Sunday, January 16, 2011

Kitchen Helpers

Lately the big kids have showing consistent interest in the goings-on of our little kitchen. Sis, especially, asks every night if she can help with dinner. She happily washes veggies, carefully peels carrots, hunts around in the fridge for the cheddar cheese and runs back and forth to the pantry in search of the Cream of Mushroom soup. Mister likes to turn the can opener while I squeeze the handle. Peanut opens and closes the refrigerator, making sure our perishables get lots of fresh air. With helpers underfoot meal prep takes at least twice as long. But I don’t mind. I love that they love to be with me- partners in the endless business of preparing our daily bread.

Just this week I overheard Sis telling a friend that she can make breakfast. “I can make two things,” she said. “Toast and cereal.” We have been eating a lot of toast lately. The morning meal takes around an hour as she moved from toaster over (with two oven mitts) to table. She painstakingly spreads the butter then struggles with the knife in the jelly jar, eventually tipping the jar so that huge, shiny globs of jelly jiggle out to pile on the toast. Mister always asks for half of one kind of jelly and half of another. He loves jelly and his scientific inclination for observation has tested, with reliable results, that half-and-half really means double when a novice toast maker is on duty. So they eat toast with obscene amounts of jelly, leaving a sticky trail from the table to the kitchen faucet.

At the church I recently visited the pastor suggested that God, with a few miraculous exceptions, provides for our physical needs through people. He has designed us to really need each other and charged us with the sacred trust of being his hands and feet in the places where we find ourselves. This pastor humbly addressed the ways that God’s system of provision appears unfair, complicated, and contradictory. But he also suggested that it brings God joy and makes good sense for him to come along side his children and teach them how to make and do things that he could have done more graciously and expediently by himself.

And I thought of Sis and the way she smiles when the toast is done, the way her dimple shows up as she hands her brother a cold slice of wheat with apricot and strawberry. It is beautiful. It is good. Even if someone else could do it better. Even if it takes a long time. And I pray that my days are used to provide something for others. I pray: that the pantry of my heart constantly has little feet running in and out for supplies; that it needs consistent re-stocking; that the food stuffs get used up before they expire. Lord, make it so.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” Matthew 6:11


I am in the beautiful Rocky Mountains this weekend. I am here for an important reason, but one that makes me deeply sad. I came with my family to honor the life of a man who blessed us for thirty years with his friendship, generosity and a focused zest for life and God’s creation. He went to meet Jesus in October in the state of his birth. I was not able to attend the funeral. But friends from Colorado gathered this weekend in a mountain chapel, where he had played the piano with surgical skill and gusto, to say good-bye. I cried. I smiled. I looked out the window at the slopes.

After the service, we went snowshoeing. The crisp air was rest, therapy, life. The view was beautiful but bittersweet. Were it not for this man and his family, I would not know Colorado. The beauty of this place would not be a cache of memories and foundational moments in my understanding of who God is, who I am, and what is possible in this life. So as I stomped around in the snow, I breathed little “Thank yous” for a life, too short but so full.

“The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field . . . But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children—“ Psalm 103: 15-17

something I wrote in his final days:

Back Country

Today I am praying, from the deepest part of me, for a family friend. They recently increased his morphine and stopped giving him food. He is in incredible amounts of pain and the people who would know say it is time. I cannot go to say good-bye so I ride my bike in the basement and pray. And think about how this man poured precious time and resources into my life. He flew us to Sea World in his plane. He played piano at my wedding and complimented my husband on his ‘exquisite taste’. He gave me his giant slalom skis when he upgraded.

I followed him down long sweeping stretches of the Colorado mountains in wide arcs, shoulders squared against the incline, knees bent, skis chattering with glorious speed. I loved those skis. The ones with his name engraved on them. I still have them.

But what I hold the closest, what squeezes my throat so I cannot breath, is the long rides up the chairlift. These where the times when he would ask about my school work and listen for the answer. He would tell me stories that said, “You are smart and able, so I will tell you some things you will need to know about this life.” A week away from the public high school, in the crisp Rocky Mountains, with toes pointed over the brink of a Black Diamond, is a beautiful gift to give a young girl.

I pray and picture us riding the chairlift again. It is sunny. The chair swings slightly and the sound of accumulated snow, falling from the taller limbs, echoes around and up. We talk. The chair slows to let us off and I curve to the left like always. But he waves, pulls on a hood and goes right. Into the back country. Through perfect powder, towards the thin trail of smoke rising from the stone chimney of a great timber lodge where he will sit with Jesus, warming cold bones by the stone hearth, waiting for his wife, daughter and granddaughter and the table he chose by the window.


I spent a weekend in October at a Monastery. A group of women, for whom I have deep spiritual respect, invited me. So I went. What would be needed to really describe the experience is beyond my communication abilities, but suffice to say on the last day I found myself in a tiny chapel, which I had previously mistaken for a garden shed, having a good snot-fest cry on one of the two pews. My tears blurred the details of the peeling baby blue wallpaper and the face of a plastic, painted Mary as she tenderly watched over my little soul.

I prayed for my kids until I actually thought I would be sick (so while I cried and committed my children to the care of their Heavenly Father, I pictured myself walking back up the winding mountain path to this sacred space with a mop and bucket). I told God it was too much. Not that my life has any real hardship, but the moments when I consider seriously the privilege and responsibility of Sheparding little souls, I find myself wholly and completely lacking. Completely lacking, as in naked without a pen on the first day at a new job. Or at the airport, boarding a cross-continental flight with a baby but no diaper. A house without a roof. A car without tires. Instructions to dismantle a bomb written in Mandarin. Lacking.

And so I said to Him, out loud, “This is too much.” And he answered me right away, “It is not yours.” It wasn’t much of a fight. What could I say? It is true that as a junior high kid I had dangled my toes in an alpine creek and told God that if he was real he could have my whole life. I was earnest, but it also seemed like a safe bet. If he wasn’t out there then no harm done. But twenty-something years later, in a little shed part way up the mountain, my promise came back to both haunt and soothe. It is too much. The blinding beauty as well as the darkness of this life: too much. And so with each morning sun, I have no choice but to place it all in capable hands and rest.

“Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” Psalm 90:14

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Listen All Gone

The baby looks a bit like a troll. Not the mean gobble-you-up kind that the Billy Goats Gruff encountered on the bridge; more like the happy troll dolls of my childhood, with perfectly round tummies, cherubic cheeks and fluffy hair that stands straight up. Her eyes are piercing grey almonds with sandy lashes that blink to buy time as she plots and schemes with her hands folded at the small of her back. She does what she pleases and if you ask she will tell you she is three although her second birthday wont come round until mid-February. She stomps around, crawling over us to sit on her brother’s head when she tires of making mischief out of sight at the end of the hall.

A good deal of our communication runs like the cliché ol’ Western shoot-out in front of the saloon. An example: she opens the fridge and takes out some yogurt. “No thank you, Baby,” I say. “We already had breakfast. We will eat snack as a family later. You need to put that yogurt back.”

“No,” she says, looking straight at me and rocking from heel to toe, a metronome ticking off the tense seconds while coyotes call and an unseen narrator whistles off stage left. “Peanut, you need to put that yogurt back in the fridge. Your mama is talking to you. You need to listen.” I put my hand on my holster. She blinks, twitches and puts the yogurt behind her back. A half step to the side, then a shifting of weight to the back leg in anticipation, like a triple jumper at the end of the approach.

“Little Baby, you need to listen.” I repeat. More blinking. Shoulders sway side to side, to reinforce the defiance.

“No,” she says. “Listen all gone.” Then she runs for her horse, yogurt cradled at her elbow like a running back. And so I chase. And chastise. Eventually the yogurt is in the back in the fridge. I call Grandma to update her on the toddler antics, turning my gaze away long enough to dial. A fluffy blur runs across the periphery and I pretend I don’t see. But then there is a still silence, the kind that signals a contraband haircut, permanent marker mural or the emptying of a Wal-Mart sized bottle of lotion. So I hang up and make my way down the hall to find a guilty baby sitting on her bed covered in gum wrappers.

“Gum baby,” she grins, shaking her head vigorously from side to side to blur her view of my stern face.

“Peanut, you know we don’t give gum to babies,” I say, frowning.
“Gum baby, all gone,” she grins again, wrinkling her nose, augmenting her response with American Sign Language, up-turned palms flicking the air- as if I did not understand the first time.

I turn and walk away, Sheriff Mom defeated, the evidence chewed and swallowed. Perhaps I should have turned a blind eye to the yogurt.