Wednesday, June 17, 2009

imagine meeting you here!

I have been feeling a bit scattered lately, with lots of thoughts bumping into one another inside my head. I imagine them as people at a crowded party: "Oops! Sorry, I didn't see you there." "Pardon me, just trying to make my way through...." Some step on each others' toes and others are happy to have accidentally run into each other.

Pat and I have stayed up hosting these late-night thought parties. We talk about recent events -- unexpected bumps on the road to racial reconciliation, kids we have watched grow up having children before they have even grown themselves, parents who pave the way for their children's road to deliquency, children who say they're afraid their parents don't love them (to whom I have no quick assurances), people stealing from their friends, families breaking up, and other issues some would label "dogs returning to their own vomit," as it would seem. It all feels so out-of control. Even the kids we have for youth group want to beat each other up -- at youth group or just outside our kitchen window. Now, I know it may seem ridiculous, but part of me had expected them to act better just by being in and around our home. I mean, we try to help them talk through things and to think before they act. We try to let them know we expect good things from them. We (and others) try to show them what it means when people love each other and care for each other. Heck, with all these role models just a block or two from their houses, you'd think they would all be models of success writing their own biographies about how they overcame the odds!

And then there's the reality. Kids are much more likely to grow up with the same good and bad habits of their parents and their parents are likely living the same habits they have since they were children with their own parents. One person, or even a group of people, stepping into a generational cycle is not going to suddenly undo all the years of people not expecting much of themselves. This thought often bumps into the "perhaps I need to do more" thought at my late-night thought party.

And I was relieved recently to be able to do a little more. I wrote quite awhile back about wanting to be discipled and to disciple someone else. These arrangements are precarious and require the incentive to be taken by both parties somewhat simultaneously in order for them to work. Well, if that doesn't seem highly unlikely. But I seemed to have been chosen by one girl in our neighborhood as a go-to person and decided to always open my door when she knocked and let her be part of our daily lives. If you know anything about me, you will know that idea alone is enough to stress me out for days. I like knowing what to expect around my house. However, actually welcoming her spontaneous company was not bad. Israel took to her immediately and would ask about her in her absence or yell, "Hi!" to her out our window if she was playing outside. But then, last-minute, her dad kept his promise of taking her out of state to live with him for the summer and she was gone. ("Yea!" for keeping promises, "Boo..." for the leaving and lack of stability.) And then things become entirely uncertain in the most hopeful situation I have going and I realize I have no control in that, either. It seems that Ms. Uncertainty just welcomed her friend, Mr. Doubt, to the party.

Then entered Little Miss Sunshine, humming a tune. In reality, we came across it trying to decipher what Israel was singing after church this past Sunday. He had apparently been listening to "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." Now, I don't like it when someone gives a short "right answer" to a complicated problem and I really dislike little sayings like, "Let go and let God." Yuck. ...Yuck. But as we sang the words to "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" over and over with Israel and have continued to make up our own verses, it was like welcoming comforting friend to the party. The song became less trite and more an act of faith to sing about each person we know and then end with, "He's got the whole world in His hands." Not only can I not really make a difference here in our neighborhood, but I'm not supposed to be able to. I can't hold anything in my hands; even the one girl I thought would in some respect become "mine," slipped through my fingers. So what great news it is that the job I cannot do is not even my job! I can't change anyone. There. Only God can.

It is not that suddenly the gathering of thoughts disperses. No, God's omnipotence gets its toes stepped on all the time by several of my clumsy thought-guests and there are many other awkward meetings that happen in there all the time. I'm glad, though, that when the conversation becomes mostly depressing, I still have a great old Friend who enters in without being put off by my untidy guests. "Mr. Doubt, meet Mr. Hope. Mr. Hope, here are Mr. Doubt and Ms. Uncertainty. Enjoy your chat."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

capturing the diamond in the rough, part ii

obligatory cheesy date picture

A little over three months ago, Pat and I went out on a date for my birthday, pre-Eden. That was the last date we had...until this past weekend. We left Israel having fun in the backyard and Eden safe in my friend Leslie's arms to go look each other in the eye again.

It took me half an hour to get out of the house once our friends took over the kids. When Pat asked why, I told him I wanted to get ready and look a little nice -- not like I had been working outside all day (which I nearly had). As we drove to the Thai restaurant, I looked down to see dirt still under and around my nails. This after attempting to look nice. So I sighed and asked Pat if it made him love me more (a question I often ask about dumb things). He answered "No," and asked if it made me love him more to see him make an attempt at dressing up (which, for him, means wearing a shirt with a collar along with his cargo shorts...). I answered, "Yes."

I gave the affirmative partly because I like being ornery. But I also actually mean it somewhat. It's not that love is based totally on what another person does or does not do, but we do feel more "lovey" when someone does something just to make us happy; we tend to appreciate them more. We also grow in love as we appreciate new aspects of a person. And I grew a little more appreciation for our marriage -- me sitting there in my "nicer" clothes that still don't quite fit since my pregnancy and dirt under my nails and Pat going unshaven in his "nice" shirt and cargo shorts. I appreciated us because there is quite a bit of water under the bridge represented there. Whereas I used to be able to pick almost anything out of my closet and look nice and Pat would shower and all before going out and we could both spend the time to look nice, we now tuck in here and cover up there and head out with hints of these other parts of us still hanging out. We know we're putting on a show to an extent, but it's a show that matters.

We appreciate each other now -- mostly for what we each contribute to our family. I appreciate Pat's working hard each day. He appreciates me giving the kids fun and whatever shopping or cleaning I get done during the day. We appreciate when the other changes a dirty diaper or gets up in the middle of the night or washes the dishes we had been avoiding. But we don't often get the chance to appreciate each other for other reasons these busy days, which made going on this date particularly meaningful. We had a chance to dream and be goofy and try on a bit of our more thoughtful selves again. We had a chance to sit and be contemplative and watch the geese swimming on the river. We talked about memories and goals beyond getting chores done. It was beautiful.

We spent time talking about Annie Dillard's book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. If you have not read it (and I will confess to not having read much of it...) you probably should (and I probably should finish it). There is so much beauty and wonder in its pages it makes you want to burst. I think that is probably the reason I have not finished it. I want to sip it slowly. Pat says the book is all one big thought, though, and should be taken in at once. I'll stick to the little ideas for now, because they're lovely. At any rate, we talked a great deal about how we miss taking the time to contemplate beauty and create beauty of our own, as Dillard has done with her book. Art has been replaced by Task in many places in our lives. Part of this is just where we are in this stage of life, which is just fine. There is much to enjoy about having young kids and we will do that. But oh, to remember who we are apart from that and to remember making our own works of beauty and to dream of doing it again!

I often think that our children will be our magnum opus in terms of our own creativity, and perhaps that is true by definition in its most literal interpretation. That is a thought I want to mull over a bit more and experiment with. After all, God's children certainly show God's creativity, therefore my children are certain to be a demonstration of mine. And I want to play that up as much as possible and view my life's work as a work of art all its own -- the one big thought. But I also enjoy the beautiful little ideas and also want my life to be filled with them. So I dream of photography and writing and gardening and cooking as little ways of generating my own pieces of beauty. Each of these is a way of capturing a piece of the larger Beauty to have for myself and to share with others. I want to learn to take pictures that are nearly as beautiful as the objects themselves. I want to learn to write in ways that distill thoughts down to the kernels of truth that can bring me to my knees. I want to learn to garden and savor food that I have known from its beginning to its end. And I want to cook it to share with others again, as we have in the past, celebrating the beauty in joys and sorrows against the backdrop of that which sustains us.

Pearls are created by in irritation in a clam. A little grain of sand gets in there and the clam's body works at it and in the end it produces something of great value in its short lifetime. Diamonds are old and form over long periods of time. If a piece of coal is not a diamond when we are born, it will not be a diamond when we die. At least that is my understanding of it. People have in them both diamonds and pearls, then. Some beauty is put in us from the start to be unearthed. Other things are developed over our lifetime as we work at the daily grit in our lives. While I wouldn't give up what is being gained by working at the daily grit for anything, as my dirty fingers will remind me, I love digging out the things that were there before our work as a father and mother and polishing up those old diamonds.

Some of the beauty captured on our river walk:

the geese, who didn't really enjoy their people-watching

curious purple-stemmed plant
ruler over the white river

sunset at Westside Park

Monday, June 8, 2009

capturing the diamond in the rough

The scene:

Growing up in the mountains of Kentucky, natural beauty was all around me. I remember drawing pictures of my family and wondering how to draw the mountains where we lived instead of making the land look like the flat place under the sky. I remember puzzling over how to capture the look of my favorite cliff when drawing a bunch of large circles (rocks) and coloring them greyish-brown didn't quite get at it. I am not sure whether anyone taught me how beautiful the mountains were, but I feel certain that I knew it regardless. I knew it was more beautiful than I could capture in my drawings as a 5-year-old and that amazed me.

So it often makes me sad that my kids are growing up in a house without much of a yard in Indiana. There is hardly anything not man-made near us, since we live in the city. The houses around us a largely abandoned or severly lacking aesthetically (even ours these three years later...!) Even when we leave, to explore the natural landscape, the predominant characteristic is fields of either soybeans or corn. Mono-cropped fields are simply not natural beauty.

This weekend, we snagged the rare opportunity to plan plenty of fun outdoor adventure. On Friday night, we tried out camping in our backyard. This turned out to be quite a bit more adventurous than you might think. We decided, last-minute, to go buy a firepit for the occasion. I'm not sure why, since we didn't even roast marshmallows, but somehow camping doesn't seem complete without building a fire. Israel seemed to like the experience -- especially when I tried to get him to be still for a picture by having him watch the fire. In our discussion of it, I asked if he could see how the fire dances. He proceeded to dance around the yard (presumably like the fire) for quite some time, preferring the living of the moment to the capturing of it. He liked the tent and went to sleep at dark (around 10:00). Pat, Eden, and I stayed up a little later and sat around the fire, which was nice. There are street lights and flood lights that light up our back yard, but even so, we could see quite a few stars. I have a feeling that evening of sitting by the fire, looking at stars, and eating chocolate mint ice cream (a recent favorite...) will make it into my "favorite memories" file.

What will not make it into my "favorite memories" file is all the noise of camping in our back yard. There is a lot to learn by trying to sleep outside. I learned that someone likes rolling their trash totes back and forth (either that, or they own more than 2 trash totes) after 11:00 at night, four days before trash pick-up. I learned that Katya really likes sleeping with us at night -- enough to sit, overlooking us from a window, and meow until I would cave in and sleep in my bed. I learned that Pat, Israel, and Eden can sleep through anything. I, on the other hand, cannot. I gave up about 1:00 am and took Eden inside with me to sleep. It was just a little too chilly, anyway. I ended up getting a cold from exposure to the air. Who knew? Urban camping is not for wimps.

The next morning, we had the pleasure of going to the annual garden fair. I love the garden fair. It was not nearly as leisurely as it has been in the past, though pushing a double-stroller through the crowd does make for moving pretty slowly. Israel was a bit grumpy from staying up late and getting up early. (Apparently, sun rise is about 6:00 am; we're just not usually up to see it....) Even as a sleep-deprived family of four, we managed to shop around a bit and bought some plants to put in our front yard for this year. Eventually we will landscape, but in the meantime, I'm tired of mowing over the weed patch. I finally caved and bought a rhubarb plant after years of trying to grow one from a root ball or thinking I could transplant one from Kentucky. I hope it takes over the front yard!

We left the tent up and set up the fire again for our friends to use. Israel's friends Aidan and Allister came over to play for the evening while their mom and dad babysat for us. Pat and I left to enjoy being outside all by ourselves, but that is for another post. I made vegetable hobos for them to cook on the fire and when we left, they were all sitting around the card table under the ash tree, unfolding pieces of aluminum foil with their names on them.

We find natural beauty around and we try to capture it. We diamond-hunt for natural treasures. We love our 40x20 back yard. We love the leaves on the tree that hang down by our dining room window, even if the tree is in pitiful shape. We collect its "helicopters" to fling into the air and watch them come twirling down. We dig in the dirt and watch plants grow. We pitch our tent and look at the stars. We listen to the birds and stop everything if we see a squirrel while out on a walk. We hold worms and pick dandelions and splash in puddles. I hope that by learning to appreciate even our little plot of weeds and dirt in a monotonous landscape our kids will be able to find beauty in just about anything. And I can't imagine what they will do when confronted with something like camping in Red River Gorge. I hope that we can all learn to be amazed with the small things so that larger things will simply overwhelm us with joy.

Eden enjoying the fire

a blurry shot of Israel's fire dance

Israel loved being inside the tent!

Israel and Daddy reading Goodnight Moon before turning in