On Being Made New

It’s the last Saturday in August, the final weekend before school starts. Part of me wants to rush do all the FUN THINGS because it’s, well, the last week before school. But the grown-up part of me says, “shhhhh. We’ve done all the things. Let’s just finish the summer well.”

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I’m still figuring out what that means, exactly. We’ve already camped and picnicked and spent countless hours at the waterpark. We’ve had ice cream and popsicles to our heart’s content. We’ve gone on adventures with family and had long, lazy weekends with friends. I’ve been to Paris. Jason’s been to Colorado and the BWCAW. It’s been a beautiful summer.

Last week I found myself planning very little. Doctor appointments, perhaps. A play date, sure. But beyond that, I wanted us all to have the margin to just BE. To practice cartwheel after cartwheel on the trampoline. To run out and hold baby kittens anytime we want. To scatter Legos in wide, clattering swaths across the floor and write picture books with bold red crayons.

I want these last, foggy, unrushed mornings to be full of grace. I think this means immediately saying “yes” a lot, because normally, I say “when I’m finished…”. I’m still working this one out.

School supplies are packed in backpacks, and everyone has new shoes. The drawers are organized, the house is marginally clean and functional, and we’ve taken to leaving the windows open at night to filter in the cool evening air. This morning Lucy asked me when it was going to snow. It’s as though everyone understands change is eminent.

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I understand this change most by what’s coming out of the garden.

It’s been a great year for growing things, and August is the peak of goodness in my yard. The tomatoes are heavy and firm. The dark green zucchini and cucumbers still come with regularity. The carrots are crunchy and sweet. Broccoli crowns are just starting to appear, and the sweet peppers turn from green to red and orange every other day. The herbs are a wild tangle of goodness that add brightness and flavor to everything, and the whole works screams Life! Life!

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The challenge, as it always is, is to use this bounty well. This year I tried my hand at both savory dill and sweet refrigerator pickles. The freezer is filling up with bags of tomato basil soup and shredded zucchini for sweet bread. I vacuum sealed seven pounds of edamame pods as a side for dumplings and stir fry.

Yesterday, we made our first batch of impromptu apple sauce with early honey crisp apples that we picked from a few of the trees in our mini-orchard whose branches needed lightening.

All of these things feel like a rhythm to me, something almost elemental. It feels good to slow down to the pace of ripening, washing and de-stemming tomatoes. The water is warm, streaming over my hands. The skin of the tomato glows red as the and grit and dust runs off. I hold it in my palm, watching it become something new, something ripe with potential.

Working with food in its raw state is to trust the power of transformation. It’s the understanding that roasting tomatoes and garlic and onions can result in the silky smoothness of our favorite soup. It’s having faith that the long dirty fingers of carrots that come out of the ground will become the tender sweet snack we have at 10:23 a.m. when everyone has declared a state of emergency until their stomachs are fed STAT.

It’s everyday magic, cultivating knowledge and wonder at the same time.

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On Monday I had the opportunity to go down to the Bethesda rehab hospital in St. Paul and visit some friends who are there working through the aftermath of a stroke. I brought my thick green canvas hymnbook and we sat in a semi-circle, singing truth and life into the cool sterility of the hospital room.

I also tucked a few songs from the previous Sunday’s church service into the hymnal at the encouragement of a few friends (a whole different story for another post). Little bits and phrases from all those songs have stuck with me this week, like post-it notes hanging around in my brain.

                “Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow.”

“With me in the dark, with me at the dawn.

                “Though He giveth or He taketh, God his children ne’er forsaketh.”

“You are making all things new.”

It is difficult to understand how life can look so very different in just an instant. Or how we can be planning and waiting and living in fullness right alongside someone who’s story has been arrested by a drastic, silent pause.

But perhaps this partnership is necessary.

Maybe we all need to be reminded that our time here is never static; it is continually moving, growing, pausing, transforming. That no matter our place in the cycle of seasons and activity, we are constantly being made new in even the most unlikely circumstances, like when Gatsby said, “Life starts all over again when things get crisp in the fall.”

We are made new every time we see or do something that changes our perspective: when our eyes see new scenery, when we learn a new skill, when we hold one another close, building fresh layers of trust and love. It’s a beautiful process, this grace of newness. I am incredibly grateful for it.

Perhaps it’s an echo from our Creator, a living, breathing reminder that God himself is more than statue and edifice. He is continually at work on our behalf in this process, and has so much to teach us when we follow after his leading.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:19

The change of seasons always holds a certain allure to me, a promise of something different. But it’s also a poignant reminder that time does not stop, nor should it. Time is a necessary partner in the process of being made new. It is not our enemy; it’s the signage in our journey, reminding us what and where we’ve been.

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Dodging the details and waiting for change

On the second level of our farm house is an unfinished room, all honey-colored studs and rough edged planks. It smells like wood and quiet air that doesn’t move, and when we first moved in, we spent hours talking about what it could become.

The empty room is the upper level A-frame to a kitchen/bathroom/laundry addition that was put on the original farmhouse years ago, but never quite made it onto anyone’s list of priorities. It’s a big space, relatively speaking, and an uncommon find in a house its age.

After we found out baby number four would be joining our family, we did a few calculations. We currently have three bedrooms, only one of which accommodates our average-sized adult bedroom furniture. The other two are modestly minimal. (That’s a nice way of saying TINY. My eldest’s room won’t even hold a queen size bed and allow the door to shut.)

Bear with me. I know this is a privileged problem, and that numerous configurations of brothers and sisters have shared bedrooms since the beginning of time. But the empty room across the hall seemed like such a simple, obvious solution.

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Decision by decision, things came together. Our architect’s original plan to include a bathroom, play room, and bedroom (a roof bump out would be necessary) was pared down to a bedroom and a walled off space for a bathroom… a few years down the road.

Tradesmen walked across the spongy wooden floor and pulled our their measuring tapes, plotting light fixtures and heaters, support beams and closets. My belly began rounding out, and I started pinning nursery and A-frame bedroom ideas. Financing came through, bids were agreed on, and helpful family members assisted us in carrying the miscellany out of my handy, hoarding-prone space.

But, as with any project, there are variables. Schedules. Quiet times. Dreams that can only flesh themselves out by waiting the way this fourth baby waits, suspended in the strange in-between space of darkness and light, emptiness and existence.

That’s how it goes these days. We dangle our toes off the edge of change, my husband and I, bantering about life with four and how our daughters will adjust. We peek in our empty space and try to imagine what it will look like, what will go where. Meanwhile the baby traces his feet in wild patterns against my stomach, as though he too is tired of running in place below my ribs.

Transition is never easy. Waiting requires a certain release, a letting go of when, and how, and what finished will look like. It demands that I have no answer to the question “how is this going to work” when I think about the next year of our lives and the logistics of preschool and shopping carts  and navigating months of sleeplessness.

Change demands that we adjust what we’ve become comfortable with, gulping faith and air alike in the face of the unknown.

It demands trust in a Father God working for our good. 

It asks for belief that even when we feel hard-pressed on every side, we are not crushed. Confused, but not abandoned. Thrown down, but not broken.

Baby boy is due in 25 days. Both his being and bedroom remain unfinished – each in their own stage of becoming – and it’s hard, some days, to let that truth hang in the air. I want to know when. I want to see how.

I want to plan and prepare and paint. I want to lay on my stomach and say yes to jumping on the trampoline in the sprinkler with my giggling wet tribe. I want to hold a baby with my arms instead of my hips. In true Scandinavian fashion, I want to get on with it.

But today, there’s no getting on with anything. Today there’s a floor covered in toys and laundry that’s been haphazardly stacked on the dryer for days. Today there must be something made for family supper. Dishes. Bedtime. An evening meet-up with a friend. None of which has anything to do with having a baby or finishing a bedroom.

And maybe that’s the answer. Because when change comes, it asks us to simply do what needs to be done, until it no longer feels like anything has changed. Maybe this waiting period, this plodding of one foot in front of the other, provides the momentum we need to keep moving once change arrives.

Maybe there’s grace to be found as we release the details and simply wait for our hands to be filled with what comes next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planning a 40-Day Fast

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If life is a river, I’ve hit a snag with my easy-going motor boat ways.

I told you that last week, I felt a current of change in my life. Most of it was because of the combination of reading this book Seven, and spending a lot of time talking things over with God and feeling that something was amiss.

Then I started doing some reconnaissance. I’m watching my life, seeing its areas of excess. I’m noticing how often I let my toddlers turn on the faucet and play in the sink. I’m noticing how many times a day I want to open the fridge or the cupboards for something to snack on. I’m noticing that I tend to throw clothes that aren’t dirty in the laundry instead of putting them away.

I’m noticing how much food we throw away. I’m also becoming aware of how much of my life is spent consuming or thinking about consuming, food or otherwise. And I know this is the place to start, for me. This book – A Place at the Table – and the commitment to a 40-day fast.

And then I read this today. Isaiah 58: 6-9.

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

Well then. Sounds a little like divine placement in my day.

My country is still up in the air, but I’m leaning towards Mali, Africa. Our church has a partnership with them, and I have a strong interest in their Hands of Honor program, which works with young women who don’t have much of a future. More on that later. PS. I’m going to ask for your help brainstorming something.

Side note: I’m not planning on roping my family into this. As the head chef and grocery shopper in the house, I’m the one who has the most to learn about my perceptions, preparations, and mindfulness surrounding food. What I buy, the habits I keep, the food I serve – everything I do pours into my family.

This will mean extra work on my part, which is fine. It will also mean going into BEAST fasting mode in order to keep myself from snagging bites of my girls’ sandwiches and snacks, or whatever off-limits deliciousness I concoct for everyone else for supper.

What it mostly means is that I’m going to have to figure out this self-denial thing, which is probably the flabbiest part of my brain. I don’t really deny myself much of anything right now. I also have a strange habit of eating bowls of cereal before bed, because I think I sleep better on an occupied stomach.

Both of those things are going to have to change AND I somehow have to change them gracefully, because it won’t be fair to my family if I turn into a zombie. I probably won’t get any good writing done either, because I’ll mostly just be shaking out the keyboard looking for cookie crumbs THAT I WONT EAT. I swear. I just want to smell them.

Start date: After Easter. That means April 6, if I can research my foods, figure out how/where to get them (within reason) and get a hold of the book. A group of lovely people from my church are doing this as well, so I’ll have a good support group (read: people I can text and whine to about the gastrointestinal effects of eating so many beans.)

Wish me luck.

Better yet, if you’re interested, join me? Leave a message in the comments or email me if you’re interested in taking part. 

Change afoot

IMG_4161 (1280x853)Something is moving in my life.

I could call it spring awakening, and perhaps that’s part of it. My outside world has been become broad and welcoming again, the snow replaced with soft brown grass and earth that gives beneath my rain boots. The landscape is damp with life and the promise that in another month or so, my backyard will look like this again.

I could also call it mental awakening. True confession: I used my birthday money to order books. It’s been a while since I felt this hungry for words, but suddenly, I can’t get enough. Consequently, my brain is on overtime, processing stories I’m can’t put down, ideas I don’t want to escape from. The one that’s had the biggest impact thus far is a title called Seven. Don’t read it unless you’re ready to confront the excess in your life HARDCORE.

These new ideas are dovetailing with things I learned from the Bible a long time ago, and I’m suddenly I find myself looking those old stories up in their entirety and spending more time sitting inside God’s words (thank you, biblegateway.com).

IMG_4449 (800x533)I feel strangely alive in the same way it feels before a giant thunderstorm, an unnamed current in the air and everything eerily quiet, waiting.

Something is afoot. And I wish I could tell you what it is.

The scary part is this: I don’t know.

I’m still praying, wrestling a few things out. (Read: arguing with God and trying to lose gracefully.)

But I think it involves a few things that are pretty far outside my physical comfort zone. One of them is a 40 day fast in solidarity with the poor. Don’t choke on your coffee. I’ll eat, but the foods I eat will be the same as the day to day foods the people in X country survive on. More on that later.

It also involves me digging deeper into the idea of who is poor and who isn’t, and what it means when Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.”

I might ask a few people to join me in an event to give away our extras and better outfit a local organization that’s doing some great work with women in transition.

I have the feeling all of this is going to involve spending my fringe hours at the computer, writing. It might also involve me reading the book The Fringe Hours to see just how that author went about using her time in such a way as to serve and honor everything she loved.

Best I can say is stay tuned. Keep your heart open. Pray for me if you think of it. And if anything I’m about to say in the next week or two makes sense, please feel free to chime in. Ask questions.

In the meantime, I’m stealing a new line from Linda, my friend and pastor’s wife of our church.

Carry on.

27 weeks: The Pregnant Monster

monster_roundI am starting to feel like a children’s book character of some sort of round, loveable, and slightly slobbish monster.

I snore. I waddle. I wake up in the middle of the night to eat. An odd series of marks have bloomed across my stomach, and every outfit goes in the laundry at the end of the day because I can’t sit up straight enough to eat without spilling. Normalcy seems a thousand miles and two mountains away.

It’s hard, in moments like this, to remember that pregnancy (as any difficult thing in life) does not last forever.

Night comes, and sleep runs off with the cows that jumped over all the moons in Ellie’s bedtime stories. The babies wake up and my stomach becomes host to all manner of roiling appendages. Rest becomes elusive. And in the thickest, darkest parts of the night, I start to worry. Life as it was will never return. Life as I know it is really hard. And life in the future – well, that change is anyone’s guess.

What I’m trying to remember in my cognizant, waking hours is that we wanted this change. Not because life was bad before, but because the happiness and enjoyment we found in our daughter was so unexpectedly great that we wanted our family to keep on growing. (And just because we didn’t necessarily plan for the exponential growth part of the equation doesn’t mean we were any less thrilled about it.)

But this business of change is tricky. It’s like a construction project – no one likes the tear-down, mess in the halls, plastic drop cloth phase. Or in our case, like the nursery, which remains empty and unpainted because I lack the energy, time, and creativity to do anything but stand in the middle of the room and try to imagine what it’s going to be like to have two tiny infants wailing away at one time.

I know the finished product is worth the discomfort of having life taken apart for a while. The empty gray room will grow into a place of color and laughter. My stomach will return to normal proportions and I will be able to bend over without grunting like a stuck pig. Our daughters will quickly change from infants to babies to toddlers, and two years from now I’ll be blogging about how silly it was that I made such a fuss over being a pregnant monster.

Be that as it may, 27 weeks feels like no man’s land, and waiting for change is almost worse than adjusting to it once it finally happens. So in the meantime, I’m going to eat another tub of yogurt. Take the sleep as it comes. Throw a towel over the full length mirror and put on my favorite green pants.

This too shall pass.