Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Magic + Ocean

I am standing in front of the Atlantic Ocean, mesmerized by the push and pull of the waves. How do all of the molecules of water know their place? They gather in groups and increase and increase still more until they erupt in a blanket of bubbles and murmurs, teasing the toes of people walking by. It's the same pattern every five seconds. Push and pull, gather and erupt, mound and level. 

While the ocean is happily dancing, there is a greater force at work which is causing the ocean to be fuller, to rise higher for hours and hours until it needs to deflate. What an odd force. It's such magic, those great waters.

I miss the ocean. I miss the sound of the waves. They deafen me to my troubles. 

When I was twenty years old and navigating some greater questions of direction in life, I went to the ocean and sat for hours in her presence, watching her tides pull. I let her strength wash away all the unnecessary in my mind until I was left with the essence of why I was there. I didn't leave until she made me a child again: small, innocent, playful, simple. 

I brought so many questions to the ocean. Why am I so sensitive? Why do I love this man? Why am I so awkward? Why do I overthink things? It was here at the ocean where I shed my girlhood and accepted my adult self. I didn't pray to the ocean. I just left my worries there. The ocean is great and simple, cleansing and terrible. I wasn't the same person after meeting it. 

Today I am in an ocean of laundry, with equally rhythmic tides. Mondays the tide is high with four or five loads of clothing and towels and little girl socks strewn on the living room floor. The washing machine whirs all morning long, pulsing with soap and life and dirt. 

The dishes are the same, mounting high in the sink, then increasing more exactly when my children are home from school. The counters are layered with schoolwork and sticky peanut butter. 

I don't despise the constant chores, but I can't say they soothe me or make me childlike. They require a certain amount of effort. 

A responsible person goes grocery shopping and chops vegetables and minds the tides of running a household. 

A person who wants to be made new spends time being small, unnecessary, plain. She heeds the vastness of the ocean. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


It is Advent season in the church and I am walking into a room filled with my friends. We are all smiling. It is Christmas and there are pretty lights and rich decorations. Everyone loves Christmas. I love Christmas. And this year I love Christmas even more because I am wide with child. I can feel her kicking inside me. I'm large and I'm proud. I'm grateful. 

When people are uttering "Come, Lord Jesus," I am thinking, "Come, little baby." I am not thinking about anything except my baby. I don't even care what they're teaching today about God. I am too busy with happiness. I can't concentrate. Occasionally a tear rolls down my face, but it's the kind that is hot and fierce joy. A hymn suggests that baby Jesus "be born in us today" but all I can think about is how excited I am to give birth to this wild child inside me. Come, my baby.

I am a large, joyful pregnant woman and I will own it all.

My previous declarations of baby were more fragile due to an uncooperative womb. I would say the good news and watch my body swell, then deflate, swell and deflate. It was very confusing. Sometimes I felt like I was lying to people, which is an odd thing to think in retrospect. 

People became weary of my news and gave me some suggestions. 

It's hard to know which people are tender and strong enough to walk with you in hope knowing that there's a possibility of... you know. The thing we don't like to talk about.

December is tricky, too. There is a central figure being talked about and that figure is a baby. So if you have a baby crib on your mind, the feelings tend to be polar in nature, either very bad or very good.

Prior to this year, Advent songs were less delightful. All that baby talk. In church there was a felt banner which held an image of a baby and rendered me temporarily asthmatic. My lungs decided that there wasn't enough oxygen in the room. I was dizzy with grief and teasing.

I wonder if people who lost a loved one at Easter dislike the Easter story. All that talk about someone coming back from the dead. I imagine that to be very hard.

But now I am expecting at Christmastime and I will do anything to give birth to this child. Now I am in the hospital being induced, a week before Christmas. There is a full moon and an ice storm. And there is no room in the hospital. It's beginning to sound a little too familiar. At least I didn't have to ride there on a donkey.

The baby comes, a girl,  and I scoop her into my arms. The nurse asks to take her from me, gesturing that she wants to wash her and without breaking gaze of my new gift I say, "No. You can't have her." I'm fierce with protection now. I will fight this lady if necessary. Nothing can take this warm bundle from me. Come again, tomorrow, nurse. Maybe.

Now it is Christmas day and I have a six day old baby on my chest, sleeping, breathing. I am sitting on the couch, watching my 5 year old open her presents. It has been a long journey for us all. We are wrecked with joy. Hope seen. Arms full. Heart fuller.

Friday, October 6, 2017


I was reading the creation story this week, rewriting the story for a younger audience, marveling at the orderliness of it all. I realized in my efforts of doing this that a singular word kept popping off the page.

Let there be light.
Let there be land.
Let there be vegetation.

The command is so frugal, curt, forthright, and productive that all I can say in reply is: DANG. More like this, actually: DAAAANNNNNGGGGG.

I sat with the word for some time and marveled at the simplicity and power of it. How can someone talk into nothing and say "Let this happen" and their ideas perfectly mold into the shape made in their head? 

The clearest communication I have in my house is with my dog. When I say "Crate," she obediently walks to her crate every time. Seriously. That is the only power I have. It's pitiful how little power I have over my words.

I'm a little jealous at the ease of God's ability to create. In my design work, I noodle over a shape or color for long periods of time, often with mediocre results. It's just mesmerizing to think of creation with such ease. 

The word "Let" suggests that these things were already created somehow, that they were being held back until the one syllable was uttered. Can you imagine being the great Creator, holding back the hot, eager, pulsing sun, like a horse snorting and stomping at the starting gate of the Derby, smiling at its enthusiasm, telling it to wait until day four? 

That's the power of God. A single syllable and entire universes emerge, erupting and twirling, perfect and swirling, pulsing with life and planets and movement. 

My dance with words is far more complicated. I stutter over how many words to say, what volume, what choice. I question if I needed to say something with more softness or more cold, hard truth. Or maybe nothing at all. I never communicate perfectly. And to make matters more difficult, the receiver has their own set of problems in hearing what I say. 

It's such hard work, being a human on this side of Eden, the side where words are twisted or crescendoed or hardened more than they're supposed to be. 

Our hearts tell us that it was mean to be easier. We were meant for such ease. We long for it. 

For now I take my conversations, hard and soft, and I offer them back to the Genesis story, to the God who made goodness out of darkness. I say, "Let there be light again." 

And because he loves creating still, he says, "Yes. Let."

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Colliding with Jupiter

Eve is waking up and promptly hands me a paper. It describes the stars and the sky. She desperately wants people to know that the sky is not plain. It's not a big, dark abyss. She loves the sky and outer space. Thumbtacked to her ceiling are individual model planets, each in their proper place with a proper, scientific distance between them. Sometimes when I tuck her in bed at night, I flick her covers up in the air to straighten them and they hit the orbs above her, planets colliding playfully. She shouts, "Oh, no! Jupiter!" as if it was a person who she tenderly loved.

Eve tells me about the stars. She keeps talking in swirls and sentences that have no end. I hear bits of her story, aware that she will not be stopped until all the information has been released from her brain, the way a person feels when they recover from influenza.

She tells me that the North Star doesn't move but that all the other constellations do. While she is talking I realize that I am her North Star and she is a constellation, trying to avoid colliding as she navigates the dark, stories trailing behind her.

We are in a hotel and Eve is drawing a map of the room. We cannot leave the hotel room until she is done drawing the map. There is an earnest look on her face. We pack the car while she draws, until all her anxieties subside. It's a very accurate drawing.


We are in an airport. The place is thick with people. But Eve must touch the mosaic floor, so playful and bumpy and colorful. She lays on the floor and touches it and I stand over to protect her from the herd. 

The doctor smiles at me and tells me that Eve has autism. She tells me that a few years ago it would be considered Asperger's but now we're not allowed to say that anymore. It's an old term. She says this confidently. I trust her. But in my heart I want to call it Asperger's. It doesn't carry the weight of the word autism. It sounds lighter, almost fun.

Now I am wondering if a man I knew 20 years ago had autism and I'm thinking yes, yes he did. History is being rewritten in my mind. I don't see him as a man who is trying to be obnoxious. I see him as an autistic.

There is no perfect way to tell a story. No one has the perfect volume, the perfect words and pitch and tone. Some people will think that you don't have enough adjectives and others will find any emotion as being sensational. 

That's how I feel with telling our story of autism.

I'm not sure how loud to be or how soft to be. All I know is that autism has changed my life in the same way that divorce has changed my life. First, there are the broken waters, the tears, the wrestling with the way life should have been. It's loud and chaotic and expensive and life draining. And then, over time, things change. I walk differently. My brain fires neurons in a new way. I can't explain it. It's chemical. I wouldn't want it, I didn't choose it, but I've been changed, I think for the better. It's an awful kind of grace. 

Some days I feel strong and mighty. I read the books and I know the words about autism in order to feel strong.
But earlier this week my husband came home to a woman who uttered such desperation that I wondered if he might not want to come home again. I told him I would rather wash a hundred bathrooms than deal with this. Autism is hard. 

Sometimes I shake my fist, vainly.
At the chaos of it all.
At all the insurance hoops.
At the perky way teachers describe the way they'll work with Eve. Wink, wink.

And in my gentler moments, I see that I am an actress in the play of life, doing my part, saying my lines and that the story wouldn't be the same without all of us.

Yes, all of us.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

One of my daughters is poetry. She feels first, always. She is calligraphy. She is theater. She is emotions. She can take the simplest of ingredients and make it into something special. She can make the ordinary not ordinary. She is organic and kind and plays guitar. She bakes. She likes to give people gifts, especially when people are hurting.

One of my daughters is geometry. She loves math and angles and formulae. Give her dates. Give her numbers. Recently we went to a doctor's appointment where a key code was required for the bathroom. She remembered the code weeks later, all five digits. She knows movies verbatim. She sees the world as one big combination. She sees people the same.

One of my daughters is mercy, one is truth. 

One is adventure novels, one is maps.
One is the sun, one is the moon. 

These two creatures pull me into two different directions of love, enlarging me, making me a better version of myself. I wasn't as organized until I became a mother and saw the importance of health and schedules. I wasn't as fluid until I saw the flow necessary for my children to create, to know experience without time boundaries. To play with LEGO bricks for hours. To take pieces of cardboard and bring life to them. 

They need a mother who is an ocean, with kind boundaries and strong tides, respectable depths and playful shallows. Before they came into my life I was a pool, exactly five feet deep in all corners, clear, predictable. More perfect, maybe? But then I entered the world of motherhood. 

For years I was lost. I couldn't see the shore. Life was murky. 

Until I accepted the gift.

I let their laughter and curiosity and intelligence and grace enter my life. I laid down the mantle of "I am parent and I know best" and became, simply, their servant and their student. The only way I know to grow servants and students it to model it. 

Before then, I yelled at them and they returned the favor.

I barked. They barked.
I was turning them into very loud people.
And then there was a day when I reached deep inside and treated my children with respect and learned that they mirror what they see. I'm not perfect. They're not perfect. We try. Love is work. But love works. It's worth it.

My children are not my friends, not yet. They're not my enemies. They're in my care. I am their mother; not their equal, not their better and not lesser either. I have more say in their life than a friendship would warrant. It's unique work, motherhood. Any other relationship like this would be labeled as "inappropriate" or "codependent." One day I hope to be more of a friend to them. But I will always be their mother.

I worry a lot. I think that comes with the territory of motherhood. I'm working on not worrying so much. Many years ago my husband and I were marveling that we accidentally named our children versions of "Morning" and "Evening." And then we laughed because they were born in the morning and evening, respectively. For a moment it felt serendipitous and romantic. We were anchored in the thought that there was a bigger picture at hand, a larger story, something beyond our grasp. 

One of my daughters is poetry and one is geometry. Both are needed to build a home.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Shape of Now

I'm sitting in a medical office, reading a book of poetry. Maybe I'm not reading it. I've been on the same page for 15 minutes, rereading the same words until they take root. There is a television with hockey on it playing in the background. In the time that I am sitting, a woman is struggling to breathe. She is having a panic attack about the MRI she is about to undergo. The nurse calms her and they talk options.

A teen girl is weeping loudly, taking great gasps of breath and her mother is saying, "You have to do this. You have to do this. You have to get an MRI or else they won't know why you have the migraines."

I desperately want to encourage her, but I hold my tongue and incline towards prayer. Perhaps that is my purpose in this moment.

My husband comes out of his MRI and we leave.


Dan is struggling to sit up. He is laughing the kind of laugh which I associate with the midwest. It's the kind of half-laugh which says, "I'm hurting, but I'm not interested in talking about it." So we don't. I'm helping him putting his tshirt on over his head. He holds his head against me to steady himself. He hasn't showered or shaved in a while, which I know bothers him. He doesn't mention it. Instead he says, "This wasn't in our marriage vows, was it?" We both smile.


I go outside and realize suddenly that it is spring. It's an unsteady definition in Chicago. The first day of spring here it was hailing. But now there is a robin squatting on her nest, the sun is warm and everything is very green. My eyes are happy and so it my skin. It feels warm and hopeful outside.


My daughter was diagnosed with autism a month ago. I was grateful for the diagnosis. I rolled up my sleeves and began learning the terminology. The words felt important, some with as many as five syllables. Sometimes words with many syllables feel like they can take care of us. I felt strong and knowledgable which made me want to do things more quickly to "get it over with." But then I let the information wash over me in a more accepting way, seeing that some things I will not change and some things I will. I felt less powerful but more anchored.


A stranger with a dog outside hears me tell a neighbor that my husband has a herniated disc and asks if I have a doctor. Her eyes suggest that she has a lot of information. A lot of people have a lot of information. Even the doctors have information that doesn't agree. So I tell her, quite plainly, "We're good in the advice department." In my mind I tell myself that I will never offer advice to anyone else ever in my entire life. But I know that isn't true.


I am tucking Eve in bed at night. She tells me that Montana is the fourth biggest state. She has been studying a map on the floor. I smile at her mind.

She tells me that a boy in school farted and said "Excuse me." She thinks he is very brave for owning up to it. She thinks other people wouldn't do that. She admires him. Her thoughts are so special to me.


My thirteen year old is going to an orthodontics appointment today. It feels nice to go to a non emergency doctor appointment. 

My husband remarked this week that she is looking more like a woman than a girl. He's right. She's lovely. Perhaps most parents look at their children and think, "I didn't know this beauty could come from me." Which a form of grace that all parents need, that their work in not in vain.


I have two medical conditions in two members of my family which will require a lot of care on my part. I must be their advocate. That is the word you use if you are speaking up for someone else: Advocate. It's trendy and sounds better than the word "naggy."

I'm struck with how tired I am. It's more a fact than asking for pity. How curious, I think, that I am so tired. I must be practical: How can I care for myself so I don't burn out? I remember that my modus operandi isn't working:
Typically I buy a lot of office supplies to help me feel organized.
I lay out some half-hearted prayers.
And then I become overly responsible and think condescending thoughts on anyone who is not responsible. 

I decide that something needs to change. I want to ask Jesus how useful he is. He is telling me that he is very useful. I ask him to provide a plumber and he does. And now I am asking for an electrician to show up. I am saying that I'm not interested in being shiny or rested or skinny or organized or anything that gets good grades. I want my eyes to stop stinging. I want a shower. And I just want to rest in the knowing that I don't have to play God. I can just be Emily. 

I sit in the unknown and wait.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

New York in Little Tiny Stories

I made a few friends this week in New York. In truth, I'll probably never see them again, but we connected a little and exchanged stories about our lives and to me that constitutes the beginning of a friendship. So, friends.


I met a taxi driver who was from Morocco. He asked me if I knew where Morocco was and I said I wasn't sure. This was very interesting timing because I bought a map of the world to learn all the countries. I was a little fuzzy brained from my plane ride and kept thinking he was saying "Monoco" but his accent was throwing me off. He was instantly not happy with my ignorance and I began to think that maybe I'd like to get out of the taxi, particularly when he told me about his country. The only information I know about Morocco is from a taxi driver and this driver said, "We have a king. Technically we're a democracy but we don't act like a democracy. The king has a say. When the king saw everything going on with Egypt and Syria and Iraq he said, 'You can say whatever you want, but you can't talk bad about me.' So we don't talk bad about him."
That's a democracy? He laughed. Technically, yes.


I sat next to a middle aged man at dinner. Dan was on my left and this man was on my right. He was very enthusiastic and engaging. I was trying to not think about the fact that if I were home I would be getting in my jammies getting ready for bed and not sitting here. Dinner at eight. As the night went on we shared more and more stories. And then he shared that he loved living in the city, that living in the country sounds so romantic and pastoral but who would really want to live there? I could see his point. He was a world traveler and very versed in culture. In my mind I thought this: You don't live in the country with anything to prove. There's no one to impress. You live in the country because you love nature and land and don't mind silence. You live there because you already have a strong core. I know this because I have Dan and because I have Dan I have Iowa which has introduced me to some of the most humble, smart and down-to-earth humans I have ever met. It's like they actually shun fame.

So what I said was this: "I think that if you live in the country, you have to know why you're there."


I was standing in the Guggenheim feeling very giddy. Here was a place I had only seen in pictures. The best way I can describe the overall feeling of walking through the Guggenheim is this: Draw a spring. The end.

Walking the Guggenheim was a very fluid experience. There aren't really "levels," it's more like one big ramp, though they do have a few offshoots which provide a level surface on which to see their collections. I'm pretty traditional, so I prefer the Cezannes and Kandinskys. I think everyone has their snobby side when it comes to art. If it doesn't interest me on any level, I'm not going to stand in front of a piece and try to glean something from it. I'm not there to impress anyone by my attention span. I choose about ten pieces to really enjoy and I let them speak to me. I ask questions like, "What do the colors reveal? Why is this important to the time period in which it was created?" And mostly I come away with this about the great artists: They told a good story, listened to their gut and worked very, very hard.

There was a couple walking in the Guggenheim who immediately caught my attention. They were art students, they had to be. She was wearing overalls and a red knit cap. He was wearing loose clothes and dreads tied into a bun. They were the models for the label "New York Art Student." Every few feet they would stand in front of an Agnes Martin and start making out or showing some sort of public display of affection. I began to think that maybe they were part of the exhibit. You never know with New York. They looked happy.

Later I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art which looked like it ate other museums for breakfast. It was the largest art museum I have ever seen. After buying my ticket, I asked where the restroom was and they told me to head to Egypt. This sounds kind of comical until I entered the broad entryway for Egyptian art and saw a portion of a pyramid. A real, honest-to-goodness pyramid. Inside a museum. This is definitely not something I see every day.

Painting by Esteban Vicente, "Number One," 1951

I realized very quickly that the two hours I allotted for The Met were going to need to be time budgeted. I had two goals: See the Cezannes/Kandinskys and check out the Japanese art. I didn't know how much of an art snob I was until I found the Post-Impressionist hall which is always near the Monets. As a whole I avoid the Monets because (don't hate me) I really don't like to hear all the people around me pontificating and worshipping his work. He's fantastic, I know. I just have issues. Probably because people got mesmerized by his use of color and slapped it on every surface imaginable to man until all his hard work became something ordinary. I know, I have issues. I said that. Forgive me. I should just bring noise canceling headphones to art galleries.


Eventually I saw Rockefeller Center. It was just as beautiful and Christmasy as I imagined. And it was also twice as crowded. So I saw it, marveled, and left.


Dan and I sat in a thai restaurant with very good reviews. The hostess sat us at a table that was so tight she had to slide the table out first so I could be seated. I was twelve inches away from people on my left and on my right. Both parties appeared to be in full swing. I don't think I could have even ordered dinner, it was that loud. But then, to my delight, I remembered I was in New York where they're known for speaking their mind. I pushed the table away from me. I told the hostess, "Hi! I have a hearing problem. I can't sit there. What do you have that's quieter?" And with that, she took me to the back room where Dan and I could hear each other.

We were ready to order Pad Thai but it was not on the menu. Our server came. She was young and had a nose ring. I told her, "We're kind of traditional when it comes to thai food." I might have mentioned the Pad Thai. I noticed that she was ready for my response. Something about "authentic thai food" or "fusion." I'm not sure. All I heard was, "We don't have that."

I looked at Dan. "Well, we're in a new place. Let's try something new." We scanned the menu and realized we didn't want to eat crispy pork brains. We found the most conservative thing we could. Crab with rice. It wasn't the best thing I ever ate, but the cocktail I ordered told me it was okay, that I was with good company and that mattered more. And that was entirely true.


I think some people go to New York with the idea that they will find a part of themselves that was previously lost. I didn't go there for that. As a rule, I try not to go places and expect more than what is humanly possible. Things there were beautiful, big and loud. They do a good job of welcoming many people from many places. They also do a good job of preserving culture. I'd love to go back again.

On our trip home I told Dan this: "Well, I think I'm from Chicago. That feels like home to me." And he laughed, saying, "I don't think you've ever accepted Chicago as your home." Which is true. I often make fun of how midwesterners are known for kindness but sweep a lot of things under the rug. But if that's all I can come up with to ridicule, that's a pretty small insult. I've lived in the 'burbs of DC, Baltimore and Jersey and there's much more fodder for insults. I'm accepting Chicago as my home now.

But I digress. Thank you, New York. For your many sights. For your broad doors and warm welcome mats. You were delightful. Until we meet again,