Friday, July 18, 2014

When days are a coin toss

Parenting through the relentless days of summer exhausts me. I can tell from the moment the two little ones get up if it will be a good day or a bad one. Whether they climb into bed with me and kiss my cheek, or yell for me disconsolately from their room. If they will accept the toast and peanut butter I make while I brew coffee, or cry alligator tears because they desperately want cheez-its for breakfast instead.

I’d like to say I don’t get caught in the rut of conforming to their first instincts to whine and fight or share cheerfully. Instead I mindlessly follow their lead, snapping quickly with irritation to their emergence on the wrong side of the bed.

Yet, I feel so strangely disconnected from my emotions as we march inexorable through the last weeks of summer. Torn equally between longing for quiet days and back-to-school, and weepiness that my baby starts real-big-kid-school this year. I wipe sweat from my brow as we walk to the park, and I cannot even figure out what I’m feeling. Or how to think deeply about hard things.

The wall I have watched myself erect brick-by-brick somehow manages to keep my own heart and head from properly connecting. The protection I seek perhaps isn’t worth the price. Yes, my heart will be unbroken by the pain of loss and rejection and failure; but it will also remain unmoved by the things that sit close to the heart of God. And I’m not sure which side of the fence I fall on: whether or not I’m willing to hazard destroying the wall and facing the risk of pain in order to live, to feel, to be moved.

I’ve made this decision before, to take down the wall, to care for those who might break my heart with loss or failure; only to build it back up again in the midst of the flurry of life. Living unarmored takes remembering fiercely. Choosing daily not to brick and mortar myself in.

Today, I think. Today I will live fully and freely. I will engage my children without too much irritation at the ways they batter my walls. I wont allow irritation to sneak in, to steal joy. But how do I do this? How do I cultivate and keep a heart and attitude that leans gentle and kind rather than cynical and hard?

Loss lingers in the corners of our neighborhood. We feel it sharp in piles of furniture and trash in a front yard. Evicted again, I think. And we feel it insistent in kids who move away, who leave and we wonder if our paths will ever cross again. We watch the UHaul pull up for one of our favorite families and closest neighbors. They carry boxes and furniture and garbage bags and pile the truck high. We bring cards and snacks for the road and my eyes fill with tears, for which they tease me relentlessly. Caden wipes my tears with grubby hands, and I play with his hair and tell one of the boys the things I see in him. The gifts I am certain he does not yet recognize in himself. I drape them heavy over his shoulders like a mantel, hopeful that the promise God gives him will ring in his head and heart even halfway across the nation.

The two older brothers are staying behind and one of them moves his stuff into our back room for a season. Because of course.

We have the kind of neighborhood day that aches with goodbyes while brimming with promise. Because the breeze cools while the sun warms, and both kids play quiet while I read on the front porch. Adam decides he cannot ignore any longer the overgrown craziness of the abandoned house next door, and he sets out with a lawnmower and some sort of machete-type-thing. In no time, neighbors from all up and down the street join him. They pull weeds and pick up the trash and scrape the sidewalk with a shovel until it practically shines with glittering shards of glass uncovered by vines and old Fanta cans. They laugh and talk and we order pizza. One of our favorite teenagers walks down and helps too, telling us over pizza that he decided to leave two months early for the military and ships out Monday. We will miss him: I say it with tears brimming for the second time that day. And he laughs at me, but the loss and transience sits heavy for me, even on a day like today that reminds me all of the reasons I love living where we do.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away at our friend’s house, she texts me and says her neighbors fought all night. The whole street, the whole block even, in an all-ought brawl. Until someone calls the police and tells them there is a gun because that’s the only way to get them to come quick. Shirts rip and tempers flare and generations who choose fight-over-flight keep making the same choice.

Like my friend Shannan says: some days nothing we do seems to be enough. No matter how many weeds we pull, more grow stubborn in their place. Choices ingrained in grooves that run deep. Deeper than it feels like even our prayers and hope can penetrate.

Most days though, it feels like a coin toss.

Heads, we win, and the sun shines bright over shiny streets and big bowls of spaghetti. Fried green tomatoes from our garden in a tin pie plate. I pop one in my mouth, unaware he has only just pulled them from the stovetop. My tongue scorched, I gulp lemonade and then eat another one.

Tails, we lose, and the fighting looks like a scene from a movie. Maybe Anchorman: that escalated quickly. Our boys choose numb and tell friends they need some space from us. His words cut deeper than I want them to, and I cobble together more bricks to protect my bruising heart.

A coin toss, I think, works far better in determining a football game than it does a life.

So I must untie my emotions from the circumstances, both in parenting and in our lives here in the hood. And anchor them instead in the Truths of a Savior writing a story that’s not yet finished. To remind ourselves that failure and hurt like megaphones shout and point us to Him. That the places I find myself bruised and battered are the very spaces he treats most tenderly.

Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. - Hosea 2:14

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

For when I hope the saying is true . . .

 . . . that a picture is worth 1000 words: Our last week at Camp Grace via pictures. Which means this post is approximately 19000 words, and improbably lengthy. Oops. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Catching up in pictures (and a few words)

Oh hi there friends. So I realize I haven't been around much this summer; it turns out that back and forth from camp (and kiddos not in school) means very little free-time/alone-time. We just got back from teen week at camp; while this is usually my favorite week of camp, we had a rough week this week and need some time to untangle and process everything. Which is why I'm just popping in with my latest pictures from the 365 project. Hopefully I'll be back soon with more well-formed sentences and possibly even a deep thought or two.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Because sometimes hiding is the only solution

Every surface houses strewn art supplies, vegetables piled in containers, books, gardening tools, toys, discarded shoes rarely in pairs. A lone week home from camp and we destroy our space in short-order. Today I mostly feel solidarity with Caden's purple angry minion. His crazy eyes feel familiar. 
I swing on our cheerful yellow bench, door closed to the bickering inside that I cannot stem no matter how many consequences I dole out, nor how often I reward and praise when they choose peace. Life around here brims a complicated balance, a delicate tightrope walk between the hard and messy that spills through our doors and the everyday messes behind them. 
Adam slices vegetables and fruit, adding sugar and vinegar. He preserves the bounty from the garden in jars with lids screwed on tight, marked with dates in red sharpie. Digging and watering and pruning and picking, proof that perhaps seeds planted will produce something worth saving one day. 
He cuts tomatoes up into guacamole and salsa to share with the neighbors. We lose a chicken only to find her lifeless one morning inside the coop. Death and life and gunshots and laughter ring out in waves that crest and fall on our hearts, while we pray not to find ourselves hardened by the relentless pounding. 
The kids paint with their fingers and with brushes, Caden scribbles small on every single page of the coloring book, causing Jayci to wail that he wasted the whole thing. We gather books for the library, and Jayci picks out her "very favorite ones" to share with her friends. I smile and try to encourage her generosity, even when I feel the compulsion to tuck the best books back on our own shelves, far from prying hands and fingers-stained-with-cheetos.
Lest you think the mess hasn't spilled into every corner, rest-assured that the piles extend even to the tops of cabinets next to the cactus. I prickle and bristle; Adam and I poke at each other with gentle and pointed accusations over who-cleaned-up-last, who forgot to switch the laundry, and which team deserved to win that last World Cup game. 
The broken spills in, and I cant help but wonder if we were more "effective" when we could get kids out of their environment and into the safety of the suburbs, even if only for an hour. When we were comfortable and they were not. I turn over again and again the thoughts that perhaps we fumble them farther from God than closer. Perhaps we fail them with words that make God seem middle class and white. Or we fail them by introducing them to other boys who arguably may not have the best influence, or getting them jobs that maybe only serve to provide more spending money for fancy shoes and drugs.
One boy yells you're too hard on me, while another whispers about those who think we aren't hard enough. We spin and flail, certain the pendulum of tough love and grace has somehow found itself tangled in the mess of vegetables and crayons strewn across the counter. We look for peace, and cling to hope, to ordinary reminders of a Savior who must be present. Even, or perhaps especially, in our mess. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Reading, Links, and 365

Good reads (links):
What the gang wars and the mommy wars have in common
How to raise a pagan kid in a Christian home
Can you have a church without a prison ministry?
The Theology of Dependence
More good reads (books):
I just finished Cinder and Scarlet, which are the first two books of a young adult series based on fairy tales with a futuristic twist. So basically, Cinderella is a cyborg. I found myself surprisingly into these books, and will be getting the 3rd book of the series as soon as I'm not on camp property in the middle of nowhere. 

I am also currently reading Playful Parenting and The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, and for my fun reading I just started The Good Luck of Right Now (by the same author who wrote Silver Linings Playlist; it's weird, but I like it so far).

Also, I really thought y'all were going to get all on board with my library idea, and that my reader-friends would send books etc. Come on guys!
I realize I really need to stay more on top of this 365 things . . . I haven't been doing as great a job with it this year (unlike two years ago), so you'll notice lots of gaps where I missed/forgot days. Also, I only upload them here like once a month so it turns into a major overload. I would blame summer and all-of-the-heat and all-of-the-children, but we know that's a poor excuse since this phenomenon began long before the summer-time.

So there's the last month in a nutshell (or in a very-long-photo-montage). Hope you all are also having a beautiful sun-soaked summer. 

*Links to Amazon are affiliate links . . .


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