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.