Friday, March 25, 2011

Be Gentle

I live by semesters. This means that the things I think I see and the things I write in October, November, March and April are tinged with melancholy and fatigue. In those months life’s grey area feels less like the misty rain romance of Seattle and more like the long, slow drive across the state last year when I leaned against the steering wheel for miles, squinting into a fog that pressed against the road.

So I question what I am doing. I question whether it matters. And since the answers to big questions are hard to come by, I eventually turn my dissatisfied gaze to the minutia. Suddenly I need a haircut. And the expensive wrinkle cream they sell at the Mall. And impractical shoes I really don’t want to wear. And a pink dress.

This week I sat waiting for the aforementioned haircut in a cozy salon with taupe walls and magazines that offered GreatAbsInTwoEasyMoves. I had paint under my nails from the second coat I had applied in the mudroom before work. I had run from the shower to class to the appointment, so all the make-up I had planned to put on before I sat and faced a wet-haired version of myself for 45 minutes got left on the counter. I sat in the chair, draped in a black cloth that accentuated the harshness of a tired face and tried to make small talk. Mostly I said disparaging things about myself and the gracious woman cutting my hair tried to ignore the awkward mood I brought in with my backpack and man shoes. At one point I said something about the expansive real estate of my forehead. I had wanted bangs, but she had kindly suggested that bangs require work and she had correctly sized me up as the diggin’-in-the-dirt-for-worms kind of girl. I left without bangs. I also left with a stomach ache.

In OctoberNovemberMarchApril, it feels difficult to be myself. Because in OctoberNovemberMarchApril I start looking around, or even worse, turn the burning focus of the magnifying glass on the parts of me of which I am least fond. This helps no one.

And I think of a friend who has been finding solace on her rugged road in silent retreat at a nearby convent. Once, as she was leaving, one of the nuns leans close, held my friend’s face in both her hands and spoke the truth of God to her. “Be gentle with yourself,” she said.

So I sit down to write and think, far from the mirror. Because I want to be a person who looks out, looks up. I want to be someone who spends her sorrows on the hearts of others, because those are the tears that bring a beautiful harvest. The other ones – the OctoberNovemberMarchApril tears – only dehydrate the soul.

“They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.” Psalm 126:6 NAS

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Long Robe of the Lord

Mister, Peanut and I had been enjoying the cold Spring sunshine at the Skate Park. They stretched their legs after a long winter and I marveled at how much they had grown since the last of the fall leaves had been buried by snow. Mister floated up and down the concrete ramps on his razor scooter – tall, lean and confident. He passed; flashed a “watch what I can do” smile, and headed for the half pipe. I smiled back and squinted at the sky, searching for a cloud, a traveling witness, to carry that smile, that confidence to the our birth mother across the ocean. Let her see him, I prayed. Let her feel the health of his bones and the strength of his heart in her soul.

We stayed until the baby’s fingers were red with cold. As Mister climbed in the van I tossed him a Kleenex with which to wipe the double-barrel snot trails that were collecting on his upper lip.

“Here you go, Little Man.”

“I don’t need it,” he answered.

“Don’t wipe that snot on your sleeve, Son,” I threatened.

“I didn’t. I just sucked it back into my nose.”

I looked in the rear-view mirror. The upper lip was bone dry.

“Mister, you can’t wipe your snot on your sleeve. That is so nasty. We are on the way to school and now you have snot on your shirt. It is just nasty. When I give you a Kleenex, use it!”

Without delay, he answered in calm and quiet defiance.

“When Jesus comes back, he doesn’t have a tissue. He is going to use his sleeve.”

I faced the road and just kept driving. Mister is an old soul. Maybe he knows something I don’t about the long robe of the Lord.


Life with an almost six-year old is great, mostly because her deep knowledge on a variety of topics is matched by her acute, near-psychic sense of hearing and a willingness to teach others. This means, essentially, that she can sense that her brother is having a thought, know ahead of time that he is wrong and have the right information ready to refute him. This is amazing since we live in a two-story house and he usually speaks quietly. Just yesterday I was doing the dishes when Mister came around the corner.

“Hey, Mom. Duuunowhat?”

“What, Brother?” I asked.

He began to form a word, but was momentarily distracted by the loud stomping of a ballerina coming up the stairs. Before he was able to throw an elbow, she had stepped between us, the pink, purple and blue layers of her twirling skirt filling up the space.

“Go ahead, Mister.” I said, making eye contact.

She inched closer to the plate. Worked the shoulders. Choked up on the bat. He looked at her, looked at me, and then began again.

“Mom, I think we should get one of those flying mats so we wouldn’t have to drive the van anymore.”

“They don’t make those anymore,” she answered smugly, turning to sachet back downstairs to the royal ball.

At six, the potpourri of sassy confidence, imagination, unbounded energy and a willingness to speak is cute, especially when tinged with error. At sixteen is scares the boys. In the early twenties, yet untempered, it grinds through bosses. It does not necessarily work well in marriage either. This I have found out.

My husband calls Sister my "mini-me". Poor thing. Luckily for she and I both, we share our home with this wise and gentle man who understands that she is still listening to him, even though she is singing and drawing with her finger on the window. He thinks its funny when she makes up games and demands that we all play them. He loves that she goes with gusto and even sat up a little straighter when the Kindergarten teacher told us she left a note for the substitute that said, “Just ask Sister.”

I, on the other hand, am prone to discipline (or even resent) the "me" I see in her. Maybe because I know her gifts will likely leave her on the outside looking in, up late at night in a quiet house pondering the world’s problems, inexplicably dissatisfied with the middle road.

This week my husband brought home a book of Myers-Briggs personality summaries, a psychoanalytic horoscope of sorts. He was laughing before he even began to read mine. “This personality type, found in five percent of the population can be summarized in one word: Commandant.” The corners of his eyes wrinkled as he smiled and continued, “when this person is in the house, everyone knows who is in charge . . . he or she takes their work very seriously . . . they are prone to view their family as an extension/tool with which to meet their personal and professional goals.” Yuck. Double yuck.

But a gift is a gift. We don’t get to choose which ones we get. But we are accountable for our efforts to make something beautiful and make it multiply. That is the parable of the talents: each man a coin to invest. The sin – not in gambling – but in fearfully burying the treasure.

So, what, or more importantly how, do I teach this strong daughter? How do I help her see that all of God’s gifts must be tempered by a hunger for peace, an appetite for humility and a willingness to wait for the wisdom which must simmer? Maybe I don’t. Maybe those are the lessons that she will have to learn by skinning her knees.

But skinning the knees comes with a cost. Last month my mom took Sister out to by some new clothes. She had been asking Grammy to sew together the round and gaping holes on the knees of all her pants. “Sister, I can’t sew these pants. These holes are round. If I try to close them up, they will bunch and bother you. We will have to buy new ones.” And before Sister was home from her vacation, the new pants were already wearing thin in the same old places.

So I pray: for the protection of her gift and for lessons easy on the knees.

"Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you..." I Tim 4:14