Friday, December 16, 2011

Determined steps

"No," Ezra said and tucked his arm close to his chest, away from my open hand.  My twenty-month-old's adamant denial of help reminded me that he was no longer a baby.  So, I sighed, cautiously watched him grasp the railing, and willed each foot to find a sure step along the stairway.  I stayed in front of him in case he needed my arms, but made sure to give him the space he demanded.

When the sole of his foot clapped the cool laminate, Ezra's eyes met mine and an accomplished smile spread wide until a little giggle emerged.  Then, he bounded off ready to face another challenge - his bubbly gait quickly finding its way from my line of vision.

In my own life determination waxes and wanes.  Sometimes, I feel so focused and able to accomplish anything.  Other times, my footing slips and I wonder if my challenges or even simple duties will overwhelm me.

Friend, does that describe your life?  Do you doubt one moment only to feel buoyed by ambitious possibility the next? 

I wonder, is balance really an evenness of emotion or rather is it experiencing an even amount of extreme emotions?  That is, we savor joy, because we know wretchedness; crave peace, because we agonize over agitation; hunger hope due to doubt and distrust; and long for love when rancor bristles so readily in a fallen world.

Instead of lamenting my inability to keep a steady spread of emotion, perhaps I should rejoice that I can know true emotion.  Apathy exudes from too many faces I see in this world.  So, let's thank God for the wealth of feeling and run unabashedly about, ready to spread joy, peace, hope, and love at every turn.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Sticky grapes

Each autumn, the cooler breezes and blue skies bring the promise of harvesting grapes.  Wizened branches yield plump fruits on an arbor at the family farmhouse, where Mommy and Grandpa Olen and even my great-grandfather were born. 

One bright Saturday morning, some of the family arrive with snippers and buckets to gather grapes.  And then, on Mommy's porch, we pull the meaty fruits from their stems.  Sticky juice smears my fingers until they look like purple grapes, themselves. 

For days the faux bruising lasts.  The viscid smears remind me of the emotional pain that adheres to my thoughts.  Harsh criticism, personal ridicule, uninvited advice...  Friend, do you have such clinging cobwebs in your heart?  Does your mind sometimes reel painful memories, the ones you desperately want to forget?

Today, while my mother decorated her Christmas tree with Joey and my husband took Ezra on a recycling rampage, I opened the curtains, straightened toys from their usual clutter across the floor, and listened to the latest WOW.  Slowly, I felt peaceful - those sticky thoughts subdued and silent. 

It takes time to heal from painful pasts, friend.  Perhaps today you, too, can feel a surge of hope in the beauty that hugs your life.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Grated parsnips

Flecks of cream-colored parsnip settle on the turquoise cutting board, the table, and even the floor, where bits of carrot mingle with stray pine needles from a freshly-made and aromatic pine wreath and a plastic straw reminiscent of mushy miniature marshmallows floating in hot cocoa cups, an earlier entisement for two toddlers hesitant to come indoors.  Parsnip and carrot latke paddies cool on a plate while the boys growl amidst their wild play in the other room.  Dinner always calms them, for a little while.

When I'm hungry, I tend to brute-about, too.  I like to make unique and savory dishes to sway my appetite.  But, honestly, I don't always have the energy or the creativity to put into a wholesome, yet delectable, meal.  Do you feel like that, friend?

I do know, though, that when I opt for a salad as flavorful as it is colorful or knead and bake whole grain bread; when I shake water drops from plump grapes or meaty sugar snap peas; when I use recipes for my pies or pizzas instead of buying Mrs. Smith's or DiGiorno's frozen counterparts, I feel better.  My body benefits.  My tastebuds blossom.  My mind is at ease knowing what ingredients I am putting into the meals I consume.

So, friend, I sharpen my knives, research new and healthful recipes, and keep my dish drain at hand.  Cooking culinary creations is one of the most important life-skills.  So, friend, let's challenge ourselves to bring our minds as much peace as our stomachs: pass on the store-bought candybar and grab a dish of Greek spanakopita.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Browsing blessings

In my kitchen, there is a painting framed by gold and brown painted wood.  The scene depicts an Old World city, whose smooth-stone streets overflow with foot traffic: peasants browsing bread and fish and grapes on umbrella-covered vending carts, men with hands shoved deep in pockets and conversing by a moss-kissed wall, unnamed faces meandering under bridges that connect the upper stories of houses to a roadway on the hill above.  On rooftops, birds roost and green fruit trees seem to sway in an unpainted breeze.  From windows, white clothes catch the sun's rays as they filter through thick clouds. 

It's not a grandiose locale that exudes a promise of freedom from the routine of life.  Instead, it captures a reflection on the close or beginning of the day filled with even the mundane, like sweeping dust from the foyer or preparing meals or procuring even the smallest scrap for a living. 

The painting challenges me to watch for those little blessings that I overlook: the volley of hugs and kisses from my plump almost-two-year-old as he weights me to the chair, sweet smiles from my Joey and that heart-mellowing "I love you, Mommy," twinkling eyes from my spouse when I'm in his sight, an invitation to spend time with a good friend, a love letter lingering near my morning tea mug, even a brief moment enjoying an endearing interest (who doesn't melt at transcribing Greek papyri or throwing balls of clay on a pottery wheel?), or ... 

I know, friend, there are many blessings you could add to the list.  Part the curtains that hang with burdens and view the day with different eyes - eyes transfixed on those moments when joy could have broken your face into a smile.  Perhaps if you and I choose to reflect on blessings more than burdens, our joy might impact the world.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sharing Smiles

A constant flow of questions oozes from my three-year-old's mouth.  In fact, Joey's inquisitive nature amuses, but also exhausts, anyone visiting: grandparents, friends, repair or delivery persons.  Most likely they all leave feeling so overwhelmed by the vast array of topics one little guy can cover, that the silence outside our home is heartening.

My life feels the same way.  I am so burdened by an influx of uncertainties surrounding daily life, spiritual matters, personal pursuits, and just the general "whys" of this world, that I feel overstimulated - like I stuck my finger in an electric socket.  Rarely do I have a quiet moment to just soak in the act of being.  But, I want to - I want to enjoy life and share the hope that I know with other sojourners.

What about you, friend?  Does your mind stumble over worries and what ifs?  Do doubts hang about like laundry on a line?

Maybe we should leave the worries on the line and share a smile or two instead.  Then, our acts are guaranteed to lighten at least two hearts: ours and that of the smile-receiver.  Somehow, I think my little Joey already knows this!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Juicy Carrots

Yesterday, Ezra loved carrots.  Those delectable orange roots were stewed with seasoned meat and a colorful arrangement of purple cabbage, green peas, and translucent onions.  He ate every carrot on his plate, while leaving an abundance of peas in his wake.

But, peas were the toddler's veggie of choice today.  Not a single carrot made it into his mouth.  Whenever I offered the once beloved orange food, he emphatically shook his head.  If I pursued a bit longer, he declared, "No.  Mommy.  No."

Although his rejection seems silly, I know that my life's choices seem just as zany.  Indeed, I often wonder what I was thinking when I made a past decision.  Too often, I reject alternatives just because I favor what leads me on more comfortable paths.

Do you ever feel like this, friend?  Perhaps you should have veered one way instead of the other?  Maybe turning around or asking for directions would have been a wiser decision?

It's not too late to make a change.  Humankind has an amazing propensity to adapt, as well as its strong urge for independence.  Instead of letting our choices push us into meaningless habits, let's reevaluate our life goals.  If the cause is honorable and the heart is pure, then fear not where God might lead.  In the most vulnerable times, God can work the greatest results. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Meandering downstream

Reflections fascinate my toddlers.  Ezra smiles at the "baby" in a water-filled bucket and gingerly touches the water's silken skin, sending ripples in every direction.  Joey laughs at the little boy caught in the sheen of a glass door and asks "how we get him out?"  Mirrors provide endless opportunities for the boys to squeal in delight; and just as fun are prisms.

Adults obsess over reflections in a different way.  Our reflections show myriad examples of what we do not like about ourselves.  Perhaps a silver hair here, a wrinkle there.  Inevitably, we walk away with a sigh still lingering nearby.  Friend, we do not just obsess over our images, either, but also our memories.  Remember when?  If only, just good memories came to light.

Recently, I have reflected on something I knew and yet re-realized.  Growing up, not all of us are in control of our decisions.  So many hands are trying to mold us into something beyond what we are.  Those are the hands of peers, parents, community, nation, etc.  And amidst the din of other voices, our own gets smothered.  Yet, when we finally find our own voice, those hands start pulling and pushing again.  If we are not who others want us to be, then we're labeled and set on a shelf for the sake of someone else's personal convenience.  Do you ever feel like that, friend?  Has there been a time in your life when you just didn't know what to do or say?

Instead of struggling against the current, I would rather meander downstream for a while and savor the blessings God has woven into my life.  Would you enjoy the same?  When the rapids come, I'll be ready to raise my voice - but not in discord or malice.  Instead, I want to season words and actions with truth and hope and compassion.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Shrill Crickets

Sounds, not words, are my one-year-old's noises of choice.  Ezra can say hot, blueberry, bed, hat, and especially Mommy and Daddy; however, he prefers shriller means of communication.  And that communication is more constant than my three-year-old's repetitive questioning - you know, the infamous why stage.  With such chaos in the household, nature's bounty of beautiful sounds is often overwhelmed - even when we go outside.

And yet, with a cup of hot tea wafting ginger, orange, and mint, I sat in a chair and stared at the purple mountain's gentle slope.  Red and yellow flowers cheered the scene, while droning bees licked nectar.  A breeze rattled metal chimes hanging along the front porch; chickens cackled with gusto to start the day; the crickets' chords were plentiful!  Entranced by the symphony, I cried.  Not just because it had been weeks since I had drenched myself in nature's voice, but also because so many negative memories and unkind comments harassed my mind of late.

Does this happen to you, friend?  Too late, do you find yourself drifting away from your perceived course and floating into a zone of bluebottles, whose pain-inflicting tentacles hide just below the water's sheen? 

As summer gives way to autumn, I find the promise of change thick in the air.  May change scour our hearts in order to bring about a new rhythm in our lives - one that whispers love and joy and hope.  And, may such renewed heart songs help our ears to light upon less shrill chords.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Drizzly Daydream

Walking below a canopy of bare black limbs, my solemnity seemed to seep even into the heavens where grey clouds drizzled a slight mist.  Sleek umbrellas in hand, our party passed from the Elm Grove to the Bethesda Terrace, where the Angel of the Waters stood above an empty fountain.  Today I wanted to take the lily proffered by the angel's hand and feel its purity cleanse the pent up tension from my shoulders, where two toddlers and the challenges of motherhood had gravitated into a great weight.

Wispy willow leaves were just appearing upon a tree distant from the terrace.  The lake's ethereal glow cast our scene into a daydream.  But, still the pool remained empty - none of the blessed water remained for my inner healing.

Intricately carved stone dotted the balustrades as I slowly turned to appreciate this portion of Central Park.  Below Emma's angel, four sweet cherubs have watched the same sights for over a century.  That time has yielded opposing degrees of change along the terrace.  And yet, still they are here: temperance, purity, health, and peace.

The fountain might be empty for the season, but as I turn to savor other daydreams caught within the city, I sigh and acknowledge that some gifts are present even when daily challenges cover them from view.  If I just take a moment to peer upon those tucked away blessings, I can feel the healing that comes from taking an outstretched hand.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Winding Lines

West 44th Street quivered with life.  People pressed into pizzerias to savor myriad combinations of toppings that graced a simple dough.  Entertaining Broadway shows, their neon lights blaring for attention, curled tempting fingers at passers-by.  And, winding lines of Discovery museum fans spilled into the normal flow of biped-traffic along the sidewalks.  Under the main door awning, a museum worker haltingly requested visitors to align along the block.  My heart stopped.

"Is this for the Pompeii exhibit?" said my friend with incredulity dripping in her voice.

"Oh, no!  Please come in!"  Relief struck both her panic purview and my het up heart as we by-passed the line for observing Harry Potter paraphernalia.  Those waiting near at hand protested to our quick admission.  If only they had been as interested in lighting upon the unearthed remains and surprising finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum after Vesuvius' wrath decimated the Italian towns almost 2,000 years ago.

Molds of victims scattered one room: here, a chained dog, there, a man face down at the base of a staircase; a smothered family of four; a woman clutching the spent folds of her tunica close to trembling lips; a figure huddled on the floor and wrapped in his fear at the monstrous calamity overwhelming him.  Their remains are long gone, but the essence of their experience on a warm August day in 79 AD has been captured for us to remember and reflect on how we face the disasters and challenges of today.

Friend, can you imagine the welling panic and resolute end that these people faced?  What about the survivors?  What nightmares woke them in the middle of the night?  Whose names leaked from their lips as they longed for loved ones lost in the volcanic eruption?

Perhaps I should place my own frets and frustrations into perspective, and remember that I have a life to live and to share with those I love.  It's difficult to cast away the burdens we daily face, but we can chose to change disgruntled attitudes and focus on what matters most.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Crushed Crackers

Dust pan and mop in hand, I sweep crumbs from the floor under the kitchen table.  Little feet dangle in the me-too chair, where Ezra happily munches crackers and sings "la-la-la" or "h-o-t" in exuberant chords.  While my nearly-one-year-old explores his musical side, the trash can door squeaks open and I send an avalanche of lunch left-overs into the bin.

When Ezra finishes his snack, I lift him out of his chair and put him down.  Like a wind-up car, he puts his gear in go and is off before I have my hands off his arms.  Smile turns to sigh as I glance back under the table.  Almost as many cracker crumbs dust the floor under his chair as did before I swept.  Now, I'll have to do it again!

Friend, does your day seem to run accordingly?  I have habits that, although I try to change, seem to come back like weeds in the garden.  Plucking those verdant plants is inevitable, but even that doesn't completely halt their hasty return.  It takes vigilance and daily devotion - and those are habits in and of themselves.

So, I'll grab my mob and dust pan and gather up those cracker crumbs - hoping that some sort of order will result one day soon.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Duck Feet

"They're like duck feet," my three-year-old said as he came into the living room.

Joey's steps sounded oddly soft and flappery against the cherry-wood laminate.  His huge smile was contagious and easily so: for as I slid my eyes to his toes, I could not help but chuckle.  On either foot, Joey had slipped one of his daddy's black leather gloves: each toe appeared elongated like that of a chicken.

"It's funny," Joey declared, with eyes squinched from so much smiling and hands clasped in child-like humility.

I am so glad that laughter and smiles are as easy to catch as hiccups, yawns, and colds.  When you are around someone with whom you are comfortable enough to really be yourself - no fear of judgment or misunderstanding - love's warmth can cheer any mood.

And you, friend?  Has someone else's lovely outlook on life given you ripples of chortles to savor?  Do you bask in love's warmth each day?  If not, let's fill our lives with those special someones that make even the least anticipated chore a grand adventure!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Muffled Memory

It's amazing how my muffled memories can be so powerful.  Certain emotions, situations, and senses can illicit an uncanny reminder of pleasant and not-so-pleasant experiences that I might not be able to recall should I really want to.  How difficult to push past poignant recollections of tense tribulations, especially!  Sometimes, I wish my memory were embedded with its own off switch.  But, alas, 'tis not so.

And yet, flipping through our family's annual photo books yields beautiful re-encounters with little blessings we savored throughout the year - such as a day trip hiking or the birth of a son or celebrating a birthday or even just a first haircut for the boys.  How could I forget such seemingly memorable joys, when the more despairing memories surface from my cloudy mind almost readily?

Friend, do you find your mind wandering away from the joys in life, too?  Do you dwell on the hardships?  Let's try to remind ourselves that beyond those hardships are scintillating stars more beautiful than diamonds and just waiting for us to roll back our shoulders, lift our heads high, and smile once again to refocus ourselves.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hair Awry

Both boys awoke with hair awry, sun splashing gold dazzles amidst the mobs.  A wet wash-cloth steadied their flares for the most part.  That, and a soft-bristled brush soaked with more water.

Both boys gobbled up breakfast with abandon.  Oozing yellow yolk dribbled down chins and cheerios kissed the floor in showered-song.  Besides sleeping, eating provides one of their only quiet spells during the day.

Both boys are engaged in near-wreckless play.  Pot lids jiggle-dance across the kitchen's cherry floor.  A tonka truck careens in figure eights and circles, nearly colliding with chairs and door jambs.  Grunts and laughs splatter the walls, so that I wonder if I'll still hear them reverberating twenty years from now.

Both boys grow and learn and share.  It's sometimes fun to join in their happy banter; not so fun to encourage careful play with one another.  Please be gentle escapes my lips so often it seems to linger in the air. 

I wonder if both boys, smoothing hair awry years from now, will remember today with smiles on their faces and appreciation for life.  Will they be good friends?  Will they make the world a better place?  Will they live their dreams and hold hope in their hearts?  Such thoughts encourage me to choose wisely now, so that then will benefit.

And you, friend?  What thoughts inspire your life's daily choices?  Does your heart hold hope even when your hair's awry?  How does such hope hold steady despite the varying challenges you face?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tantalizing Glitter

Once again shadows flicker across the floor and the sun's lightshow splashes glitter across the wall.  Ezra tries to chase it and ends falling with a plop in the middle of the room.  But, though out of reach, those sun shards tantalize my sing-song, smiling boy.  And he laughs.

With each day that passes, I try to clean out the lent trap in my life.  I take a moment and carefully turn each treasure caught within, while shaking the black specks of dirt away so that they don't clog my focus.  And, trust me, my focus is clogged more than I would like it to be!

Friend, do you have times in life (perhaps daily) when the possibilities gleam across the wall in prisms, and instead of chasing them until you're dizzy, you sit and focus on the dark shadows?  Take a hand, and let's laugh together at the beautiful array of hope just waiting for us to grasp.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Purple Sprawl

Purple mountain sprawls.  The intoxicating views of those rolling peaks is as essential to my life as any famous duo.  When I do not have them in view, my concept of direction is completely gone.  When I do not anticipate them around a bend, my eyes rove for their majestic counterpart.

Friend, do you crave something or someone so much that you feel completely lost without such nearby?  Have you ever been without that essential for longer than you would like to be?  Are you struggling with a separation that seems to last an eternity?

Difficulty lures us to focus on what we do not always have.  It can be challenging to see beyond our loss and live in contentment.  How, friend, can we let the beauty of our desires inspire us to traverse the day-to-day trails even when we would prefer to wander in the wilder woods?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Red Head

A bright red head bobs up, down, and all around the bare-limbed hickory tree at the edge of the woods.  Birds frolick in the purple, wiry vines that have grown below the towering canopies.  One sits upon the round picnic table, weathered to the same tan sported by its hopping friend.  And then, in a quick spurt across the window, they are out of sight.

Where are they going?  To what destination does their current flight fit their fancy?  Where are you headed, friend?

Sometimes my path seems certain.  Plans and goals spread into the horizon like steady stepping stones.  But, no matter how carefully I place those stones, they never seem to stay where I expect them.  It can be frustrating to try so hard only to find that time pushes me out of the sight I thought I knew.  And you, friend?  Are directions changing and you feel helpless to start anew?  Is time too stealthy for your liking?

May hope guide you as life twists along unexpected paths and places seemingly unploddable spots in your way.  Take a look at those bobbing birds and let the joy that comes from knowing with certainty your journey's end buoy your spirit when the current views seem clouded and threatening.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Seed Packets

Whispers of snow sweep here and there.  Woodstove warmth kneads my back as I sit at the kitchen table, flipping through seed magazines with my husband and sipping hot chocolate.  It's heartening to think of a lush garden growing fresh fruits and vegetables, especially on a day that promises flurries.  Hope lingers among the long winter days.

Soon, seed packets in hand, we'll be poking holes in tilled soil, nestling seeds of various sizes.  And as the days slightly lengthen, little sprouts will grow to bring a dazzling and quite yummy yield to our family.  So much from little packets with the tiniest of contents.

Is there something in your life that seems tiny, friend, but brings the greatest joy to your life?  For me?  My life is covered in abundant blessings blooming from little bitty origins: baby hugs and smiles, first steps teetering across the floor, inquisitive comments from a loquacious three-year-old, loving words and glances from my husband, encouragement when least expected, prismed light sprayed across the room by a suncatcher.

And you, friend?  What tiny seed plants hope and joy for you?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Galloping Boots

Joey's grandmommy bought him boots for Christmas.  And now, my energetic two-year-old is galloping around the house in his new boots.  Sometimes, he wears them with socks; other times, he wears them mismatched on his feet.  He even gallops barefoot in circles around his boots.  Regardless, Joey's wide smile remains.

Today, we are waiting for an apple pie to finish baking.  The stove's timer beeps it's one-minute alarm.  "It's done," Joey proclaims, peering through the oven window.  "See!  It's done, Mommy!  It's done!"

And although Joey is delighted that the pie is finished baking, he will not even attempt a bite of that ooey-gooey, cinnamon-swirl apple pie with crumb topping.  Alas! Joey greatly dislikes fruits and vegetables.

I should take a lesson from my son.  No, I still plan to eat the pie!  But, perhaps I should show more enthusiasm even when I'm confronted with something I usually consider to be arduous, dismal, or otherwise extremely unpleasant (like scrubbing the toilet or sharing a pie).  I should add a gallop to my daily stride and chase away any threatening rain clouds.

And you, friend?  Can you add some gusto in that task you have to do?  Or, might you paint a happy smile on your face and then feel it soak into your soul, too?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Strutting Peacock

A local farmer owns some peacocks.  On occasion, one of these proud birds crosses the road without concern of approaching cars.  So, rounding the turn to the peacocks' farm, wary eyes will avert disaster.  The peacock's sleek tail trails behind him as it lurks forward in graceful strides.  Sun-sprays flash color from its feathers.  Even with a monstrous metal vehicle careening toward it, it's calm and steady.

Watching the peacock finish its slow stride in front of our car, I long for grace under pressure, too.  Tongue-tied and eyes downcast, I feel insecurity creeping up my face like a warm blush.  Perhaps I've said something I long to take back or I've been left out or I'm unable to smooth out my emotional crinkles so as to speak in coherent sentences instead of blundering sobs.  Regardless of the circumstances, I want to hide away in my Savior's hug and flee from the challenges that confront me.

Do you have moments like that, friend?  Let us take comfort together, knowing that if we take God's hand we will hold onto a grace, working through our weaknesses, that brings Him glory.