Turn Off The Light For Me

Turn Off The Light For Me

Turn off the light for me. I can see more in darkness.

I know you think that porch lamp comforting, and often it is, but tonight things are different. I see the night — huge, velvety, mysterious — better without the spill of light around the perimeter.

The sky is beautiful tonight. And, I want to study it more.

I think I see the day’s blueness above me still … a profoundly deep blue populated with puffy little nighttime clouds that seem to glow. These clouds fascinate me, how they appear lit from within. They remind me of an aquarium at night, or lights in a swimming pool — they’re just that shade of aquamarine, only much more subtly lit.

What makes them glow? I start to move, my eyes sky-fixed, and find more and more lit clouds until I see the source. A brilliantly illuminated patch of clouds that leaves no doubt what lies behind.

A bit of breeze blows the wisps aside, revealing a stunning silver-dollar moon, just a shade from full {or slowing waning to new — I’m never quite sure which it is}.

Will he be here as the moon waxes or wanes? Or, will his earthly journey be complete?

He and his family, today, they’ve chosen to turn the lamps off too. They’ve opted for the soft beauty in darkness, where they can see better. {They’ve chosen home over hospital, pain relief over yet another hail-Mary surgery.}

And, I, I’ve struggled with this too, not willing to believe my prayers can’t have a different answer. He is so young — early 30s with a wife, a two-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter. He has suffered more over the past few years than many of us will in a lifetime, the cancer relentless, moving from colon to liver.

And his mom, who’s become my friend — a godly woman, her faith an inspiration — how does she face this loss incomprehensible?

I’ve been fighting it, swinging my flashlight around like crazy in the night, unable to see beyond the light’s shallow span.

I’m reminded of my old evening jaunts around the farm, how I learned young that the worst thing you can do when you want to see in the night is flip on a bright light. It’s so much better to step into the dark unarmed with brilliance.

I learned to breathe in and breathe out. To try not to panic at what might be out there. And, to wait.

Soon, I will see. My eyes will adjust and rather than being a traveler on the outskirts of the night, I am there, a part of it, and I can see everything.

The Sweetness of June

The Sweetness of June

Come June, the air hangs rich. Laced with late peony and lilac, around every corner, I inhale deep in sweet anticipation.

What smells so good?

We find ourselves tucking faces into flowers at every possible opportunity. I beckon my four-year-old to a dew-damp, hot-pink peony pom-pom, and we touch noses to petals.

Mmmmm…

peony 2

Just last weekend we visit my parents’ farm. There, we hunt honeysuckle — perhaps the sweetest of June’s scents. A single, slender, plucked blossom sets me awash in its delicate perfume. I press my thumbnail against the base of the trumpet-shaped flower, cutting off the end and pulling forth the long stamen.

I watch closely for the tiny bubble of nectar and then greedily suck it out — a tiny but powerful hit of pure sweetness. We do this again and again, because honeysuckle season comes but once a year.

I remember the time our air conditioning broke on the way home from Ohio, one hot June day some years ago. The girls and I arrived home, heads tousled and noses full of sweetness.

Then, as now, I wonder what it would be like to live senses alive — not just when the AC breaks and we’re forced to roll down the windows, but every day.

honeysuckle

What if we could stop looking and begin seeing?
What if we could cease hearing and start listening?
What if we could give up tasting and learn savoring?

What does it take to wake our slumbering senses? Must something break to get our attention?

***

The sweet season only lasts a few weeks in this part of the country (that little place on the U.S. map where Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania meet).

Just about the time we begin to take the honeyed air for granted, it ends. First, the lilacs fade and then the peonies drop their petals. Next, the wild locusts finish shedding their blossoms, and the honeysuckle wanes.

We are there now; in the waning. But, this year, more than ever, I want to retain the lessons of the sweet. I want to learn what it feels like to do life with all five senses aquiver.

blueberries

I want to memorize the wind chimes’ melody and feel the exact way the breeze lifts the fine, newly golden hairs on my forearms.

I want to pop a fat blueberry in my mouth and appreciate its precise phase of ripeness {tart, semi-sweet, sweet, past-prime}.

I want to pad out into the yard at midnight and look up at stars slung over lofty treetops, see their black-green leafy globes alight with fireflies.

I want to step out on my deck in the cool morning mist and recognize in my heart the intermingled feeling {part wildness, part mystery, part beauty, part possibility} that I can’t remember feeling for so many years, but welcome back as an old friend.

You see, I am feeling more each day. My breaking has done its work well — it has both slowed me down and brought me back.

And, this June, I can’t think of anything sweeter.

Mmmmm… what smells so good?

 

Hospital Day Rules

Hospital Day Rules

{Photo caption: Julianne’s angel collection, which always accompanies her on overnights.}

On the day a mom with a sick kid either goes to or comes home from the hospital, you should not expect reasonable from her. Imagine her as glass — thin, worn, delicate as bone china. A little tap could send her to pieces.

Husbands, the best thing you can offer her, if you’re there when she walks in the door, is the opportunity to immediately get a shower and take a nap. This is the usually the first step to helping her regain her sanity.

Even if she arises showered and apparently refreshed, she should not be expected to cook or clean {unless, of course, she wants to}.

In fact, if you’re able to do a something special — cut a few flowers from the garden and put them in a vase on the kitchen table, or make her a fresh cup of coffee, she will be more grateful than you can ever imagine. A simple gesture like this could make the difference between her feeling fractured or healed, appreciated or emptied out.

Today is not a normal day and she is a fragile but empty vase, waiting to be filled with kind words, love, and gentleness. Rub her feet, massage her shoulders; ask her how she’s doing.

She will be filled and healed by you and, in turn, she will be able to help heal you and get your family up and running again.

Friends, neighbors, family, church family: kind, supportive words are good; prayers are golden. Even if you’re not sure what to say, or feel your words are trite, you can’t go wrong with these:

  • “I’m so sorry you have to go through this.”
  • “How can I help?”
  • “I’ll be praying for you.”
  • Or, my favorite: “Let me bring you dinner.”

If you’re able to follow up your promise to pray with a quick texted or emailed prayer, or a call within a few days, she will feel warmed, comforted.

Food and company matter. Stop by to chat and drop off some muffins or a casserole. Don’t assume she’s too busy to talk; she’s probably exhausted her husband’s and mom’s patience on certain topics and could use a fresh ear. Take time to talk, or better yet, listen — really listen.

On the other hand, here are a few things you shouldn’t do:

  • By all means, ask questions, but don’t question her decisions or actions {this will feel like an attack}.
  • Don’t assume she’s got it all under control just because she appears outwardly calm.
  • Don’t assume that it gets easier on the third (or tenth) hospital stay, because it really doesn’t.
  • And, most importantly, don’t focus so much on her sick kid that you forget her.

***

I wrote these “rules” in April, after my daughter’s first hospital stay in nearly a year. {She is going through a relapse of her autoimmune disease, Juvenile Dermatomyositis.}

We just returned from our third hospital overnight this past Friday/Saturday. I picked Julianne up from school {her last day}, and we headed straight to Children’s. We learned there that our rheumatologist believes the best plan of treatment involves a total of six overnights. {I had been under the mistaken impression we were doing three, and had thought we might be done.}

So, while Julianne’s inflammation markers have come down to the normal range, and she seems to be slowly but surely feeling more like herself, we have to be careful to slowly wean her from steroids and not withdraw treatment too quickly {and cause a relapse of the relapse}. That said, this post is not as belated as I thought, since we are only halfway through this intense phase of treatment and will be having at least three more hospital stays.

We have been blessed by the generosity and kindness of those around us over the past few months. Here are some of the bright spots in our lives since April:

  • My friend and yoga instructor Kate dropped off a book on the anti-inflammatory diet and gave Julianne and I a private yoga session, focusing on gentle moves to help her relax and to support immune health.
  • My friend Beth brought over a meal the same day she heard about Jules’ relapse. And she remains my go-to text friend who always responds with just the right words to encourage, empathize with, and support me.
  • My mom and her church family pray over us and for us, without ceasing.
  • My in-laws are always there to watch my other kids on hospital days.
  • My friend Alison made us a home-cooked meal and kept us company in the early days of Julianne’s relapse — the company was especially welcome since my husband travels so frequently and was gone that week.
  • Fellow blogger and online friend Laura and I have connected more deeply recently {though we knew each other before}, when we realized both our daughters have major health struggles. And, Laura’s daughter has become Julianne’s pen pal. The two girls have exchanged letters, little gifts, and encouragement.
  • Carol, one of the women at the Refine retreat I attended immediately before Jules’ relapse, messages me daily, checking in on both me and Julianne. She provides care, concern, prayer, and welcome doses of humour. {I am spelling humour with the “u” for her because she’s Canadian ;) }
  • My sister and her daughters sent an awesome care package to their cousin Julianne.
  • My tribe over at godsizeddreams.com also mailed an unexpected, goodie-filled package for both Jules and I just last week.
On Creating and Messes

On Creating and Messes

A few weeks ago, I was attempting to make homemade mayo in the food processor, while cooking dinner at the same time. My 11-year-old daughter was nearby, doing homework on the family computer. The egg yolk, vinegar, dried mustard, and salt started to emulsify into light, creamy goodness as I painstakingly tipped in olive oil one drop at a time — oh, wonder of wonders! — and then promptly “broke,” turning grainy, oily, and generally unappetizing.

Darnit! I said, banging on the countertop with my hand, and then repeated darnit, darnit, darnit! three more times for emphasis.

{Except I didn’t say darnit.}

My daughter looked up — she’s a pretty good swearword watchdog, because it’s something we don’t do {with the occasional parental lapse} in our house. Later, she was concerned: I’m sorry your mayo didn’t turn out, she said. I assured her there were far worse things and that I should have bit my tongue — not to mention stuck with my tried-and-true, whisked-by-hand recipe.

But, here’s the thing.

I’ve been realizing lately that, for all our successes {whether spiritual or writing or crafty or cooking or whatever-related}, there is a lot of trial and error, and even more mess.

And, I think mess — at least for me — represents a barometer of how much my creative life is flourishing.

dirty dishes

Right now, there’s spilled nut flour and puddles of coconut oil on my perpetually smeared countertop; there’s bits of herb and chopped veggies smashed into our kitchen’s faux peel-and-stick tile. There’s some funky smell in my basement that made my husband take out the trash and open the windows. {Then I had to break it to him that I’m attempting to ferment sauerkraut and the funky smell is here to stay for a couple of weeks, at least.}

There’s paint and magazines and fibers and washi tape and mod podge and books all over my dining room table. {Thanks to Christine, a self-taught spiritual art journaler, who facilitated an art journaling session at Kris‘ Refine retreat in April, I now have another way to make a big mess on yet another large surface.}

Here, I dig into the Word, here I attempt to sort out thoughts and emotions, and here, I hope to paint a visual image of where I am now and how God figures into it all.

art journal

Your creative mess is probably different. Maybe, it’s related to the women’s bible study you’re writing and the piles and piles of notes and books that threaten to engulf your nightstand. Perhaps, it’s the mass of flowers you’ve yet to pot for your amazing patio garden.

You know your mess. And, like me, I hope you’re coming to terms with it. Because mess = life.

You see, we’re all creating, all the time. And, it’s rarely neat, controlled, or tidy.

We’re creating our faith lives, crafting them one verse, one experience, one prayer at a time. We’re falling away and then returning. We’re taking steps forward and steps back.

We’re creating our family lives. Caring for kids and husbands, grandkids and aging parents. We’re realizing as soon as we think we have things figured out {with an illness, a life stage, a job}, the rules change, and we’re re-creating.

We’re creating with our words, spoken and written, shaping relationships or stunting them, infusing love or imparting harshness {sometimes both on the same day}.

We’re creating with kitchen hands and craft-table fingers– making pork stir-fry or playdoh smushes. {Or we’re calling out for pizza or popping in Planes for the 10th time.}

I like to think that the better we are at creating, the bigger our messes — and the more we learn to be okay with that.

I used to think I couldn’t create until my email inbox was cleared, the dishes done, laundry folded, and the kids all off at school. You can imagine how well that worked.

laundry

Setting ourselves up to be creative perfectionists sets us up for failure. But, when we are willing to let things get messy {or stay messy}, we open up space to create. When we try new things for the sheer joy of it — while still knowing they might fail spectacularly — we are saying we value the creative process and the experience of making something more than a Pinterest-worthy end product.

As for me, these days, the dishwasher always overflows; the bathroom is often a few days’ past its “clean-by” date; and the laundry heaps on my basement floor have been there long enough to harbor creepy-crawlies underneath. My husband finally gave up and put our Easter decorations into their bin in because the pile has just been sitting there since, well, Easter. {I was hoping it might migrate magically into storage.}

I’ve been busy — you know? I’ve been cutting letters out of old cards and getting paint all over my hands, having dinner with friends, making homemade fruit leathers and jewel-like beet puree, and wrangling my three small people.

It’s been, undeniably and indisputably, messy. But, it’s been good.

What lovely messes have you been creating?