The Angel in the Dishwater

The Angel in the Dishwater

I pad downstairs in my PJs, keen on getting a cup of coffee and some quiet time in before I wake the kids. Sipping my strong dark brew, laced through with coconut cream, I turn to Leviticus.

This book is not my favorite. Comprised of countless rules and regulations, the archaic restrictions are mind-boggling in both detail and content. {When was the last time you were concerned about the precise way to deal with defiling molds or skin diseases?}

Personally, I like to think of God as continually present and accessible rather than approachable only through elaborate burnt offerings and ceremonial priestly interventions. {And, I find mold more of a bleach-and-water affair than a spiritual matter.}

But, the honest truth is, lately, I feel a spiritual disconnect. God seems distant.

And while I deliberately seek Him in prayer and scripture most mornings, the rest of my days often careen by in an unholy blur of food preparation, kid-chauffeuring, and calendar wrangling. If I’m lucky, I say a foggy prayer as I head off to sleep.

***

By this point of the morning, I have exactly five minutes left to tackle the sticky pasta pot filled with soapy water gone cold overnight. And I am deep in thought as my hands go through the motions.

Half-heartedly bookending my days with God isn’t enough. I need more.

I begin planning ways to get at God better as I pour cloudy water out of the stainless steel vessel. Into my waiting hands drops a smooth bit of swirled white onyx, with wings.

I am here, Beth, Emmanuel.

There is no reason my son’s angel {an Easter basket gift from his Mimi} should turn up in my dishwater, and family questioning turns up no explanations. The divine token stops me short.

You can make plans to find me, but the simple truth is this: I am here.

angel deck plants

Why is that so hard to imagine — God pouring out with the cold water?

The saying “God is in the detail” rings in my mind for days after, so I look it up. Grammarist.com tells me the saying means “attention paid to small things has big rewards.” The perfectionist in me nods at this. But I am careful not to turn this into fodder for another self-improvement project.

God is in the detail — yes. When we attend to detail and make it count, that’s divine. But, He’s telling me more than that, and I turn it over and over in my mind, as I drive the kids around in our dinged van, as I straighten couch pillows, and pick up legos.

angel legos

God is in the detail — not just symbolically but literally, I realize. He is in the larkspur and lilies in my front yard; He is in the chipmunks frolicking under the bird feeder out back; He is in my daughters’ nighttime kisses on the cheek, both soft and sweet.

But He is also in the jumbled socks I pair, the cast-iron skillet caked with eggs, the ready tears of my five-year-old confronted with the extreme injustice of a lollipop denied before breakfast.

I realize I have lost intimacy with God precisely because I have lost the knack of seeing Him in the everyday-ordinary. I have become a Levite with a long set of rules and regulations of what communing with God should look like, which constrains Him only to the rare, quiet edges of my day.

So I invite Him to jog with me, high up Mt. Blaine road, where we stop to eat wild black raspberries and note the footfall of a doe. I invite Him to breakfast and we take time to chop fresh chives from the garden and purple basil from the farmer’s market to scatter over the eggs.

angel lilies

And I also invite Him to sit with me and my grumpy morning boy as he wakes early, interrupts my quiet time, and begins dropping demands. I invite Him into reasoning with a leggy daughter rapidly approaching 13 who hates to wash and blow-dry her hair. I invite Him into the countless forms and phone calls and appointments that mark the life of a mom with three kids of varying ages and stages.

I invite Him to share all my life — not just the clean, neat, quiet parts that seem good enough for Him. And, in the process, He draws closer. He helps me see the divine in the mundane, the holy bits shining through the chaotic mosaic of our days; he shows me the angel in the dirty dishwater.

Lake Gem

Lake Gem

From the water, I see a pale leg-tepee on the far shore. 

It might be a woman lying on her back, knees bent, or it could be a patch of exposed tree bark. I’m not sure which, from my vantage point in the kayak. Things have a way of looking different from the water.

But, as I tour the nooks and crannies of the small lake, startling turtles off logs and generously watering my thighs as I paddle, I see it is indeed a woman. Her back is flat against the earth, feet planted and knees touching.

turtle in lake

At the lake’s center, I stop paddling {skewing the results of the GPS-enabled workout app keeping track of my pace and distance} and lean back, looking up at the blue sky streaked with clouds. I let my gaze wander down to the end of the lake where the fishermen gather on a grassy knoll.  There, clouds hang low and dramatic, stretched thin and long, shaded with darker grey. They look painted like a stage backdrop, the sky depicted skillfully, if a bit heavy-handed with light and shadow. 

branch lake

As I float aimlessly, I notice him now — a stocky man in a royal blue tank sitting still atop a picnic table on the shore to my right. He doesn’t move.

We three — sit, lay, float — a triangle of tranquility.

I am impressed by their skill at being still. Their commitment to inactivity. Their choice to be small and let quiet overtake them.

I am working hard to convince myself this lake date is not about a workout. I’m struggling with a notion that honors the opposite of motion.

heron lake

How obvious, I think, that God is big and we are small. Yet, do we experience life this way?

How often do we take time to be still and recall small?

My life has become huge. My problems, my worries, my to-do list. Simply enormous. God is a tiny tickle in the back of my mind, a quick prayer for safety while driving, a rushed morning devotional.

My need to manage our busy life (with three kids — 5, 10, and 12) has grown to gigantic proportions. I have gotten into the self-indulgent habit of magnifying everything, from my dissatisfaction with my messy closets to my frustration with my aging physique. Nothing is good enough for me.

lake view

But, this quiet morning on the water, I hear dogs barking on the distant shore and a hint of traffic noise even farther off. As I stare at my still companions on the shore, I recognize with a sudden and sharp clarity we are at the center of something far larger, and it is beautiful.

kayak lake 2

For a heart-stopping moment, my view zooms out incrementally, from the lake to the hills to the surrounding town and region. There is concrete around us and stores and roads and busy people leading their rushing lives, but we … we three are tucked into an Eden moment.

We three are consciously still players in an impossibly serene pastoral scene, the lake an opal ringed by layers of pine-and-maple-green emerald, the moody sky graduated blue textured with dusky clouds.

We are held, gemlike, perfect and tiny, in the palm of this world … and in the even larger hands of its Creator.

Lord, though we are faced daily with myriad demands in our hectic modern world, please help us pause and remember You. Though we know in our minds that you are larger than our petty day-to-day worries, infuse this truth into our hearts so that we may walk today with our shoulders lifted and heads high, confident in Your ability and secure in Your peace. Amen.

 

Kitchen Fires and 10-Milers, Part Two

Kitchen Fires and 10-Milers, Part Two

When I begin to see warning signs of Driven overload — like the fire and the running sickness — I ignore them.

It’s okay, I told my girls when the smoke alarm first went off last Wednesday. Probably just the home protection system battery going. So, I finished getting dressed and then went downstairs to a house full of smoke and potholders in literal flames on my stovetop.

Two fire trucks did arrive (photo above courtesy of my neighbor Robin) around the same time my mother-in-law did for dinner/babysitting. (Not my best mom moment, though the fire fighters said my roast chicken looked — and smelled — excellent. But, to be clear: I don’t condone setting fires just to get compliments from men in uniform.)

As for the running, I’m training for the Pittsburgh half marathon in two weeks, and I’ve been steadily increasing my mileage by one mile a week. Sunday’s 10-miler was precisely what my training schedule called for. Yet the day was about 20 degrees warmer than the weather I’ve been used to running in, and the sun beat down mercilessly.

I already knew I should aim for a 10-minute mile pace since it was such a long run, but I decided that would take forever, so why not aim for a sprightly 8:40 or 8:50 pace to move things along? (This is pretty fast for me, so you speedy ladies don’t laugh.) At about 8 miles, I was ready to be done; oddly enough, I felt no specific knee, back, or ankle-ache — it was almost more like a dull organ ache.

(Mom, if you’re reading, it was really just my knee. Seriously.)

I am used to running long, and feeling crappy afterward, but when the dull, flu-like ache continued through the rest of the afternoon and evening and the following day, I began to Google things like “overtraining.” While my symptoms don’t fit those of overtraining and I’m starting to feel better, I am scaling way back this week, taking several days totally off and then playing it by ear.

In light of my recent Driven demi-disasters, I’m taking a different tack than usual. Rather than broadly assuming I’m just doing too much in every area of life and trying too hard — and using it as an excuse to eat chocolate and buy expensive coffees and read novels — I’m viewing this is a wake-up-and-smell-the-Discipline call.

I’m going to pray for consistent (i.e., Disciplined) healthy habits: reasonable exercise, smart food and rest choices, adequate time for prayer, bible reading, and reflection.

I’m taking this as a chance to become more Disciplined (which, I’m learning, is as much about the “no,” or “not as much” as it is the “yes”), rather than collapse into a post-Driven heap of self-indulgence that I can only pull myself out of by becoming Driven toward a new goal.

I’m praying for Discipline as a lifestyle, not a punishment; for Driven as the occasional occupational hazard of a recovering perfectionist — the exception, not the norm.

This year, I’m running 13.1 hilly miles through the city of Pittsburgh for the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation. My daughter has been battling Juvenile Dermatomyositis (JDM) — a rare systemic autoimmune disease that affect 2-3 children per million — since 2012, including more than 16 hospital overnights for IV infusions of steroids and immunoglobulin treatments. I am designating all the funds I raise to the department that treats her — rheumatology — an often underfunded and little-known specialty.

If you’d like to consider sponsoring me for the half-marathon and helping support pediatric rheumatology, you can donate here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kitchen Fires and 10-Milers, Part One

Kitchen Fires and 10-Milers, Part One

Within the past week, I have set a small kitchen fire and run 10 miles so hard, I was sick for more than a day afterward.

It’s caused me to look hard at the two D-words that give me the most trouble in life: Driven and Disciplined.

I am Driven, but I am rarely Disciplined.

At first glance, I think of a Driven person as a successful person, a go-getter, competitive — I already like her. She’s like me.

She runs fast. Her house is immaculate. She’s a discerning consumer with impeccable taste. She writes books. She repurposes things in chalk-paint and always has two kinds of wine — red and white — and a dessert every time I go to her house. (These, by the way, are each characteristics of different Type A friends of mine — not a description of one person.)

But, I find the Driven synonym list in Webster’s a bit disconcerting: “besetting, compulsive, impulsive, obsessive.” Driven isn’t all wine and roses.

On the other hand, Disciplined people fascinate me — though we don’t have much in common. I view their rules and routines with a sort of detached, envious amazement. They don’t just train for a temporary goal; they espouse a lifestyle, almost a raison d’être, if you will.

Take my husband — once he decided he was going to be a runner, he has run consistently for the past seven years. He runs two half-marathons a year, and works out (whether running or weights or both) at least three days a week. Always. (With the exception of a week or here or there due to a vacation or getting sick.) I, on the other hand, have run in erratic fits and starts my entire life, ranging from sprinting in high-school track to half-marathons — and everything in between.

You see, I’m Driven for the temporary goal but not Disciplined for the long haul.

This is why I am always sporting a mohawk (short hair + sleep = vertical hair), wearing PJs, and wielding a egg-covered spatula at 8:40 a.m., while my similarly clad five-year-old is watching Leap Frog Letter Factory when we both need to leave for preschool in 5 minutes.

Driven and undisciplined gets me up at 6:40 a.m. to read and journal and pray, and I read and journal and pray — but I think that if a half hour is good, than an hour is better, so I end up waking my girls late, not having time to eat or get dressed.

I start out my day caffeine-jittery, starving and snappy as I try to flat-iron hair, give fashion advice, dole out vitamins — all while getting dressed, washing my face, and attending to my unruly hair.

I sail through at least part of every day underprepared and overfrazzled, trying to fit in just one more thing. I cling to my to-do list like the line to the life-preserver that will keep me from sinking under the sea of family and school obligations. I constantly check on the scrolling list in my head — write-car-rider-notes, renew prescription, pack Caroline’s track bag, mail taxes, prep salad ahead for dinner, email school nurse, make return at TJ Maxx —

but forget the simple but beautiful disciplines of a life well-lived — breathe, turn your face to the sun, smile, pray.

***

Join me tomorrow for Part Two?