Faith, Family, & Focaccia

A faith and culture Mommy blog, because real life gets all mixed together like that.

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Relative Gratitude?

[warning – do not plan to enjoy thanksgiving leftovers while reading this post. It involves plumbing problems…]

The last few days have not delivered the Thanksgiving break I was planning on.

I suppose I had some warning. This past Sunday, when a load of laundry flooded the basement due to a blockage in the pipes, it was a foreshadowing of the dangers of home ownership. But an evening visit from the Joe the plumber (his real name), and a few hundred dollars later, it was supposed to be fixed.

Three days later Joe was back. More laundry. More water all over the basement. He diagnosed a blockage in the septic tank. That would be a few hundred more dollars, and we couldn’t get anyone out until Friday, but it was still a manageable crisis. It seemed that only large amounts of water were a problem. We could still wash dishes, flush the toilet, even shower. We could make it a few days without doing laundry.

And I really needed that to be the solution because I  didn’t have time for any more significant disruption of the household routine. Work has been so overwhelming lately that I regularly have to fight back panic tears if I let myself think past just the next urgent task. And then…Thanksgiving.

I love Thanksgiving. I discovered fresh turkeys and focaccia stuffing when we lived in Italy, and I am now embarrassingly proud of my Thanksgiving spread. I wasn’t cooking for a crowd this year – just my own little family and a dear friend from church – but still. It’s Thanksgiving, and that means The Works.

And I was already facing one challenge to this plan: a pesky little degenerated disk in my fifth lumbar region. It has been acting up off and on over the past few months. In recent days even the minimal exertion of 5-10 minutes standing on the hard tile floor in the kitchen prepping the kids’ school lunches leaves me with lower back spasms that take my breath away and make the task of holding back those stress tears a whole lot harder.

But…Thanksgiving.

I defy anyone to successfully prepare a full turkey dinner without spending significant time on their feet. So, I bought a second gel-cushioned kitchen mat, said a few prayers, and started basting.

A couple hours in I could tell I was going to be hurting pretty badly by the time we sat down to eat – but that wasn’t the worst part of the day. That came when Princess Imagination yelled up from the basement. “Mommy! You need to get down here right now, there’s a big problem!”

I hobbled down as fast as my gimpy back would allow. This time the backflow was from Tyler’s shower. Ugh! I guess this problem is bigger than we thought. At least the septic people are coming tomorrow. Tyler might have to rinse the conditioner out of his hair with the garden hose (thank God for the unseasonably warm weather), but the septic flush would fix everything.

Looking back, I’m glad we were still under that delusion during our Thanksgiving celebration. We had a lovely meal with our friend, and we even washed up all the dishes – cautiously –  without catastrophe. My back was definitely hurting, but I hoped that a good night’s sleep with good supportive pillows in strategic places would do the trick.

Then came Friday. I woke up to intense pain. And by pain, I mean that it felt like a metal clamp was slowly tightening on my lowest vertebra.  Even sitting completely immobile hurt. But try telling that to two enthusiastic little bundles of love hopped up on no-school-holiday-weekend-time-to-decorate-for-Christmas excitement. The fifth or sixth time one of them jumped on me in an overflow of glee there were more than a few angry words.

And then the septic company came, flushed the system, and concluded that “No. There was no blockage in the tank. Your problem is in the pipes.”

Re-enter Joe the Plumber (I swear that really is his name). Some trained listening, some experimenting, and we had a third diagnosis. Somewhere between the exit from the house and the septic tank, the pipe was compromised. As in – it will cost $3,000 to replace it.

But not until Saturday. It was a full-day job and it was after 3:00 in the afternoon.

I was very aware that it was after 3:00 in the afternoon, because I hadn’t used the bathroom since the night before. We were in a strictly no-flush situation and our two little ones needed the full remaining toilet capacity.

Now, in the long-term the $3,000 is going to hurt a lot more. But in the moment, my bladder was competing with my lower back for which could crack my pain threshold first. Which meant that I needed to venture out to find a public bathroom…on Black Friday…with a spasming back…not having showered since Wednesday morning.

As I tottered to the car, I was not in the most thankful mood.

Then I turned on the car, and NPR was on the radio with a story about Syrian refugees.

Perspective.

I was suddenly aware of the relative irrelevance of the hardships of my week. But more, I was suddenly also aware of just how hellish life is for the millions of people living for months on end without modern plumbing.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees there are more than 4 million Syrians registered as refugees in Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and North Africa – 4 million mothers, fathers, aunts, children – most are in refugee camps.

I have been hearing these numbers for months, and the numbers are overwhelming, but also a bit emotionally deadening. My mind and heart can’t grapple with the concept of so many people fleeing for their lives. The pain of that imagined fear is too much. I can’t simultaneously think of them a people with the same kinds of physical needs that I take for granted being met everyday.

Until just a few are not met. Until my dishes pile up in the sink because I can’t put any water down the drain. Until I have to plan my bathroom breaks around trips out of the house. Until I am conscious of the grease in my hair walking into a coffee shop to buy an over-priced latte as an excuse to use the facilities.

Then I am aware just how quickly we humans can feel dehumanized by the loss of running water. Just water. I still have heat, and shelter, and a freezer stocked with ice packs for my aching back, and every other comfort money can buy. All I lost was water for a few days, and I feel just a bit subhuman. A day that I have been looking forward to – the decorate for Christmas day that was supposed to be a special togetherness time for my family – was marred by stress, and snapishness, and impatience. A little physical pain, and a disruption of our domestic conveniences, and the spirit of patience, love, and joy that is supposed to characterize this season was palpably missing from our house.

Just one, temporary thing can make such a difference.

And more than 4 million people have lost everything. Perhaps permanently.

The moral of this story is supposed to be how I have been reminded to be thankful for all that I have, but honestly that feels rather shallow. If all I learn from the devastation visited on 4 million of my brothers and sisters is to be more grateful for the incredible bounty in my life, then I am a callous and self-centered beast.

Their suffering is not about me. It is about them. I don’t know what I can do about it, and that is a heart pain that weighs heavily on me. But I do know one thing.

I know I can think of them as fully human. I can recognize that the relative safety of a refugee camp is not a solution to their problem. I can reject any narrative that says I shouldn’t care. And I can keep caring until every man, woman, and child has a home again. A real home, with running water.

 

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Moonlit prayers

 

Her open, glowing face pulls on my soul, insistent as the tide, compelling

honesty. A truth that whispers safely in the darkness of the night.

This light’s illumination is the gentle kind that blurs the lines and shadows,

beauty, in the ambiguities. A soft exhale of grace.

Thank you sweet Creator God, for moonlit prayers.


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Waiting For An Earthquake

Like a fault-scarred landscape,

I’m braced against the tremor that foreshadows instability.

It matters not who made the scars.

not who is to blame.

It matters only that the shaking could –

whenever that inevitable lurch arrives –

take hold.

And then, oh then I fear the shaking will not stop until it’s broken all the fragile structures I have built upon the surface,

ways to hide the scars.

And if these decorative lies should crumble into dust,

what then?

What is my silent fear beyond the quake?

From that dark chasm deep within what do I fear?

From out the depths, do I believe will come some molten pain that could deform me even more?

Or

Is there life?

A spring of living water that – like Balm of Gilead – will soothe my soul and wash the faults away in blessed baptism of grace?

Because

if such a spring is there

won’t it be worth the shuddering wrench

to set it free?


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As hard as it should ever be

A few nights ago the Gigglemonster was having a rough time with the whole sleeping-when-the-lights-are-off thing. I can’t really blame him. He was dealing with a perfect storm of sleep-impairing factors:

  • first day of Kindergarten anxiety
  • nightmares
  • growing pains (I remember them from the teen years – they made me cry)
  • the knowledge that our house was missing that necessary element: Daddy (gone on a business trip)

Given all that, my little not-quite-six year old just couldn’t seem to settle, or stay asleep once he did. I was called into his room again and again, a call made difficult by Mommy’s own sleep-impairing reality of a looming deadline on a major grant application. Needless to say, it was a hard night for both of us.

At around 2:00am, when I had finally shut down my computer and dragged myself to bed only to be wakened by child cries, we were curled together on his bed as I tried to soothe him. He was beyond exhausted, but that made it all the harder to calm down and fall back to sleep. His legs hurt, and he was overwrought, and he just couldn’t take it anymore.

With his sweet little faced scrunched up against the ALL of it, he half-cried his hopeless protest.

“I’m just having a really HARD night, Mommy.”

As I cuddled him closer and told him I understood, I knew that this was true.

I also knew that there were so many little ones that night whose “hard” was unimaginably worse than the “hard” my little boy was fighting. The image of little Aylan Kurdi, and the knowledge of all the millions fleeing the terror that ultimately took his life, has been draining my soul all week. Lying on a soft bed, in a safe house, with all our physical needs met and no fear that they will ever be threatened, I was rocked by the recognition that even here “hard” can be too much. Hard can overwhelm, and leave a loving mother feeling helpless to give my child what he needs and desperately asks me for.

What must it be for a mother to not be able to even give her child safety? What must it be to not even have a bed in which to cuddle your terrified son? 

Reflecting on these contrast I felt grateful for all that we have, but more I was devastated for those who don’t have safety. Comparisons like this can too easily become a sanctimonious sermon about looking at what one has instead of what one lacks, but that take feels very selfish to me. Feeling grateful for what I have is wholly and utterly inadequate when facing the refugee crisis. The comparison that struck me while I comforted my son wasn’t about me. It was about all those who can’t comfort their children because the “hard” they are dealing with is just too hard.

For a five year old, missing his Daddy, and dealing with the first day of school, and waking up with nightmares and growing pains… all that is genuinely hard. And it’s as hard as it should ever be for little boys and girls. As hard as it should ever be. 

If you haven’t done so yet, please join me in doing what you can to help. Links for a few reputable organizations providing direct aid to the crisis are below. It’s can’t fix everything, but it will help parents who don’t have what they need to comfort there children tonight.

World Relief Disaster Response

Lutheran World Relief 

World Vision Syria Crisis Appeal

Ox Fam is also working to generate support for refugee resettlement. You can join that effort here


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Suicide Prevention Reflection

I don’t know if it is a sign of my healing, or of my current stress level, that World Suicide Prevention Day passed almost without a second thought today (or – technically – yesterday). Given the way that my father’s suicide when I was not quite grown has shaped my life, that relative inconsequence certainly means something.

Since I am still up, however, I don’t want to let the day pass without any notice, and so I am re-posting the piece I wrote shortly after the world lost the tortured light that was Robin Williams.

Suicide is complicated. It is wonderful to have a day of awareness, but Facebook memes and one-day attention efforts are not enough. When we talk about suicide, we need to really talk.

So this is my contribution to the conversation:

Absolutes and Vulnerability


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Sky Knowing

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The sky was painted for my soul tonight.

The sweeping strokes of color draw me up

away from gravity of daily life,

and draw from me a sigh too deep for words,

too real to be confined to lines of frozen verse.

But I must try,

must let my spirit’s lover know that I have read his message

writ across this little part of heaven –

the only part that I can see, for now.

It’s hard to wait,

with leaden feet that trap me here upon this broken earth

It’s hard to see only a little piece of heaven

when I’m longing for that sweet fulfillment when I’ll see it all

and know that all is well

not just for me, but truly ALL.

But until then,

I have this sky

And in this sky,

In this soft, momentary gift of light

I know the soul of God.


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Balance

They tell me I’m supposed to find a balance:

between work and play

between rest and responsibility

between activity and contemplation

between care for others and restorative care of self.

And

sometimes all this balancing just feels like one more task I must perfect.

Or else,

all the delicately balanced weights will all come crashing down.

But perhaps

the goal is not the static stillness of a balanced scale.

Perhaps the object I must balance on is actually a swing,

and my task is to kick out my legs,

and enjoy the ride.

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