start it again. And then again.

We are three years in. His pressing the keys on the piano with stiff, flat fingers. His lips quivering as he guesses at the notes on the page like a blind man. His shoulders slumping in personal defeat.

But eventually Silas’s ear learns the notes. His eyes memorize his hand positions and his fingers play the songs in rhythm from beginning to end. He does not look at his music, does not, cannot read the notes. Cannot identify middle C on the treble clef where it has sat for centuries and where it will sit tomorrow. But he is making music.

Alone at the piano, Silas’s fingers curve around chords. He pounds the keys rhythmically, fluidly, even, his full nine-song repertoire spilling out of his fingertips without pause. His head and upper body sway like a virtuoso and his face and eyes shine.

His simple songs reverberate within me, too. I anticipate the next piece as the one before it finishes. I chop and dice onions to the beat. I know where he has skipped a note or when he’s added a measure that wasn’t there. I holler unheeded help from the kitchen.

 

At his recital, we watch as Silas scoots to the edge of the piano bench. We wait as he finds the keys where his fingers should start. And then we listen, giddy in the moment, as he plays every practiced note as if it cost him nothing.

My mother-in-law leans in, her jaw half-way down. “I can’t believe how well he played,” she whispers. Her surprise is genuine.

I nod. Nod and smile and clap, proud of my boy.

Proud of us.

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Jesus Wept

When I asked Silas about his craft, he shrugged.

“They wanted us to write a Bible verse on the outside,” he says.

There are two words written on his jar.

“Is that why yours says, ‘Jesus wept?’” I ask. Which is what Jesus might do looking at this jar with green and gold glitter clinging to the inside, a fake candle in the bottom and the J of Jesus heading right instead of left. Weep.

“It was the shortest verse I could think of, “he says. Then, like he’s letting me in on a secret, he adds “all my friends wrote it on their jars, too.”

My body language is caught off guard. I’m not sure whether to laugh out loud or be appalled out loud. I can imagine a dozen jars on a dozen counters all reminding us that Jesus wept.

Which is true. The Bible records in John 11:35 the shortest verse, “Jesus wept.”

What my boy may not remember from the story is that Jesus’s friend Lazarus has just died. His sisters, Mary and Martha, had sent word for Jesus to come. Before Lazarus’s death.  Both sisters separately say to Jesus upon his arrival, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And they know this because Lazarus’s death began with a sickness. And they know that Jesus healed the sick. Surely had he been there he would have healed Lazarus.

But Jesus didn’t hurry to Lazarus. The Bible says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days,and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

He knew—Jesus knew Lazarus was sick and still he waited. We might say Jesus over-waited. By the time Jesus reaches Lazarus, Lazarus is dead. As in four-days-in-the-tomb dead.

But what Mary and Martha and all those watching didn’t know was that Lazarus’s death didn’t catch Jesus by surprise. It wasn’t an oopsie. Jesus knew—as fully God—that he would raise Lazarus from the dead to the glory of God his Father.

And yet, as fully man, Jesus wept, as he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.

Jesus. Wept.

 

I’ve been catching glimpses of Silas’s craft jar out of my peripheral at every meal for two weeks. And the profoundness of the simple words on its side are only now settling. Maybe they’re unsettling.

We ask, “where was Jesus when…?” And we fill in the blank with our nightmares of life. Cancer. Death. Rape. Betrayal. Depression.

“Lord, if only you had been here…”

And I wonder if it isn’t like Lazarus–that Jesus wasn’t late. Isn’t late. That our story contains the same short sentence, “Jesus wept.”

I wonder, too, if like Mary and Martha, our final refrain isn’t John 11:35.  But rather a sure hope in Jesus’s promise for those who believe.

“Did I not tell you,” Jesus says to Martha, “that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

If you believe…then you will see..

It’s a promise for all of us. A promise we can believe in, put our hope in.

 

Even when we weep.

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Ripples

Silas is looking at me from across the table. His elbows pinch the bowl of turkey soup in front of him while his eyes roll in disinterest. The nachos he wolfed 30 minutes earlier haven’t left room for anything else except boredom. Which is why his soup bowl is bobbing three quarters full. And why he has time to stare at me.

“Mom,” he starts, “right below the ripples under your eyes…”

But he doesn’t finish—can’t finish before we’ve all looked up from our spoons. “Ripples?”

“Yeah,” he says. “The place right here.” He is rubbing his pointer fingers under both eyes, massaging the bags and creases he doesn’t have. Ripples.

 

If Silas has more to say, we never hear it. Troy and I are too busy comparing ripples.

“My,” he says, “you must not have slept well.”

“How can you tell?” I ask.

“Well, according to the ripples under your eyes…”

Snort. Right.

It is the word “fart” reinvented. And we are five. Unable to not use “ripples” in every sentence hereafter.

But. I wonder…who wouldn’t rather have ripples than bags?

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Second Chances

It was the August I was sixteen. Five months from the springtime when I’d passed my driver’s test with an 82, a score nobody really brags about. Then or now. Stick shift or not.

Of the four of us kids, only Sara and I were still at home and available to make the dwindling family water-skiing trip to Walla Walla with my aunt and uncle on the Snake River.

My aunt and uncle never had kids of their own. Not that we didn’t wonder why. Our relationship was never such that we could ask them. You just didn’t ask Aunt Nancy stuff she didn’t want to answer.

That my aunt and uncle had a boat still confounds me. They lived in the same pale green rambler together for fifty years on a piece of land that smelled like sweet onions when we drove into town. We learned after their deaths that they never threw a scrap of anything away. Miles of junk with zero potential was discovered stacked in their garage and shed. They wore their clothes out. When we stayed at their house as kids, we slept in red sleeping bags on their living room floor and woke up feeling as though we’d curled up on concrete.

I don’t remember my uncle ever saying “I love you.” Not with his words. But he sat in that boat hour after hour every August dragging us through the water on wooden, homemade skis, smiling at us from the driver’s seat, and perpetually sweeping a hand over his bald spot to keep the hair he’d grown extra-long on the sides to cover it from flying away. One hand on the wheel. One hand catching his hair.

My aunt dished out tough love. But that woman held our ten year old and eight year old bodies between her knees as we drifted with the tug of the ski rope that first August. And then when we’d face plant into the river and swallow most of it, she’d swim to us twenty yards from the shore and start all over. And then she’d do it again. Until every summer after that we’d didn’t need her hanging on to the backs of our swimsuits or gripping our floating bodies with her knees. We just needed the invitation to water ski.

Which is what we were doing the August I was sixteen. Coming to ski.

From Wenatchee, the trip to Walla Walla is three and half hours. It’s the same distance on the way home—only the time feels compounded in the mind and body after a day on the water. Much of the driving is on two-lane highways with 55 mph signs posted. It feels faster to walk.

I was at the wheel on our way home. My mom beside me. And Sara in the back.

When I fell asleep.

A second really. A few at most. But as I grabbed the wheel to correct from the oncoming cars, I swung us too far toward the ditch. And to avoid the ditch, I swung us toward the oncoming cars again. We flung from one side of our seats to the other for ten seconds? twenty? as I over-wobbled, over-corrected from the double yellow lines to the ditch a dozen times.

From our spot on the shoulder we were all awake. Sara was bawling. My mom was quiet. The car was parked. I’d made a move to get out of the driver’s seat, when my mom spoke.

“Start the engine again, Jeanne. There’s a rest stop a couple of miles ahead. I’d like you to drive us there.”

 

It’s this gift that I haven’t forgotten–the second chance. And I haven’t forgotten my mom’s insistence that I take it. Right now. The very next opportunity. Drive. Yes you. Make a new memory. I trust you.

But it all came to mind today when I deliberately handed Silas the bacon. A second time.

 

Earlier this week, Silas had stood faithfully on the cement in the 43 degree drizzle. He’d babysat the bacon with two forks while it sizzled on the griddle over the grill flame. I’d waved from the kitchen window and he’d gestured something I couldn’t understand. But mostly he’d flipped and flopped the bacon, sampling the quality as he went, until he had all of it—all the bacon side-by-side on a plate.

In an hour’s time, he’d never left his post. And yet the platter of bacon he set down on the table was completely torched. Soot black. Every crumb.

There were limited options—toss or chomp the stuff like hard candy. We chomped.

 

Today.

Silas stood for an hour again, a sentry at the griddle. He twisted and turned the bacon halves with forks. He checked and re-checked the doneness, and then checked it again with Troy’s help. Our lunch assets were looking good.

So here it is…Here’s to new bacon memories.

And here’s to saying what really matters, when it matters… “We trust you, son. You’re worth a second chance!”

 

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Learning From the Best

Five months before I’d turned forty, I’d made an appointment with Susan at Sephora.

I was desperate. I didn’t want to look forty when I was forty.

I was hoping Susan could help.

Susan introduced me to primers. Eyelash primers, eye shadow primers. Stuff that goes on your face before you put the actual other stuff on your face. I’d had no idea. Susan started talking slower…

Nearly an hour later, sticker shock finished me off. Surely I didn’t need a $16 eye pencil sharpener. Or a $22 eye pencil. Or mascara primer. Did I? Susan looked at me like I was a toddler trying to run away without my pants. She said she thought she could find me an eye pencil sharpener for $12.  And I’d said, “okay.”

I knew now why we talked an awful lot about inner beauty. It was cheaper.

Before Christmas this year Raven started asking about makeup. Would I buy her some? Could we look at some? Could we talk about buying some? I stuttered to make a complete sentence. “Uh…yeah,” I’d told her. “We could do that.” But then I wondered who the “we” was that I’d just volunteered.

When I was in the seventh grade, I was buying blue Cover Girl eye liner and Bonne Belle lip gloss from Payless with my own money. What makeup wisdom did I have for Raven?

I didn’t take Raven to Sephora or Ulta or even Rite Aid. But her heart swooned as though I had when she unwrapped a makeup kit for Christmas. “Practice all you want,” I’d said. “This is a safe place.” I’d pointed at each of us in the living room, and we’d grinned like her biggest fans. She’d nodded and disappeared into the bathroom.

Silas reported how it was going. “Raven needs some help.”

We waited.

Raven walked from the bathroom, four years older than she’d gone in.

We smiled. We offered suggestions. Like maybe the cat eyes could be less cattish.

She smirked in agreement. Disappeared again. This time with Silas.

And then, dear me, I witnessed this.

And then I got a hold of myself when I saw this.

“She’s in good hands,” I thought. “Maybe the best.”

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Mom Bodies

I brought my mom body to Great Wolf Lodge. Ooched a swimsuit over the parts of me that didn’t quite tuck in neatly anymore. And watched as my kids abandoned their clothing like they were fleeing a fire.

“You coming, mom?” Silas squealed. He was barefoot and halfway in the hallway, the rest of his clothing still falling out of the air. Raven was getting one last sideways look at herself in the mirror over the sink.

I sucked in a lungful. “Yes,” I declared. “I’m coming.”

I adjusted the padding in my swimsuit in the event I got it wet. Then I slid a pair of pants over my suit in the event I never got wet. “You never could tell,” I told myself.

The 84 degree temps in the GWL waterpark enveloped us like a hug. I could almost part with my pants on my first breath. The kids skittered into the wave pool and I plunked into a chair to watch them.

But I mostly I just watched the moms.

Moms with teeny kids; moms with six kids, hovering moms, nursing moms, loud moms, cautious moms, knitting moms, book-worm moms. All here-in-a-swimsuit moms.

GWL isn’t a catwalk, I reminded myself. Or a California beach.

It’s a place for every mom.

A place where timid, skinny moms can pace the sidelines. Where bigger moms in tented dress skirts carry babies in life jackets bubbled up past their necks.

It’s a place for moms in black suits, suits with prints, t-shirts and jean-short suits. For moms in swim skirts–skirts to the knees, skirts to the thighs, skirts clinging to the back of the leg.  For moms in strapless bikini tops, halter tops, long-sleeve tops that hide it all.

For moms with big boobs, sag-to-your-belly-button boobs, boobs like deflated balloons. For moms with cleavage and moms with none. For boobs tucked in, boobs pushed up, and boobs playing peek-a-boo. It’s a place for flat chests, tattooed chests, grandmotherly chests, bouncy chests.

For big bottoms, wide bottoms, bottoms with dimples, svelte bottoms. Bottoms like buses. Bottoms covered in dresses like they’re headed to church. Bottoms skirted, bikinied, scrunched into shorts.

For moms with rounded stomachs, moms with flat stomachs, moms with droopy, post-partum stomachs. Moms with hands crossed over their stomachs, moms with children sitting on their stomachs. Stomachs sucked in. Stomachs left out.

Moms in their mom bodies.

Could there be a more beautiful thing?

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South for Tulips

Because the crowds tend to gravitate north in search of their tulips, we went south to find ours. To Mossyrock. The place that people ask you to say twice to be sure they heard you right. “Mossyrock?” Then they shake their heads. “Never heard of it.”

Because…where’s Mossyrock?

Well. Despite Mossyrock being right off Washington’s Highway 12, you gotta be deliberate to get there, passing other tiny towns on Highway 7 that show up as specks on the map, places like Elbe and Morton.

And even then, if you’re not looking out the window, there’s a chance you could miss Mossyrock’s tulip field.

But we found it. Waiting for us, as it were, on Saturday’s overcast morning.

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Rows and rows of tulips.

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Pinks and yellows.

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Yellows and purples.

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Oranges.

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All of them waving in invitation for us to join them.

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And when it’s this pretty…

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This solitary…

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This exquisite…

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The soul’s desire is to be among the flowers. To walk the rows in admiration.

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To pause at the ones unmasked in the crowd…

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And think, “God, you are the coolest.”

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To bend and sniff tulip after tulip and claim with wide eyes that they smell delicious, a title reserved, perhaps, for roses or lilacs or lillies. But that hardly matters.

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Our thrill is being right here, in these rows, immersed in God’s painting, in his pinks and reds…

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His whites…

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And his confetti.

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It’s as if in the stillness of the flower bed God is whispering, “I love you.”

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Which is why our hearts already have plans to come back. To Mossyrock.

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That place where tulips grow on Highway 12 and where the soul has room to soar.

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Little Boy Big

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He is eight today. Eight today and nine tomorrow. Ages that do not define his soul.

Because he has always felt. Always intuitively sensed, like a cat, when someone wasn’t well. Always prayed from the depths of his heart for healing and peace over his family. And for more duct tape.

He has cornered his sister this morning, whispered in such serious tones that he can’t be serious. “Be good for mom today,” he says. He gestures in my direction. “She’s not feeling well.”

Yesterday, he is walking from the car to Costco with half his sweatshirt on, struggling to find the right way to put on the arm that’s still inside out. Only this isn’t the bother. “I’m just sorry,” he says. He leans into my side. “I’m just so sorry you’re sick, mom.” He holds his breath, then sighs. “I just…I just don’t know the words to say to tell you that.”

And that’s when we press into each other like broken trees in a windstorm, his head against my stomach, my lips in his hair. As for a moment our souls…our souls–without words–connect.

 

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Food for the Soul

It doesn’t look like much. Like a big picnic maybe. Over gray skies.

But it’s more than that. More than boxes of food on tables. More than people in line with thin jackets and bent umbrellas.

It’s hope. And it’s love.

And for some of the people in line, it’s what they’ve come for more than food–a little piece of hope.

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What’s here is the food bank. The Angel 1 Food Bank in Puyallup, WA.

And every Friday of the year from 3-5pm–except Black Friday when people would rather stand in line at Walmart–the food bank sets up outdoors and feeds 60-75 families and twice that at Christmas.

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This Angel 1 food bank is the vision of Pastors Jocely and Jennifer of Shalom church. But alongside them are those of us who volunteer. And those of us who keep coming back Friday after Friday to volunteer. Because there’s something remarkable about this place that blesses both the giver and the receiver.

Here Jennifer explains the numbers for the food before we start.

Since food donations are different each week–some Fridays there is an abundance of frozen turkey and eggs–other Fridays we’re swimming in lettuce or oranges, someone has to physically count the number of each food item. Then that number is divided by the average number of families coming through the line. If there are 220 small yogurts, each family will be given 3.

 

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But bread is different. Often, there is such an abundance of bread that  each family is invited to have as much bread as they’d like.

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When it’s time to start, we load up our arms with grocery bags and we find a buddy, if we can. Because the bags get heavy. And when the bags get heavy, it makes better sense to have two of us carrying six bags, than one of us clinking canned food against our shins alone.

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The folks in line here have been here for hours. The guys in front often say that they’ve been here since 10 a.m. holding their spot.

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Then this is what it looks like. Volunteers putting food into bags for other people, as together they all shuffle down the line.

Sometimes there’s even a rainbow.

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And sometimes it simply rains and you can forget the rainbow, and it looks like this. People in hoods and rain jackets putting food into bags and shuffling down the tables.

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And sometimes some of us improvise…

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Until, in some form…

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We figure out how to keep the water off our head.

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I suppose it’d be easier for people if it was a drive through food bank, where you honk and somebody runs a bag of food out to your rolled down window. But that’s not how we do it here. We want to shake hands with every Mike, Bob, Jim, Will, Shelia, Shirley, Ricardo as they reach the front of the line.  And then we want to walk with them down the tables filling their bags with food. Could they lug their own bags? Probably. But we want to serve them by carrying their bags to their car or their bicycle or by loading their suitcase so they can drag it to the bus stop.

And  then, because we know that it’s Jesus that changes people–not us, not the food–we ask each person if we can pray for them.

And so huddled outside their car, in a bowed triangle we thank God for his healing power, his gift of food, his favor…

And sometimes we hug. And sometimes we wipe our eyes. And always we wave.

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And then we walk back to the front of the line, to meet the next Bob or Sue or Sonya still waiting beneath a big umbrella. Or a borrowed one. Or a baseball cap.

And we shuffle down the line together.

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Always in the back there is Bill and his little food stand…

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And always there are hot dogs and hot soup, hot chocolate and popcorn free for the taking.

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But truly, whether dry…

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Or completely soggy…

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Ain’t nothing but a blessing to be a blessing at the food bank!

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Tea for Two

They want to know if they can have a tea party.

And at my nod, they are squirreling away for the tiny chairs and the tiny table and hauling a stool to the bookshelf where the even tinier tea set has waited a year or more to be remembered. And here one of them totters in socks on top of the stool and then passes the tea pot down to the one holding his breath and his arms above his head.

And then, as if on script–from the first tea party to this one and to every one in the middle–she whispers something into his ear–and the two of them beat feet upstairs, like they’ve been called to dessert. Gone are all signs of her pajama pants that hung like old balloons at the knees and his orange shirt that hadn’t had hope of making it on the right way today.

Because in six or seven minutes, we’re filling reservations for two in fine dining. He is sitting at the table, voluntarily, in a button down, better than we could do at Christmas. And already she is fixing his collar and adjusting her hat. And though nobody notices, I am backing away under-dressed in yesterday’s sweats and last decade’s sweatshirt.

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He has never been happier to see shortbread on a plate.

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Nor she to sit across from his ever-moving shadow.

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For thirty minutes they agree on most things. The flavor of the tea. Whether the tea is hot enough or just right. That we should have enchiladas for dinner. How soft the cat is.

And I listen to childhood, as it were, in the clinking cups, the oopsies, the savored nibbles, the hiccups from laughing so hard and small talk.

I’m privy to her pinky finger as she sips her once-warm tea and to his straw strategy as he wins the non-award for tea-drinking efficiency.

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And I realize I wouldn’t–I simply wouldn’t–want to be anywhere else but right here. Fully present in this moment.

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