Sunday, July 28, 2013

Digital Disorientation

I've had something weighing on my mind lately. Only now am I ready to talk about it.

It all started a few weeks ago. I was driving down a back street, minding my own business. The windows were rolled down. I was singing along with the radio like I knew my way around a tune.

There in front of me, a royal blue Chevy that single-handedly shifted the orbit of my 21st Century universe. One bumper sticker, two little words: Record Fanatic.

I mean, why the poor grammar? Have we really fallen that far?
Or is that a weird way of stating one's interest in cinematography?
Who on earth likes recording that much? Enough to print it on a bumper sticker and ride around with it?

By the next bend in the street, the light bulb had fizzled on in pops and skips.

And a little sliver of my shiny, black soul cracked off.

Because I'm no spring chicken, man. I sang El Shaddai in the kitchen when I was barely past my "I'm pretending to be a boy, please call me Jared" phase. I crushed on David Meece, Russ Taff, and yes, hello, Carmen. (Come on, those curls! The sinister eyes! The voice-overs!)

Nevermind the Sandi Patti cliche, I had Michael W. Smith in an argyle sweater vest and a poodle perm. I had Steve Taylor's haunting prediction that the world would end in 1990. I went to war with Petra, and when Greg X Volz split off, I bought his solo debut. On vinyl, naturally.

I wore those records straight out.

I could drop a needle like a seasoned pro when I was still on training wheels.

By the time I was 12, I had my very own record player, which I introduced to my extremely conservative grandpa via Stryper's To Hell With the Devil.

I loved records.

You might have called me a Record Fanatic.

So how is it possible that a word so ripe with meaning and nostalgia could have inadvertently fallen from my personal vernacular without me even realizing it had gone missing? How did I unwittingly betray my first love?

Those pops and skips meant something to me. True, cassette tapes eventually won me over, but only because they were more portable, by way of my ten pound boom box.

Now, here I find myself, an accidental refugee in the digital age.

I feel something like Calvin must have when he spotted his first pay phone then laughed sardonically as we explained that you put money in it and call people.

My obvious reaction to all of this generational upheaval is to swing wide in the other direction, renewing my vow to my humble flip phone, clutching paperback books to my bosom. I shall never own an ipod! A blue tooth? Sounds to me like a personal problem.

You'll have to pry my CD collection from my cold, dead hands. I won't bear this shame twice.

But please don't bring my camera in to this.
Some technological advances really are sacred.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Different Pair of Shoes

Friends, we're knee deep in the issue of American poverty. We have so many questions, so much to learn. My prayer today and every day is that we begin to love as simply and wildly as our Creator. I continue to be amazed at your hearts as we come together and search for truth on this topic that most of us know very little about.

A few days after writing this post I received an email from a woman I don't know asking if I might allow her to write a guest post about her personal experience growing up in extreme poverty. This is something I have never done before and likely won't do again, but I knew it was a gift, one that we needed. I immediately said yes, and I asked her to speak freely, to not hold back.

While not every person living in poverty has lived through similar horrors, Debbie's story reads achingly true as I compare it to many of the lives around me, lives that I love. Let us remember, always, that poverty is complex. It is a cause and a symptom. 

I was humbled by Debbie's courage in sharing with us here. Her words are, at turns, painful to read and incredibly redeeming. She lived this. There is much we can learn from her story. You may find yourself wanting to turn away or plug your ears. It is often easier to pretend this isn't the reality for so many. But God heals the brokenhearted and Debbie is living proof.

In love,

Warning: This post contains depictions of sexual abuse. If this is a trigger for you, please sit this one out.

I happened across shannan’s post about discrimination when a friend of mine posted a link on her facebook. I thought it was the most awesome, transparently honest depiction of judgment that I had ever read

lately, god has been showing me that people who judge the marginalized really do so out of a lack of understanding rather than out of a feeling of superiority - and the comments on the discrimination post were confirming of that

it has been really eye-opening for me to discover the lack of knowledge in middle class, christian people about the plight of the less fortunate in our country - honestly, I always thought you knew, but you just didn't careand so, yes, I have been guilty of "judging the judgers"

maybe if more of us told our stories, we could learn how to love each other better...

I was taught by my parents that I was inherently worthless. my father had an explosive temper that I was most often on the receiving end of and I spent most of my childhood trying to figure out what I had done to cause it. my mother would tell me over and over that it was me, that I was the problem, and with her expression she told me how much she hated me.

at 5 years old, my father raped me for the first time

when he left my bed that night, god was there. He held me as I sobbed and I eventually fell asleep in His arms
the abuse continued for 7 years and I never told anyone until I was 33 years old

are you thinking why didn't I just tell someone?

the morning after the first time, there was blood all over my sheets and I was still bleeding a little. I saw my mother strip the bed and wash the sheets, and say nothing about the blood or my hobbling around or my sniffles and puffy eyes. and when she put me in the bathtub that night, I saw her see my pain as my wound went into the water, but she ignored it and I knew that somehow this was my fault too, and so I bit my lip and swallowed my tears

I accepted the lie that I was born bad, that I was a piece of shit (excuse the language, but there really isn't a nice way to convey it), that I deserved all of the pain, and the rest of the world confirmed it to me - my brother and my uncle both molested me, the state put me in a home where my foster father abused and prostituted me, and all the men and women who I sold myself to in order to survive when I ran away treated me as just an object

everything and everybody in my world told me that my body was the only thing I possessed of value

I "chose" to smoke cigarettes and do drugs and alcohol, yes - as much as a burn victim "chooses" to take morphine

at fifteen, I was living in a condemned building, selling myself for survival and drugs, when some friends thought I had taken too many drugs and they dragged me up to the emergency room and left me. the doctors gave me ipecac and the mental health lady came down to interview me. she asked where I lived and by that time, I was so exhausted, I was ready to be "rescued" by the authorities and so I told her the truth

they just let me go. I walked back to my building, to my nasty old mattress and sleeping bag, and I went to sleep. in the middle of the night I woke up and puked on my sleeping bag. this was march in the northeast and the building had no glass in the windows. that was when I decided that I had to save myself - that no one was going to rescue me and I didn't want to live that way anymore

I could tell you the rest of the story, but it would be a book and not a blog post. I didn't get it all together at once, it was a long, hard road

suffice it to say, I was one of the lucky ones in my "class" - I was born with above average intelligence and one of the ways I escaped was reading. I read everything I could get my hands on and still do. and more importantly, god was always there in my life. even when I got angry at Him and ran away from Him

I'm 48 years old now, and He has healed me from much of my childhood but not all - its still very much a work in progress

I spend my life now doing the best I can to love others who have been abused and never rescued.

and if I had a dollar for every time a christian told me I was going to hell for smoking cigarettes... ;)

I am a survivor - of poverty, of incest, of physical and emotional abuse, of childhood prostitution, of drug addiction, and the adult sex industry

but that is not who I am - I am a child of the one true king. ransomed by His blood from slavery, redeemed, and adopted into His family

if you are a christian, then we are siblings, no matter what class we come from, and we are called to love one another

we are also called to love the widows and orphans

what does that look like? most times it looks like a big mess honestly, lol

in 2007, I made friends with an alcoholic single mom of 3 little boys who had just gotten out of the shelter - I started bringing them to church and then since I had 2 extra bedrooms and they lived in a nasty trailer in a bad trailer park, I had them move in with me. six weeks later, she got a DUI and disappeared after they let her out of jail in the morning - suddenly I had my 13yr old daughter and her 5yr old, 2yr old, and 9 month old boys

I worked a paper route at night every night and went to school during the day - for six months, someone from my church drove to my house at 1:30am and slept on my couch while I did my route - 52 different people have slept on my couch - the church paid for daycare for the boys and when the mom showed back up, they paid for her to go to a Christian rehab - they made up any money I was short for years and to this day, they still help her with paying for the boys' daycare - after six months she moved back in with us and after two and a half years she got a nice trailer in a good neighborhood, works at a place a lot of our church people work at, and is a good mom to the boys, and loves jesus

and now, I have another single mom of 4 little kids living with me. she came from an abusive family, foster care, and her first son was from being raped at 18, which she never got counseling for and so, yeah, she's been looking for love and has three more kids from three more daddies, two of them in jail - and it's not easy, it's definitely messy, and it's definitely worth it - because they are worth it, because they are all wounded image bearers of god

it's a broken world with broken people - that's why He came isn't it? I'm pretty sure He didn't save us so that we could be comfortable - I think He's more interested in making our hearts look like His


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Corner

The trouble with my life right now is that there's too much room for hypocrisy. It was easier back when I lived in the corn field and thought I knew everything. I didn't have to confront any demons, because there were none.

It was idyllic back there. It was very, very safe.

The only temptation was to keep circling in, turn, turn, turn. Because I had a hunch there were things I needed to figure out. They were out there, somewhere. Maybe if I didn't bother them, they wouldn't bother me. I had cookies to bake. Shirts to iron. I had a little online shopping to do and I was behind on my reading.

I still bake cookies and iron shirts, but almost everything else has changed. Now, the thing I know most of all is that I don't know a single dang thing. All of my big ideas have been nuked and I'm standing here in my underwear.

I'm exposed.
Often, I'm failing. 

I haven't walked a mile in anyone's shoes but my own, but I have finally seen their shoes. It's a start.

And still.

I drove to the BMV today and there they stood, on the corner.
A woman my age, maybe younger. A little girl Calvin's age, twirling the strap of her army-green purse around her wrist, trying her best to pretend to be anywhere but on that corner.

I had to wonder, Why are you standing here? It's not the most ideal location.

I wondered other things, too.

Why did you write "My husband left us" on her cardboard sign? Too much information makes me suspicious. Why are you asking for help from strangers in cars when what you obviously need is a shelter? Don't you know there are shelters around here? Are there shelters around here? Someone should drive you one town over. There are shelters there. I would, but I'm in the other lane and besides, everyone behind me is in a hurry. You probably don't even need a shelter. How much money do you make in a day, anyway? The dude finally wised up and sent you and the kid. Sympathy vote. But what if you really do need help? 

Should I give them a ride? What if they're dangerous?

What if they're dangerous.
If only you could have seen them. They weren't.

I drove past and ran my errand. They were still there on my way back through and I drove past again. It crossed my mind to stick a five out the window, but mostly, I was too proud. I hate looking like a sucker.

For the rest of the afternoon, they haunted me. I was ashamed of my reaction. I know better, or at least I thought I did.

But old tricks die hard and I've had years of practice deflecting and deciding my way out of helping.

Many of you asked in my last post on this topic, "How do we help?"

I have a few ideas about helping in the context of relationship. And I'm ready to share.

But what about these situations? What's the right thing? What if she's taking cash back to her druggy boyfriend? What if they're not even poor? What if it's a racket? What if they're not careful? What if? What if?

Here's where I've fallen: I cannot fathom a situation where God would look at me and say, "You know, Shannan, you gave that homeless guy ten dollars that one time. I really wish you'd have kept it for yourself. I wanted you to buy another shrinkage-prone TJ Maxx shirt with that money. I didn't want you to share."

I'll state the obvious here: I don't give money to strangers very often. I don't help every "needy" person that crosses my path. But I have learned that the moment I hop up on my high horse and justify and judge, I would have been so much better off just giving, without expectation or explanation.

If I love Jesus then I love that woman and her daughter. If I love them, I would find a way to encourage or help. If I'm talking myself out of it, I've stepped out-of-line with the matchless grace of Christ that defends the cause of the needy (Jeremiah 22:16). His kind of love flips the Universe like a hotcake and they land on top. His kingdom is for them. He fights for them, protects them, defends them.

That's what He does, while I'm right here trying not to make eye contact.

I headed out for my second run of errands with no plan except an ice cold Diet Pepsi and an off-brand Capri Sun. I was going for my second chance. I didn't know what would happen from there, but we would talk. We'd figure it out.

I rounded the corner. They were gone.

This was a lost opportunity and it pushes my feet into the ground. I feel the heaviness of my loss. My loss. 

It was never really about the mama and her girl standing there in the sun.

It was about the greedy girl who kids herself into believing that her plate is full enough, her pockets empty enough, her day busy enough that she's exempt from loving her neighbor.

She thinks she's smart and logical, a good steward. She forgets that God shuffles the deck. He trades up from the foolishness of worldly smarts. God plucks up that Mama and her cardboard shame and places her at the front of the line while I stare at the back of her head.

I don't know very much about giving or helping, but I really want to learn.
And I wouldn't mind some company, if you'd like to join me.

"We have a chance, sometimes, to create a new jurisdiction, a place of astonishing mutuality, whenever we close both eyes of judgment and open the other eye to pay attention."
 - Tattoos on the Heart, by Gregory Boyle

Sunday, July 21, 2013

In My Pocket

Sometimes life feels a little harder than it should. The carefree Summer of my dreams blurred into one mired in illness and fatigue.

But you'll have days like these.

Just as swiftly as they swept through June, they'll leave again. I'm sure of it.

In the meantime, we take the gifts as they are handed to us.
We wrap our fingers around them, memorize their shape, stow them safely in our pockets.

I went to a little party last weekend, and it did my soul some good.
The stars aligned and the air fell just right.

It wasn't what my kids needed, what Cory needed. It wasn't about helping or obligation or watching Silas from the corner of my eye.

It was just for me, and I guess that's allowed sometimes.

{Our gracious and lovely hostess.}

So, we basked. We reveled. We I took over 100 pictures, because there was more beauty than I could handle, and because the light kept shifting around. It begged to be captured. My mind wasn't enough for the memorizing.

We landed somewhere out in the deep end, and we decided to stay. Because these are some of my people. They are newish additions and half my youth. They shape me and encourage me.

They make me chocolate tarts and don't bat an eye when I keep going back for another one.

They love me. I love them back.

We stayed until the sun hiked down past the edges. We stayed 'til the bugs bit like they meant it. We stayed while the air thrummed then hushed, our shadows casting love on the walls.

We stayed while the music slowed and the glasses drained.

We stayed because all of us, every one of us, needed that night. We needed it then and we need it even more now. Because as Summer 2013 winds up, this is a memory we'll carry with us.

There will be a next time and it might involve sweatpants, under-eye circles, and 2-liters of generic Diet Coke. We'll hold it just as fiercely as the fancy, seeing the wonder in the simple and abundant gift of friendship, the coming together of all different hearts to walk together through all our come-what-mays.

Friday, July 19, 2013

An Invitation

The house is quiet tonight and I'm thinking about Detroit. Part of me wants to move there now, take a stand and tell everyone around not to worry, it'll be alright. You can't bankrupt the soul from a city. It suddenly seems important to stick up for a place I've scarcely known. It's receding before our eyes and I want to make it matter.

I'm thinking so much these days about the small and the forgotten. I'm leaning my heart into all the ways I've felt overlooked or misunderstood, the times I've felt my feet sliding backwards. God is at work on my heart. He's showing me the pride in my stubborn belief that I don't struggle with jealousy and greed. I do. He's standing right here, nudging my shoulder with His own - Look around you, Girl. See the way life seems to be working in reverse? I want it that way.

I'm starting to believe that there is treasure in the small. I'm seeing the way real riches - those more universal and eternal than the dollar or euro - rain down around my shoulders in the moments I feel invisible.

God opposes the proud but favors the humble. (James 4 - just go ahead and read the whole chapter. Ouch!)

Will I ever fall in love with being unassuming? Anonymous?

Can I value the trenches of my life and believe they were hand-carved by the One who created me?

I don't know exactly where this journey of the heart will take me, but I'm so thankful for a God who chooses me, scoops me up, waits patiently for me to learn, and raises a ruckus when a little bit of truth finally clicks into place.

His world does work in reverse. Almost every word Jesus breathed reminds us of this, so why does this truth feel so new? How did I manage to twist the Gospel into a description of the life I was already living?

His plans are so majestic, so ready to blow our American, middle-class minds.
But they are hidden in the Small.

"I used to think God's gifts were on a tall shelf and the bigger I became, the more I was able to reach his best gifts. Now I know that God's gifts are on a tall shelf, and the smaller I become, the more I am able to reach his best gifts." - Greg Fiandt

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Lighter Fare - My Sprinkler Collection & New Family Pic

But first, because you know I can't not give a daily update of some kind.

Today, I'm rocking a mathematical vibe:

Silver Beach + 8 small children + 92 degree heat + 8 hours = My entire family was in pajamas by 5pm and we had left-overs for dinner.

Hallelujah, Summer. I think I'll keep you.

So, I wanted to thank allayall'ns for your collective radness re: my last post. I'm just plowed down by your beautiful honesty and your willingness to ask hard questions and tell the truth about yourselves. It is so freeing. You make me belong, do you know that? You make me feel less wonky. Your thoughtful responses had me keyed up to an emotional mezzo soprano. In the best kind of way. Thank you for trying with me. Thank you for sharing my little words with your friends. Thank you for loving and for making me think even harder.

I have a million more things to say about that topic, so stay tuned.

For tonight? We take it down a notch or seventy.

Because it's hot out. I'm tired. I'm sore from last night's piloxing. And I lost Silas for 3 or 4 heart-stopping minutes eternities today on the beach.

I just need a little breather.

A few years ago I randomly started collecting vintage sprinklers.

I don't know, either.

Here's the best I can come up with:
1) I truly do love Summer
2) I like having a collection to rummage around for (I'm mathematical today, not grammatical)
3) They're utilitarian
4) They're colorful
5) They're chippy
6) They're inexpensive (each under $6)

You don't even know how much angst this collection causes Silas, he of the sprinkler/all-things-water obsession. He asks me eighteen times a day if he can "take one out".

And now, a word on my decorating methodology: I sometimes get skeeved by large stretches of blank wall, so I jump the gun and ask Cory to hang the big, uber-cool "Library" sign over the TV. Because it fits.

In length.

Other than length, it just doesn't really fit. But I already asked him to put a screw in the wall, so...

I leave it for a very long time and allow random junk to collect on the shelf.

Finally, I get the gumption to take it down, and I hang my collage art on the right-most screw.

So now we have a cataclysmic lack of balance and still a bunch of junk.

So I remove the junk and I'm left with total weirdness.

(It feels like home.)

Then, late one night, the rest of the house sound asleep, I look up and realize that we should have a canvas made of the family picture Cory had just recently taken of us. We'll make it the same size as the collage art. It'll be perfect, even the colors. I think. Not that that really even matters, but still. At 1am you just never know what might matter.

Just my luck, canvases are on super sale! Boo-yah. We order a 16x24 and it costs $30, shipping and all. It's a perfect fit.
And yes, the colors are perfect and yes - it matters. Not in the scheme of life, but in the scheme of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants decorating.
Before I know it, it's almost Summer and I'm itching to do a little preemptive celebrating, so I bust out the sprinklers. In a perfect world, there would be more space between the sprinks and the pics, but it's seasonal, okay? It's all good.


Or as I like to say, Viola! Davis!

 The whole thing makes me very happy. And that's what matters.

But please don't ask why the little #ginghamstyle curtain doesn't quite fit the cubby or I will be forced to tell you how I sew.

Okay, fine. I'll just tell you: Crouch down. Hold your right shoulder up to the edge and extend your arm. Your arms are ridiculously long, but surprisingly not long enough, so add a few inches. Or so. Hold the fabric up. Squint a few times. Hold fabric up to your arm. Add inches. Squint again. Iron edges. Sew the seams. Hang it up. Wonder why it's not quite long enough.

Just for kicks:
Curtains: Bed tapestry from Urban Outfitters. $20/window
TV cabinet thingy: $15 "desk" from Salvation Army.
Plant stand: $5 ashtray from who-knows-where
Plant: $2 from Aldi
Chair: $15 from an estate sale.
Remote control holder: $1 vintage tin from St. Vincent de Paul
2 tiny pictures: I don't recall, but I'm sure they were cheap :)
Lego creation on chair: courtesy of Calvin
Collage Art: Made here by yours truly. This was actually my craft only I ended up breaking my own rules to surprisingly happy and inspiring results. I keep meaning to tell you all about this craft. It's SO fun. Addictive, even! 
Family pic: Canvas People (60% off sale running right now plus free shipping!)

How do you decorate? Do you decorate? Is it something that matters to you? Do you wish it mattered more? Less? Are you by the book or by your britches? What's your favorite thing in your home to look at and don't say your kids because just don't. Also, no pets or spouses. Also, not the Bible because that's just not fair.

I Blame Silver Beach,

ps - This one was for you, Benjamin!

pss - Canvas People links are affiliate links.

Monday, July 15, 2013

One Way We Discriminate

{A baby shower.}

I've spent a lot of time over the past year or so thinking about the things that separate people. You don't need me to tell you that racism is still rampant. It is complex and weighty and disgusting. But my recent experience tells me that class discrimination is kicking every bit as hard.

I can't pretend to even know the half of it, but I can tell you that it doesn't matter what color your skin is, if you show up wearing house slippers at an office staffed with middle class people, there's a good possibility that you'll be flicked away like a pesky house fly, not trusted with important information about your own life or the lives of your children, not given the time of day. If you want our genuine help, our full attention and all of our available resources, bring someone along who looks, acts, talks like us. We'll speak to her.

Maybe you're not wearing your fuzzy flippers. But you have that look. You speak in patterns that we frown upon. You have a tattoo on your neck. Your teeth didn't get an A+ at the dentist six months back. You smell like cigarettes. Your clothes are faded and don't match. You show too much cleavage. You don't make eye contact. You're fidgety.

We can pick you out of a crowd in two seconds flat and we disagree with the way you live, even though we don't know a single thing about it. You make us uncomfortable. You make us feel haughty and above-the-fray, like maybe we don't have it all together, but it could be worse.

So instead of simplifying, we talk down. We confuse you on purpose, just a little reminder that we know more. Maybe we look you square in the eye, but probably not. We're here to teach you a lesson, to impart our wisdom into your dysfunctional life. Our generic smile turns down a little at the corners. We might roll our eyes, but who can really blame us? And who cares if you see? What are you possibly going to do about it?

We want to shame you into improving, but don't ask us how you should go about improving because it isn't our problem.

All we're saying is, we'd like you to make better choices. We want you to stop wasting our tax dollars on Dr. Pepper. We don't like it that you buy your kids so much junk food. Haven't you heard of carrots or cold pressed apple juice?

You could tell us that it's hard to get the grocery store, or anywhere beyond walking distance, but that will only confuse and further annoy us. Who chooses not to drive? What kind of person does that? Well, I guess if it matters enough, you'll walk. It's all about priorities anyway and besides (we remind you gently, in love) you've got all the time in the world to walk. It's not like you have a job. (Plus, hello, you could use the exercise.)

So really, get a job already. We don't care that you're a single mom with four little kids. We don't care that all the fathers are in jail. In fact, that only fuels our wrath. It's one more shovelful of judgment, and it's coming your way. I know your cousin said she would take you if you pay her gas money, but she's even more irresponsible than you are, so that's not going to work. Suck it up and pay for public transportation. I have no idea how far away the bus stops are. Not my problem. Print a map off your computer. Look it up on your GPS. Whatever.

While you're at it, find a babysitter, but it had better be someone trust-worthy, someone very different from you. You have someone offering to do it for free? Not good enough. We question their motives and their mental and social aptitude. You'll have to pay someone if you want the job done right. Might be tight on your $8.50/hour wage. You got yourself into this mess.

Look, we're middle-classers here. We're not stupid enough to say all of this out loud, to your face, but we know you hear our message in the tone of our voice and the way we look at you like you've just been sent to the Principal's office. Or at least we hope you hear us.

But we're good Christian people, honest. We vote Pro-Life and give boxes of Pasta-Roni to the food bank at church. It's not that we don't love you, we do. We're just frustrated with you, that's all.

We just wish you'd try a little harder to be like us.

Partly Rosy

I feel like I'm in a season right now of coming to bare-knuckle grips with the fact that a good life just doesn't have to be rosy all the time. It was never meant to be. The shadows have their own allure, and even when they don't, they sure help me appreciate the sunshine.

It's been a mixed bag of a week, but aren't they all? Or at least most of them?  I'm starting to embrace the mixed bag. I'm giving myself grace for the times I get grumpy or yell. It doesn't have to mean anything dire when I get my feelings hurt, crave quiet, long to be understood, feel whiny or envious or tired to the core.

All it means is that I'm human, and I need Jesus.

God has given us some really raw gifts in the past few years and they have changed the trajectory of our hearts. They have even, it seems, changed the pitch of our sanity. But welcoming heartache, frustration and drama into our world with open hands has also come with an unexpected benefit. It has given us a new quadrant of shared experience with many of the people around us. True, it's a very small quadrant of overlap, but trying to craft a life bearing the illusion of ease makes even less sense today than it used to.

Not everyday is a chocolate chip cookie kind of day, you know?

So I just keep taking them as they come, praying that they keep on adding up to the life that I love so much, the one that lifts me up and grounds me, the one I wouldn't dare spruce up, even if I could.

On the spectrum, Friday fell swift and unwavering on the "Doesn't Get Any Better" side of the pendulum.

It was just all-around good. And not only because we went garage saleing.

Confession: I like garage sales, but I'm not die-hard, or even close. I don't go very often, and when I do, I don't normally find super rad junk. But we drove back to our old stomping grounds, just half a mile from our farmhouse, and inched our way up the mile-long sale.

I found all of this for....$9!

Some of it I actually needed - like the pizza cutter. And I've been wanting a tea ball forevs. (Is that what it's called? Tea Ball? For any who have been wondering, it's official: I do not hail from a royal bloodline.)

The pie pan and frames will one fine day become part of my over-hyped collage wall.

The camera was just cool looking. The keys and doily are for a project. The Erlenmeyer flask was for Sarah. I like to use the playing cards as gift tags. The fabric gave me that internal flea market zing! feeling when I saw it. And the softballs (there's one more but it rolled under the backseat of the van at a sudden stop) will go in basket under the green table.


I also found Ruby a winter coat for $5. The hood fur is kind of ratty, but a deal is a deal.

I won't lie, it was fun to spend a little pocket cash.

Calvin hit the mother lode and found a gallon bag of "cool" Lego pieces for $3, which was the exact amount he had in his wallet. Score! He came home and immediately crafted this. Call me a Mama, but every single time, I'm amazed.

Ruby found a $0.50 stuffed pony with sparkly feet.

Silas had $1 to spend and here's an abridged list of things he asked to buy:
3 TVs
1 boom box
1 four-armed floor lamp
1 telephone (corded)
30-odd video game components
2 desk top computers
1 strand of Mickey Mouse and Friends Christmas lights
4 extension cords
1 bread machine
1 antique washing machine

Forget about thinking it's funny and just ponder how many "Nos" that was for my wee son and his legendarily volatile and angsty disposition. I'm all about saying "Yes!" when possible, but sometimes the cards are stacked against me and we all suffer for it.

At our very last stop he struck gold with a spray bottle and a little baggie filled with a bunch of random junk treasures, including but not limited to a pretend police badge (aka BOSS badge) and a dog whistle (help me).

I can't begin to imagine what today will hold, but all I can ask for is the grace to push myself and all of my nonsensey human junk down far enough to see the gift of what it is - a day with my amazing children, a day partnering with the best man on earth, a day spent in a cool home and the warm sun, a day where all I'm asked to do is feel the love that surrounds me, and reflect it back.

Happy Monday, Beauties.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Cutest Dudes

I didn't even tell you the best part of Korean Camp. My friend Rachel drove over with her little man Josiah. We've been trying to meet in the reals for a couple of years and it finally happened!

It's always so weird and humbling when someone is willing to make an effort to come and hang with me...when they only know me from my blog. I always get that little panic of what will happen when they realize I'm as weird as I say I am??

Josiah has reminded me of Calvin from the moment I saw him. It was fitting that the two of them finally meet, and extra-fitting that they met in the quasi-framework of Korean Camp.

It took them a while to warm up and Si was a bit (understandably) concerned about our sketchster hotel room, but before long they were eating dried seaweed like old war buddies.

They bonded in the pool.

Calvin must have been missing Silas or something (say what??!) because he was really in Big Brother mode. So cute. He personally towel-dried Josiah off after their swim and tidied up his hair. :)

They did a little light reading...

And then we hit the town! Noodles all around.
I mean, just look how lucky we are.

Also - Rachel and I clicked immediately. LOVE that!

Here's where the trouble starts.

We had tried to hit up the MSU Dairy Store earlier in the day and the line was out of the building.
So after dinner, we tried again. The line was longish, but shorter than it had been.

We waited and waited and just when I was up to the counter, checking out all the goods, a young girl rushes up to us and says, "Does one of you drive a white mini van?"

"Uh, if you're referring to the white mini van rocking one hubcap, then yes." (I didn't really say that, but I could have...)

What I was thinking was, "Crap. What did my van do?"

So for real.

I keep reflecting on why that was my internal reaction. I mean, what could my van possibly have done? On its own? I have developed a strange guilt complex. I think I have a good handle on its roots, but it's too late in the day to go into it. I have salsa waiting.

So anyway, the girl nervously explains that she hit the white van, but "there are no dents, just a little scratch I'm so sorry, so sorry, I'm so super sorry, there's no dent at all, just a scratch and I'm so sorry!"

She was certifiably wigging a little.

I thought about walking out to assess, but come on, I was finally to the counter! There was toffee and mocha to contend with!

So I told her it was okay, no biggie. She teared up and went on her way, muttering "so sorry"s on her way out.

Rachel and I applauded her for doing the right thing and coming in to fess up.

Long story not short enough: Considerable dent. Like, basketball sized dent.
(And a little scratch.)

I'm choosing to believe that somehow, the light caught the van at a hospitable angle and she really didn't see the dent.

But regardless, if you're going to bang up a van, it might as well be my van and it might as well be me. The stars were oddly aligned for her that evening. Plus, she'd probably just had ice cream.

I was awash in the truth that this is just one of the reasons we don't put too much stock in our things. Of course it's good to take care of them and there's nothing wrong with making an insurance company pay up, but it wasn't the end of the world. We'll just go ahead and rock this dent.

Our van is so street.

Soon after all the hullabaloo, Calvin took on an interesting air and started saying he didn't feel well.
What we didn't know then is that his body was in the process of tanking.

Hindsight = 20/20

He rallied and said multiple goodbyes to his new friend. There may have been some hugging.
He told me several times that night and in coming days that he missed his new friend.

He also said, "Josiah is a very well-spoken little guy."

(Pot, meet kettle.)

In summary: We are altogether smitten.

Three cheers for blogging!


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I Used to Know So Much

I used to think I knew something about "those moms".

I aced my degree in Psychology (back when I was 20 and the biggest decision of my day was Burrito Supreme or Nachos Supreme on the nightly fast food run.) I memorized all the theories and they sounded good to me. I charmed and smarted my way through my first "real job" interview and landed a position as a social worker for The Department of Children and Family Services.

I visited homes where I had been warned not to sit on the furniture, but sat down anyway. I told desperate parents with fractured lives what they needed to do to keep their children in their homes. I carried a lot of mixed feelings around with me, but didn't bother doing the taxing work of sorting them out. At the end of the day, I drove to my parents' house, slept in my childhood bedroom, clocked my hours and counted the days until my wedding. When it finally rolled around, I never looked back.

But "those moms", they were still out there. I heard about them on the news. I was vaguely aware of them, just like I was aware of racism, poverty, and drug addiction. The glass was wavy and the font very small, but oh, I knew all about them.

I knew their priorities were dead wrong. I knew they'd probably gotten knocked up, by the wrong kind of dude. I knew they were stuck in a pattern, yes, but I believed they inherently knew a way out and simply chose to walk backwards. They were selfish. Lazy. On drugs. They just didn't know. They didn't care enough, didn't try at all. They let themselves off the hook at the expense of their children.

I'd heard about the ways a child would cry for the mama who had abused her or neglected him. I didn't doubt it, but it seemed like a trick, a glitch in our human wiring. Because of course those kids deserved better. They would adapt soon enough. They would forget, before long. They just needed to trust the system that was designed to protect them.

I knew almost everything.  But none of it mattered until the day I drove a brand new friend to her supervised visit.

Her hair was shiny, her part as straight as a rail. She tapped her foot and chatted nervously about things that didn't matter, doing all she could to reassure herself that it would be okay, this misunderstanding would lose its steam.

She just wanted to see her babies.

I dropped her off at the door and waited in my van while the sun burned a hole in my heart and I tried not to think about all the days I had judged "that mom", daring to believe I knew anything at all about her or her life or the circumstances that crossed our paths.

My thoughts were weighty and the words on the pages of my book desaturated, then floated away. So I just waited.

She walked back outside, squinting up at July, her smile locked in place. Her son hung on her, clung to her, wouldn't let go. He screamed and wailed while she kept a brave face and promised him and his sister they were safe. She would be back soon. They would be together again so super soon, so say your prayers, talk to God, he's right there listening and my love won't ever leave you, not even for a second.

Somehow, her legs carried her to my passenger seat and only then did she crumble, while the red sedan rolled past, her four-year old's fist banging the glass.

That was one year ago, and things have only gotten uglier.
That was one year ago, and those kids are on their third placement while their mama, endearingly flawed and beautifully human, loses steam.

The rose coloring has faded and the frames are cracked. It's hard to keep on hoping.

I think back to the first time I met them, how I drove home and told Cory that they were so well cared for, so bright and respectful. I told him what a great Mom she was and that I wanted to get to know them better.

This wasn't what I had in mind and my brain chews itself up thinking about the ways this will change them.

All I know is that sometimes the system does exactly what it should, and sometimes it does the opposite.

All I know is that she was imperfect, but she was their world, and they were hers.

All I know is that my choices and decisions are framed in a different galaxy than hers. I can't being to compare the two.

All I know is that there's a story behind every child and every parent in the system. My judgment does nothing but cloud the already-murky water.

All I know is that she needs support. She needs love. She needs someone to give a rip, someone to remind her to keep trying when it feels like a long-gone cause.

That's all I know.
I don't know anything else.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

This is a Day For...

Sleeping-in 4-year olds.

Oatmeal with vanilla yogurt and blueberries.

Richard Scary's Busy Town.

Pandora radio all the live-long day. (Leeland channel)

Blanket forts and "offices" in the basement stairwell.

Pencil drawings of robots.

Ironing a tall stack of Cory's dress shirts.

Ironing these

Piling four-deep on the couch to read our favorite summer library book

Kiddies dressing up the kitty. (Senator Sing-Yung Hopgood dons a pink neck "frill"!)

Listening to the rain fall from a dark room with my youngest.

Mad-dashing to the farmer's market where we scored carrots, arugula, and red potatoes.

Saying no to $4 pints of golden raspberries. :(

Saying yes to $5 purple coneflowers (50% off at Kroger!) since we hear coneflowers don't mind clay.

Rain that falls at a hard angle and makes us wish for more.

The quintessential summer dinner :: green beans, red potatoes, smoked sausage simmered in a pot with onion, salt, papper, and garlic powder.

Dirt Pudding for dessert.

Pondering this line:  "[Jesus'] message and his life are an interruption of death. He constantly interrupts whatever is destroying the life and dignity of other people - and invites us to do the same."
- Red Letter Revolution

Mangoes in the fruit bowl.

A late-night Google chat with my #blogABLE team. (1 month til we fly!)

The promise of a show and a snack with my main squeeze.

What gifts did your day bring?

Monday, July 8, 2013

How Our Tiny Garden Grows

We're in bloom, people.

It always seems like a miracle. It is a miracle!

Well, not the broccoli. It hasn't yet assumed a miraculous countenance. And we're on try numero dos on the beans. But sometimes the miracle comes after failure, yes?

I went out last night during that little slice of time where everything looks dreamy and right.
If we were smart, we'd live the lives of vampires or grave-yard-shifters, only showing our faces in that little slice of day.

Instead, I took a different approach and rolled out of bed this morning 15 minutes before we had to leave for C's doctor's appointment. It's just that the kids slept in for once, after being up until 11pm last night and the three previous nights. And I have a rule: I WILL NOT stand vertically from my bedroll if they are still sleeping.

I am a woman of my convictions.

So I rocked my ball cap circa Gap, 1996 and called it a day.
I ate oatmeal with blueberries in my swagger van.
Calvin didn't seem to mind.

(ps - The meds appear to be working! Slowly, surely, working!)

But back to the garden.

See that little patch of golden sunlight? Don't you kind of want to marry it?

Or marry in it?

Or marinate in it?

Or bottle it up and drink it?

Sell it?

Swim in it?

I feel badly about saying that my yard was tiny and dumb.
(That's a paraphrase, but mostly it's verbatim.)

Upon further reflection, it's really not so tiny and it's only 3/4 dumb, by no fault of its own.

There's a hill. Right in the middle of the yard. A large hill. A small sledding hill, if you will.
In essence, we have a two-tiered yard.

We can all agree that it's awkward, at a minimum.

See that drop off in the picture?

It's quite sheer, the drop-off.

But we situated our 4 little boxes on the upper level, by the alley. It's all good.
Who wouldn't be intrigued by an outdoor upstairs veggie patch?

Not me, that's who.

I harvested a jalapeno just 15 minutes ago and felt like I had just pioneered space travel or invented mascara. It seemed like a big deal. It always does.

I'm magic!

And let's go ahead and address the elephant in the room: Yes, Cory may have overdone it on the cucumber trellis. Maybe. I mean, it's taller than I am, but whatever, maybe he knows something the rest of us don't. Maybe he's putting all his money on the pickles. I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, we keep on watering and picking, watering and pulling.
And daydreaming.

We need some trees, stat.
A sand box would be nice.
A proper patio. Some peonies. A nice shrubbery from Roger the shrubber.

It's difficult to hang out on an inclined patch of shadeless grass.

Do I sound bratty right now? A little spoiled??
Don't answer that.

This is hugely inspirational:

{Read all about Ashley's amazertazer backyard here.}

Tiny yards can be rad, too!

If you don't believe me, just ask this guy.

I suppose we've got time to whip this place into shape.
And if I know anything, it's that I'll yammer about it every step and mis-step of the way.