Friday, October 6, 2017

Let


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. 

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.
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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.

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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. 
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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,
Emily

Thursday, September 1, 2016

New Life




There's nothing left in me today.

In the past, this statement used to frighten me, cause me to do the opposite of retreating. I would rage against the fear and start buying ... do I dare share? Office supplies. Shaking head... Office supplies. As if Post-it notes and pens will erase my ache.

My husband is launching a huge website. He wakes even earlier than his usual 4am time. He is working so very hard.

While he is working he hears that a coworker has died, one of the people on his team. It's so devastating, her desk still sitting there, without her. He works on the website throughout the day, managing vendors and groups and expectations while comforting those who are mourning. It's a stretch day.

There are some new hurdles on the horizon with regard to parenting. I don't understand them all, but I can sense that I need to gear up. I have some friends who have walked this road and I'm writing them all, asking for direction. Today was so exhausting that my family napped most of the afternoon away from all the emotional output. We all collided into one another.

When I awoke, I was still weary. There is such bigness to parenting.

I had a little sliver of time which I was holding to too tightly, hoping to do a little creative work. But parenting comes first and it came hard today, so I let it go very, very reluctantly.

I'm empty. Emily is all gone. There's just a shell of me and that shell remembers that the story that directs my life is this: Death ushers in resurrection. That's what the Jesus story is all about. You reach the last drop of hope and strength and shininess. You don't have the strength to even wear the mask. You come with all your stink and say, "What a charade. I have no life in me, save for you, God."

But I'm not in despair. You know how you read a story that's very sad up until the end where the bad guy gets what's coming to him? Even during the sad parts you have a glimmer of hope because you've read this before. You even have your fingers holding the page where things turn out for good. That's what it's like to walk in the yuck.

And then you wait. You wait for the resurrection.

Sometimes it comes in the form of rest. Or a piece of encouragement. Sometimes it's a line in a book or just a realization that the trees outside are still green.

But I know this: It's not wishful thinking. It's not a positive outlook. It's not a cheery disposition. It's real, honest-to-goodness resurrection. It involves me staying right here, right in the midst of all the death and sadness, feeling the weight of it all. Feeling the "wait" of it all. And then, with no effort of my own, God shows up. No fancy prayers. No high cathedrals. Just me, no makeup, summer frizzy-haired, grumpy, exhausted, calling out to God imperfectly.

When I've been working so hard that I don't have time to get my hair done, I pray that my busy stylist has time to cut my hair... and she does. That's God.

When a sticky situation means that a gathering will be really awkward unless God shows up, I definitely offer him an invitation. And he comes.

When my husband and I are serving and being ultra responsible and have no time for sex, I pray about that, too. Ain't no shame. And since this is rated G, I'll just say that God answers prayer.

Design projects.
Block parties.
Hurt feelings.
Financial questions.
Boredom.
Loneliness.
Websites.

I have a list a mile long of all the places I've invited God's resurrection. And today is no different. He makes everything beautiful in its time.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Yes & No



Yes to the first boyfriend, the narcissistic one, who taught me that I need to stand on my own two feet.

Yes to the big family I grew up in. The loud one. You taught me to love deeply and speak quickly before I was interrupted. You taught me to share.

Yes to the healing that came after my parents' divorce.
No to divorce.
Yes to moving on.

Yes to eighth grade, to too much makeup, to Bon Jovi singing "Livin' on a Prayer." Sorry to my parents for the eye rolling. No to the bullies.

Yes to traveling to Russia and Jamaica and Italy.

Yes to learning how to budget.
Yes to being frugal. No to being cheap.

No to saying, "We can't do that because it has never been done that way."

Yes to embracing your age and wearing it well.

No to only talking about one's self and never asking others about their life.

Yes to older people who are inspiring and haven't checked out of life.

Yes to people who are inclusive.
No to people who are only inclusive because they want to change you into versions of themselves.

Yes to Dan when he asked me out for pizza in college. Sorry I said no the first time. I was scared.

Yes to reading tremendous authors in art and thought and literature. Yes to Elizabeth Gilbert and Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Dallas Willard. Yes to Calvin & Hobbes and Bloom County. More yeses.

Yes to accepting one's self. The mind, the body, the emotions.

Yes to trying new things. Always try new things.

No to telling one's self that you can't do something because of age.
No to telling one's self that you're not... artistic, athletic, intelligent.
Yes to trying.

Yes to deciding who gets a voice in your life.

Yes to friends of all ages and walks of life.

Yes to true grace, the only source of which is God.

No to people pleasing. A thousand nos.

Yes to forgiveness. True forgiveness. It ushers in new respect for self and others.

Yes to learning new words and cultures and people and phrases and foods.

Yes to parties.
No to waiting to have parties until your house is perfect. Or your body. Or your bank account.

No to victim talk. But yes to grieving and wrestling through and receiving healing.

Yes to accepting the gray in life. Compromise is necessary in all relationships.

Yes to boundaries, but only ones done in grace.
No to raw pride. It has no room for others.

Yes to cake made with 2 sticks of butter.
Yes to arugula salad.

No to gossip. It destroys one's trust and reputation.

Yes to speaking the truth in love, even when it hurts.
No to not speaking up. No to ignoring someone in hospice because you are afraid of death. No to "waiting for the funeral" to say something nice.
Yes to speaking life.

Yes to listening to your emotions.
No to letting your emotions go unbridled.

Yes to big picture thinking. No to slapping on blinders.

Yes to planting trees.

Yes to spending money on vacations.

No to "not mentioning" lost pregnancies.

Yes to purging things out of your home which you don't need.

Yes to marriage. Yes to speaking kindness to the ones under your own roof.

Yes to admitting when you're wrong. Yes to having grace on yourself when you feel awful.

Yes to traditions. No to rigid ones which don't let others have any voice.

No to constant negativity. Yes to using disgust to springboard you into redemptive action.

No to blaming management all the time. Yes to rolling up your sleeves and asking how you can help.

Yes to servant leadership.