You can find them at Fine Art America on my gallery page.
So happy to be opening this box! I ordered my own artwork printed on greeting cards.
You can find them at Fine Art America on my gallery page.
This blog was sent out to pasture... What happened?
I went back to work when my youngest started school. That sounds so odd, because moms don't not work! Moms at home work hard.
I still do Mom things but now I teach school, too.
Summers are for kids and scribbling...
So it's summer now, and I'm reworking this blog where I shared some of my thoughts, art and writing. Because much of my life is working now, I am repurposing this website as a landing spot to collect all my creative scribbles.
Like a link to my online gallery that can be found at Fine Art America.
I'll also share a link soon for my under-construction website, e12art.com, where teachers and families can access art projects for classroom and home.
New focus, new name.
See you again soon at scribblemom.com
Here is one of my favorite paint brushes.
Well, former favorite brushes, I should say.
It’s actually been rather irritating lately. But in the past years, we’ve been through a lot together. Just about a year ago, in fact, this brush was doing amazing work on a rather large project.
I completely relied upon this brush, and it lived up to the task; responsive, soft, flexible. I could load on the thick oil paint, and this brush always smoothed things out just how I wanted it.
But not any more.
Time has passed, and it’s grown crusty.
Stiff. Uncompromising. Unhelpful.
This brush became so irksome that I wanted to cast it aside and forget about it. Give up on it.
But the truth is, I still need it. I love it.
So I decided to give it one last try. After a quick soak in solvent, I turned on the warm water, and started in with the soap. Just some hot water and a bar of regular soap.
And an hour of my time.
Gently, patiently, I dabbed and pressed and painted on the bar of soap until the old crustiness began to melt right out of this beautiful brush. I could not believe how much red oil paint was still stuck within the bristles! No wonder it had been so ill-behaved! Warm water, soap, dab, brush, rinse. Warm water, soap, dab, brush, rinse. Warm water, soap…
And persistent gentleness.
What if I treated other people with the same care and concern that I reserve for my paintbrushes? What if every crusty, irritating person was gently soothed with warm water and soap? What if I was willing to spend an hour with each grump, gently soothing away thier crustiness?
You will be happy to know that my old brush is in perfect shape now.
No crustiness. No stiffness, no wounds.
It is pure and soft and gentle. It's been restored.
“The world is in chaos,” the news says. “Worse than ever before.”
“We live in darkness, surrounded by violence, anger, fear…” they yell.
I hear them.
Loud and clear. People are hurting.
But it’s not new. It’s the same pain, the same violence, the same fear of all generations. We are fighting the same battles that people have always fought.
Most people know the story of Moses. It’s all there, in that history; violence, slavery, agony, the death of innocents. And that was before the plagues. Even when the Hebrews “won” their freedom from Pharoah, after the blood, the frogs, the Darkness, and the Angel of Death…after the pursuit of the soldiers and the miraculous crossing of the Sea, there was more.
Forty years in the desert.
They had it worse than we do. They had nothing. But then God sent them bread from Heaven, Manna. It came as the morning dew. And it sustained them.
So what about us? Does God care? Where is our dew?
I found it.
Right outside my front door, I found dew on the leaves. Amazing, right? It's so incredibly peaceful and beautiful. The plant is called Mary’s Mantle. It’s leaves are shaped like a cape, a mantle, to enfold and protect. And it gathers dew drops. Just like Manna.
Mary is always there for us; protecting, comforting, guiding. Distributing graces like Manna to sustain us.
In the darkness of the cold desert nights, she is given God’s dew from Heaven.
“Why aren’t you blogging anymore?” a friend recently asked me. “What happened? What have you been doing?”
Where did my blog go? It’s five o’clock in the morning, the world is quiet except for the songbirds, I am waiting for the coffee to brew and wondering that same thing. What happened to my blog?
Well, one day it left, and took my brain with it. Just like that. It happened on the last day of school. When that big yellow bus rumbled ‘round the corner, my writing brain made like a tree, and leaved.
I’ve been too busy to miss it. The moment that the big yellow school bus came to a stop in a billowing cloud of dust in front of my house, the music soundtrack of my life slowed to a lone bamboo flute solo. An ominous warning.
The dust cloud swirled and parted, and a crowd of children emerged from the door, tumbling out like a dumped bag of marbles. They rolled down the driveway and swarmed my house, shedding backpacks and worksheets, noodle projects and musical instruments.
They say they are here for the summer.
Some of them I don’t even recognize.
Yesterday, I was trying to count kids, which is difficult to do without a brain. One, two, three downstairs filming a war trilogy on my phone. Four, five, six on bikes. Seven, eight playing ukuleles, nine digging through my refrigerator, hungry again. Ten, eleven, twelve looking for car keys, thirteen, fourteen on a date…gosh, I am the fifteenth person I counted in my house, and it’s almost suppertime.
Good thing I used to live in Vegas; I can deal out gluten free rice cakes at the table just like a blackjack dealer, and call it supper. One, two for you. Do you like your peanut butter crunchy or creamy, dear? I can’t remember. Pass the jam, please. Feet off the furniture. Did you wash your hands? How many food groups are included in peanut butter and jelly rice cakes? I don’t actually care at this time of the day.
“And God bless the cook!” one of the little ones never fails to say. She smiles at me, a genuine, sparkly-eyed, full of love and admiration sort of smile. “Thanks, Mom, for supper.”
And I pause.
The kid is grateful, thanking me for rice cakes.
For a brief moment, I am sad. I should work harder. Do more.
“Mom” harder. As if “Mom” is a verb, something I do. But I’m so busy Momming this part of the world that I sometimes lose track of my real job. I drive to swim lessons, I get them to work, I shop for food, I veto the movies they select, I bandage their cat scratches and skinned up knees when they crash their bike in the creek, I teach them to drive (white knuckes gripping the door handle, shrieking and gasping the whole way) I make them wear life jackets and sometimes make them eat broccoli.
I am Momming.
But Mom is not something I do, it’s who I am.
That’s why my blogging is scarce.
It is summer, and I am Mom.
So here it is, 6 o’clock in the morning, a warm coffee mug is in my hand. The birds are still singing, and Someone Small is cuddled up to me on the couch with a tattered copy of Little House in the Big Woods. I don’t want to keep her waiting. She has a playing card, a nine of clubs for a bookmark, and it’s holding open Dance at Grandpa’s.
This is a page I don’t want to miss. An important chapter in her life.
So cherish your summer, Blog Friends.
I’ll bet my writing brain will come back when the school bus returns.
Summer is almost here, and the kids have begun their annual chorus: When are we going camping?!
Never, I say.
But the children lean towards me, widen their eyes, and give it their best sales pitch. They imitate the loon’s cry, paint me memories of powerful, cascading rivers and majestic woods. They long for the mysterious wild, the crystal starlight, and the campfires with marshmallows.
Mostly the marshmallows.
How can I resist? I am drawn in to their imaginations, captivated by the idea that they actually still want to sing songs around the fireside and huddle with Mom in a tent in the woods. If I had no actual camping experience, I would say “Yes, Yes, Yes! Let’s go sleep in the woods and listen to the owls together!”
But I have been around the camping block. I have experiences that make me the no-fun, realistic mom who says “Set up a tent in the living room. We’ll roast marshmallows over a candle at the kitchen table. It’ll be great!”
Who needs ghost stories around the campfire when you have real-life horror stories?
Back when I was a young mom, an eager and inexperienced mom, I was foolish enough to take small kids camping. We bought a small pop-up tent, packed up the Disney sleeping bags, the portable crib, a suitcase and a cooler, and embarked on an adventure with extended family at a state park.
The birds were singing as we pitched our tent. Baby and toddler jumped together in the pack-n-play, fascinated by the tent in the wilderness. We had chosen a secluded spot, deep under the trees. I felt so happy to be alone in this spot of heaven with my family. That is, until my brother, the former Boy Scout, walked over and showed me that I had pitched my tent in a large patch of poison ivy.
Time to move.
By then it was afternoon, and the only spot available was next to a group of biker people, all seemingly tattooed and pierced, sporting jet black hair from a box and leather jackets. We set up camp hastily, listening to their dark, heavy music instead of the loons, and I briefly wondered why on earth I thought it was a good idea to sleep outside with babies.
By this time, the kids were hungry for supper, which required cooking. Doug started a fire while I took the kids to our third trip to the latrines. There were mosquitoes in the latrine, of course. They swarmed around, biting viciously as I changed baby’s diaper and helped the toddler, who was thrilled to add his bit to the large mountain of filth down the hole. One daughter couldn’t do it. She didn’t like latrines, she said, and she would wait until we returned home to use our own toilet. I didn’t want to return in the dark of night, so I told her she had a choice; she could pee in the outhouse or use her baby sister’s diaper. What a choice.
By this time, the fire was raging, and all the little cousins were roasting hot dogs. I was terrified. Like a desperate sheepdog on adrenaline overload, I hovered around the kids, pulling them back from the fire, yelling at them to stay back, no jumping, no skipping, no dancing, no singing. Babies were crying, food was dropping into the dirt, diapers needed changing again, and all the food tasted like Deep Woods Off. “Sit down on that bench and don’t get up! I don’t care if your cousin is chopping with an axe! You are staying right there!” Sweat dripped from my brow, and I longed to zip the kids all up in their sleeping bags. Camping was more stressful than anything I had previously attempted as a parent. What the heck was I thinking? This little campground was The Wild.
When darkness began to fall, the brightness of the circle bonfires lit up the campground. That was when tragedy struck.
My kids were so restricted they were practically on lockdown. Two were confined to the pack-n-play, tightly lidded with mosquito netting, and the rest of the cousins had been banished from the fire. I guarded like a wolf, snarling at any child who dared try to roast a marshmallow near my fire. Away across the campsite, we heard screams in the night. A child’s scream, a woman’s scream, echoing in the darkness. Within minutes, we knew that someone’s child had been burned. The campsites fell silent, children pulled closer, and bonfires died down. When the sirens wailed and the emergency crews arrived, most of the campers stood at the edge of the dirt road, silently praying and still. Even our neighbors, the tattooed biker crowd, stood at the end of their campsite, hats in hand, heads down.
The sirens apparently spooked some other campers. In their haste to evade police authority, someone apparently threw a large quantity of marijuana onto a bonfire. As the ambulance roared away, squad cars circled the campground in a blue haze of drug smoke, the stench pervading every campsite. I wondered, with mounting distress, if that blue smoke would dissipate before my little children got stoned.
Just at that moment, thunder rumbled on the horizon. Lightening cracked across the sky, and campers skittered away like ants to their holes. Thank God I could finally zip up the kiddos. We cuddled close in the storm, as the wind beat upon our tent and the rain began drumming down hard.
“I’m scared.” “I hafta go to the baffroom.” “I’m getting wet!”
I dismissed them all. “This is fun! We are all together, you are safe. This is an exciting adventure, now go to sleep!” In the middle of a prayer, in which I was thanking God that we were no longer underneath any large tree branches, I felt a cold stream beginning to seep enderneath my sleeping bag. The chorus began. “I’m wet!” “I’m wetter!” “I’m cold!”
I scooped up Baby and planted her into a nest of clothes in the open suitcase. The rest of us crowded onto one, full-sized air mattress, covering up with the remaining two dry sleeping bags. The baby slept. The other five of us shivered the night away, huddled on the plastic air mat. I covered kids up with every beach towel and sweatshirt. It wasn’t enough.
The storm tapered off just about the time the birds started chirping in the morning.
Even if we could have started a fire with all that wet wood, there was no point. I had forgotten the coffee.
We packed up silently, my caffeine-withdrawal headache mounting steadily in severity. We were damp, stinky, grubby, and hungry as we loaded the car. My brother, the Boy Scout, just laughed about our wet gear. “Didn’t you fold down the ends of your tarp?”
I had packed diapers and wipes and matches and food and jackets and beachtowels and marshmallows and band-aids and flashlights and sleeping bags and a coffee pot and a water bucket and a rustic cast-iron skillet and even hot dogs and brown beans, which all my kids hated…but we had no tarp. Apparently, the tarp was important.
My muddy kids stood in the dirt path of the campground that morning, jumping and singing songs and playing the Limbo with their cousins and a birch stick, laughing with joy. Let me repeat; they were playing with a stick, oblivious to any hardship. Instead of baths, they were going to swim in the lake before breakfast. They were having the time of their lives.
“Can we do this again next weekend, Mom!?” “Camping is great!”
I am tugged out of my memorable nightmare by the chirps of my current kids. This is the year 2016, those other kids are grown, and these younger kids are sick of marshmallows with candles at the kitchen table. They want their own adventure.
“So, can we go, Mom?” “Can we go camping?” “I’ve always wanted to go on an adventure!! Please?” “How about the Yukon? Can we camp in the Yukon?”
“Maybe a nice, safe State Park, Mom?” That one knows me well.
I am weakening…
Maybe it’s time to pack those Disney sleeping bags in the car after all, and try this camping thing again.
With just a small bonfire.
And a large plastic tarp. This time, I won’t forget the coffee.
This made me smile. Two tiny blossoms, picked by two small hands with grubby fingers. Together, we placed them in this Lego chalice. Art at its finest.
“You are the Mom,” he said. “Sing the lullaby,”
I looked blankly back at my Greek Language professor, not quite believing my ears. All the other students were staring.
“You sing,” he repeated. “We learn this song so you can sing to your baby. So sing!”
Could I say no?
Could I disappear under my too-small desk?
I didn’t mind singing with the class. I could fade in, unnoticed, with the bellowers around me. No one particularly cared that the pregnant one sang off-key.
I heaved myself from the chair.
“Sing for us!” the professor said again, completely ignoring my strife. “You got Greek baby, you sing Greek lullaby.”
My belly suddenly seemed to grow to enormous proportions, swirling with nausea underneath that small child. My cheeks burned.
But I stood, and I sang.
“Fisa ageri apolo to pedi kimise mou…” I carried the tune of Braham’s Lullaby awkwardly and fearfully, like one would carry a rooster in a paper bag.
Talk about self-conscious embarrassment.
I was a Mother, because I was eight months pregnant and ready to pop.
But I was not MOM yet.
Six weeks later, in a hospital room in the middle of the night, my self-consciousness would molt away while I yelled at a nurse “I don’t care if my plan says I want a natural birth with no medication! I’VE CHANGED MY MIND!” My world crashed down a rubbly landslide around me, in a rush of pain and agony. When I suddenly landed on the bottom of the cliff, on solid, silent ground, I stared into the bluest eyes and the reddest face of the most beautiful and delicate creature I had ever beheld.
She was screaming.
Nothing else mattered anymore.
I was Mom.
The metamorphosis brought me out of my personal cocoon, and turned me into something new.
The complete transformation caught me by surprise. I had thought I was all grown up already. I was twenty-eight years old, for crying out loud. I knew who I was, and what I liked.
I read Dickens, Dumas, Dante.
After my transformation into MOM, I bought a new book.
It was Go, Dog, Go.
I set aside my language studies, and perfected the most ridiculous baby talk. “You are such a Cutie Pie! Yes, you are! Are you a little honey bunch? Yes, you are!”
She smiled at me, that little cherub with the chubby cheeks. And I would somehow forget that she was the same chimp who had kept me awake for four hours the night before, colicky and crying.
Those first long weeks of being Mom, life hinged upon the 15 minute cycle of the wind-up baby swing and my willingness to sing. As the swing slowed to a stop, the child awakened and screamed, and like Pavlov’s dog, I frantically rewound the handle, singing another song to get 15 more minutes of sleep. Creak, creak, sway, sway…crank. crank. crank. “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…” I felt inept. Where were those studies when I needed them? Reports? Doctors’ notes? I had studied current academic thought on child psychology.
But no one had ever hinted to me how important it would be to sing. Except that Greek professor. He was on to something there. Perhaps Classical Greek widom.
It didn’t matter that I was unkempt with fatigue, my hair unbrushed, my entire chest wall cracked, chapped and bleeding from eternally nursing. My life had become a swamp of poopy diapers, spit-up-on burp cloths and hemorrhoids. To this child, I was beautiful. I was the goddess Athena, the opera diva Maria Callas, and Broadway star Idina Menzel wrapped into one big feeding machine. I could sing.
And my baby would look up into my eyes with her inquisitive little face, patting me on the chin. She’d pull a fistful of my hair, cling to me while she fell asleep and I could only remember that I loved her.
And I would sing with unashamed peace and joy.
I had become Mom.
As a parent of a child with special needs, I sometimes wonder what my kid’s days are really like when she is away from me. Not as recorded in an IEP or a 504 plan. Not filtered through someone else’s report. I want a chance to simply stand by and watch, undetected, as my child goes about her day.
I want to see what my child with Down Syndrome sees.
One day, I had that chance. Her school scheduled a field trip, which included a bus ride to the city, tours of an art museum and outdoor sculpture garden. I’m all for mainstreaming, but this was too big of a day to just let my daughter go and participate freely with the other kids. There were too many variables. So I signed up to be a chaperone. “Not just a regular chaperone, though,” I said. “I just want to be in the background to give Stella as much freedom as the other kids have. I’ll stand back and just be there if she needs me.”
Not a helicopter parent, just a safety net.
The day started off beautifully. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the crowd of eager 3rd graders lined up to be paired off for an art scavenger hunt in the sculpture garden.
Do you remember what 3rd grade is like?
Picture a pile of nine and ten year olds, waiting to be matched up in pairs. Shrieks of joy ring out when a friend’s name is called, smiles all around. I remember that. I also remember that sinking, third-grade-girl feeling of gloom when my name was not matched up with a good friend. This day, I stood on the edge of the crowd, watching the pony-tailed girls in the class skip off, smiling, hand in hand for the scavenger hunt. I held my breath, wishing that for my daughter.
But Stella was paired with a boy. Let’s call him Mark. I wondered how well Mark knew Stella, or if he was displeased. Let’s face it; above and beyond the whole boy/girl barrier, a scavenger hunt is a race, and Stella is prone to meander and mosey. Whoever Mark was, he would definitely not be coming in first place. What would his reaction be? I have to be honest. If I had been in his place, I know how I would have felt. Anticipation, excitement. My fingers would have been drumming and the butterflies racing. ‘Grab the clipboard and run! Others are ahead of you - work hard and win!’ would have been running through my mind. Competing was more important than curiosity in third grade.
But I am a grown up now. I am accustomed to slowing down and waiting. It’s not so bad. I watched, unnoticed in the background, as Mark organized a clipboard, a pen, and the worksheets for the scavenger hunt. Here we go.
Mark then turned to my quiet little girl with Down Syndrome and said, “Here, Stella. You’re really good at writing, so you start out as the note taker. We’ll take turns.”
“Okay,” she said, brightly smiling up at him.
Off they went. Other kids raced ahead, searching for sculptures. Mark walked slowly with Stella.
I followed them through the sculpture garden as they worked through the checklist, absolutely in awe of the way the two kids worked together. Mark was kind. He was happy. He was accommodating without any hint of impatience. He encouraged her to write what she was able, and didn’t erase or adjust any of the answers that she wrote down.
He was amazing.
Stella, of course, was every bit as wonderful. I might be a little bit biased. She amazes me every day with her compassion and gentle disposition.
Together, these two calm and curious kids strolled through the sculpture garden, experiencing art, taking it all in. At the end of an hour, they lingered at “Woodrow,” a great bronze horse sculpture that appears to be built from sticks and branches. I had been staying a few steps behind them with my official chaperone badge, quietly watching over them. But then Stella called to me.
“Mom! Mom! Come see!”
“It’s a beautiful horse, Dear,” I replied, walking up close to the kids.
“No. Not a horse. It’s a nest.” Stella said.
“Yes, it is built like a wooden nest, Honey. But it’s definitely a horse. See?” I showed her the nose, the eyes, the ears. “It’s a horse.”
Stella took my hand and shook her head.
“No. Come closer.”
Then she and Mark pointed out what they could see and I could not.
There really was a nest. A small bird had built a nesty home, deep within the heart of the Woodrow sculpture. Wisps of twine fluttered from between the great cold bronze sticks. The bird nestled there, warming her eggs. Two quick, shiny eyes stared back at me.
How could I have missed that? In keeping my distance, I thought I saw things for what they were. Proper perspective, you know. Powerful sculptures. But I wasn’t really seeing anything from that far away. My perspective was all wrong. I got down on my knees, next to the kids, and watched the bird’s feathers fluff in the wind. This bird within her nest was a perfect little miracle, hidden away in the thatch of tangled metal. We watched and wondered together, feeling the art come alive. The horse Woodrow could have whinnied, and it wouldn’t have surprised me. It was real.
The other kids from the class began gathering in the distance. The scavenger hunt was apparently over.
We were last, but we were the absolute, clear winners.
I want to always win the way that these children do. I want to meander through art and through life. I want to see what is inside. I want to take time to be curious, to look for the truth which is subtle and sometimes hidden away. I want to see with eyes that see kindness and compassion, not competition. I want to see what my daughter with Down Syndrome sees.
“Hey,” said Mark, hopping on one foot as we walked back toward the waiting buses. “Why did Stella call you Mom? Don’t you just work here?”
I had just spent an hour with this kid, watching his courtesy, his open-mindedness, his wonder and his patience. I saw his curiosity, his empathy, and his respect. He was nine years old, and he was an outstanding human being.
All that, and the little guy didn’t even know that I was her mother, watching over them.
That is just what I always hoped that I would see.
Here we go again, you might be thinking.
That’s all right, you can think it. Say it, even.
But it’s that time of year again, and the world is so exciting that I can’t NOT proclaim it!
And that means the Crowned Queen of All Flowers, the Rose, is back in business.
She has been through a lot this year though. Tough times. First all her veil of blooms withered and fluttered away on the September wind. Her leaves soon followed. She stood, bravely trying to maintain her dignity in October, exposed and naked. In November, I came after her with a pruning shears, and literally severed her tallest branches, discarding them into the woods. Finally the frost got her. Then snow, and ice…
She thought she was done for.
Dried up, dormant.
Then, without sound, without fanfare or trumpet blast, the majestic sun silently reached down and kissed the earth that she stood upon.
That is what she needed. With that warmth and love, and the soft rains of April, the Queen has awakened with new strength.
The excitement mounts. I can’t wait to see what she will do in June!
For as much as I love paint and words and creating messy things,
I despise record keeping and ledgers and the monotony of orderliness.
Calculating tax returns ranks right up there with the time I got a root canal.
The root canal was particularly memorable because not only did it hurt like heck, but while the perky, young, blonde endodontist with red manicured nails heartily shoved medical machinery, including a running drill and what might have been a catalytic converter into my mouth, she asked 'getting to know you' questions.
"Do you have kids?" her smile gleamed, sparkling with a million dollars of dental work. I was flat on my back, white-knuckled, having infected tooth pulp sucked out with a vacuum hose. I didn't feel much like small talk.
"Auhughmshix..." I attempted to smile, and held up six fingers.
"Ohmygosh! Imagine, six kids! How can you keep track! Ohmygosh if anyone asks you how many kids you have, you can just say half a dozen!!!!!" Her peals of laughter echoed loud enough for me to still hear today.
Needless to say, I did not reveal to this woman that I was five months pregnant with number seven. Better to let her imagine I swallowed a globe on my way in for the root canal.
Compared to Tax Day, which I have to endure every year, that root canal was nothing. Just a fleeting irritation.
But April 15 comes every year, with its infernal receipts and columns and calculations. I am not fond of April 15.
Today my son came home from school, dumped his math homework on the table and said, "Mom, is tomorrow April 15th?"
"Awesome! Will you make a cake to celebrate?"
"Are you nuts, Kid? Who celebrates Tax Day?"
"Mom!" he said, looking shocked with disbelief. "April 15th is Leonardo Da Vinci's birthday! How could you not know that? It's important!"
Well, who knew?
April 15 is special! I think I will go bake a gluten-free, sugar-free cake, after all.
Then we will really have something to smile about.
Mona Lisa (public domain), Leonardo Da Vinci
This is a burnt charcoal vine.
Good for nothing, you might think. It’s the end, it’s done for.
I need this. I actually went to a store and paid for it. This small burnt vine is just what I need to begin an oil painting.
I use it to cover a page of tissue paper with blackness. It’s a mess. There is charcoal and ash on both my hands, on my cheek where I scratched an itch, on the floor, and all over the tissue paper. Artists have worked the same way since the cave paintings of Lascaux. In a mess.
I shake away the extra dust and flip the charcoal covered sheet upside down onto my new canvas. Just a moment before, the canvas had been pure, white and clean. But I’m not worried about smudges. I place a traced outline of my initial sketch onto the tissue paper, and retrace my idea over the layers of tissue, and onto the canvas. Smudges are easily cleaned up.
What is left is a perfectly prepared canvas, with the image intact. Iconographers for centuries called this the “cartoon”. A simple charcoal line drawing, the beginning of greatness. With this humble beginning, they could paint windows to Heaven.
Some days my life feels just like a mess of charcoal and ash. But I’ll take that. I will embrace the ashes, let them cover me. I’ll hold on to the faith that God has a plan. He is the Artist, after all. He can take care of the smudges. And he can make something beautiful from a beginning of ashes.
Today I almost stepped in this puddle:
Just mud. When I look down, that's what I see. Always mud.
But then I stopped and got down on my knees, and really looked at the mud puddle....
And there was a little bit of Heaven, right in front of me.
Did you ever watch ice melt on a river?
As it recedes, sometimes you can discover crystals that have been hidden, compressed deep within the ice.
I feel like our problems and suffering are the same as this ice; they are just a heavy burden that we carry, they weigh us down and paralyze us for a time.
But when Spring comes round again, as it always does, sometimes we catch a glimpse of the great value of our troubles. Even the beauty of our burdens.
After all, the ice feeds the river.
Ice is a source of its strength.
"With Mary for your guide, you will never go astray; while invoking her, you will never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you will not be deceived; while she holds your hand, you will not fall; under her protection, you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you will not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you will reach the goal."
- St. Bernard of Clairvaux_, Doctor of the Church, 1090-1153
Early Sunday morning, before the crowds of kids woke up, I went for a walk. Before French toast and dirty dishes and washing kids' hair before church...before wardrobe checks to make sure no one still has their pajamas on under their coat (yes this has happened)...before checking fingernails for mud (Someone always manages to pass me by on this)... Before the frenzy of the day, I went for a walk.
And I found this.
In the Mud. Just frozen mud.
I like mud. It reminds me of clay and sculpting and big messes with creative children and I love that.
It also reminds me of mud puddle stomping in the half-frozen springtime with my friend Joy. We each had a tall pair of rubber boots, perfect for stomping through frigid, crystallized mud lakes down the hill from her house. But my boots had leaky zippers on the sides. So we shared our boots; each taking one waterproof boot, and pushing our stockinged feet into two long plastic bread bags, then into the leaky boots, then into an old five-gallon bucket. We'd wrap an arm around each other and three-legged race it through puddles and ponds, cold, splashing, wet, and gloriously happy.
We always fell.
Our moms never complained about the mess.
This Sunday morning, when I found these crystal jewels of frozen snowflakes in the mud, I smiled. It was just a muddy, dirt road. That's all. But that's life. We're all stuck in it together, muddy fingernails, leaky boots, and all. Glorious, messy life.
I hope you can find the crystal jewels of perfection in your muddy life today. And if you have leaky boots, I hope you have a friend with a five gallon bucket.
Yesterday, after supper, I flopped down in exhaustion. Right on the armchair like Raggedy Ann. It had been one heck of a day. Not that it was unique or anything. I am 49 years old, and I have a lot of kids. Exhaustion is my middle name.
“Mom!” a teenager comments, “I didn’t know you could sit like that!”
I was too tired to care. Yes, even old moms flop on chairs and put their feet up. Within seconds, I had dozed off.
“Michelle?” I hear a small voice. “Michelle?”
I open my eyes just a crack, and see Small One standing near me. She is holding a clipboard, and wearing glasses and her sister’s long, white, button-down sweater. This can only mean one thing.
“Michelle? Are you ready for your doctor’s appointment?”
It’s my fault. I could have been promoting her possible future career as a hair stylist or masseuse. If I had done that, maybe she would be standing by my chair, wanting to rub my feet. But no. This kid’s been told her whole life that if she wants to, she can be a doctor.
So she’s here to draw my blood.
With a pencil.
I smile wanly as she takes my arm and pushes up my sleeve.
“See, that didn’t hurt much!” she says, taping a bandage to the inside of my elbow. She begins to question me, writing notes furiously on her clipboard. She confers with her sister, who is playing the nurse. They whisper back and forth about my being tired and having sore feet. She examines the pencil, holding it up to the light and peering intently.
“O.K. The blood test results are in,” the little doctor says. “and I have great news:
I cannot get Robert Frost's poem out of my mind today.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
I did go miles. And miles. My feet were frozen, my hands numb. But the woods were silent as a whisper, soft flakes floated down from the silver sky. They settled on my camera lens, melted into blurry spots on each picture I took.
The snowstorm was breathtaking.
Yesterday, during a very foggy walk, I noticed a weed. I judged it to be nothing but a dried up old weed on the side of the road. It was not beautiful, it was not unique, it was not wanted by anyone. Just an old weed, that's all. Not even worth noticing.
But last night, God, in his mercy, decided that old weed was worthy. So when the misty fog of heaven came down, the old and the dead became transformed.
In fact, an entire field of weeds was transformed in the dark, crystallized in glorious perfection. Together, the weeds reflected the pure light of the sun. It was dazzling.
It doesn't matter what people might have said or thought or how they may have judged this weed yesterday. Because today, God's mercy extends to the lowliest.
And mercy triumphs over judgement.