Bittersweet without a bow

I have about 20 minutes to write before I have to rush through my shower and see Kel out the door.  After that I should probably wage war on the 5 overflowing baskets of clean laundry that are invading my home.  Also we are out of bananas which is a recipe for disaster, all this to say that I have my work cut out for me.

Can we all agree how much we want to hug her?

Moving on, unless you live in a cave, you know that the Olympics are happening right now in London.  Last night’s women’s all around qualifying was brutal for the USA and most especially for Jordyn Wieber, the world champion who was favored won’t be going on to compete because of dumb rules.

My heart broke for her as I watched the floor routine and nervously turned yarn into a scarf.  It was the end of a long day here at the Casa and as I watched her tearful interview my mind overflowed with this question:  “How can you put so much effort into something and still feel like you’re failing?”

I feel like my life is an endless dance with impressive flips and flourishes, like I practice and wake every morning determined to see the joy, respond with patience and put other’s needs and wants before my own.

With all my gusto how is it possible that I’m spiritually disconnected, exhausted, lonely and in the middle of a string of fights with Kel?

Where’s the payoff for the effort?  WTH God?

Now’s the part of the post where I try to put a little bow on a hard question and tell you what I’m learning but yeah, I don’t have that today.

I can say for sure is that we’re fools not to expect bittersweet lives.  The hard, hot, dry times will come to everyone and we are strengthened by how we respond to them.  As for me I want the heat to purify, to transform me into someone braver and more gracious.

May I never forget the hard times, the bitter moments, and I may I never fail to extend grace others who find themselves here.

It helps to throw away the notion that no one else is living on a rainbow cloud.  Every marriage has hard times, every mom struggles through the preschool years, and 96% of the world struggles to get laundry put in it’s actual place.

Even the spiritual giants we look to? They go through seasons of prodigal wandering across cracked and dry deserts.

As the lovely Shauna Niqeuist taught me in her aptly named book Bittersweet, Life has to be both the bitter and the sweet.  We are strengthened and humbled in the bitter seasons and the sweet seasons taste so lovely because we have a broad palette of bitter to reference them against.

No bows here today, just life.

Are you feeling a little dry?  Any advice?  Want to pray together, gripe together, grow together?

Yeah, me too.

Also if you’re reading this Jordyn, your grace in the gym and on the camera makes you the farthest thing from a failure that has ever existed.

Mama Chicken is Saving my Life Right now

she gathers…

Today I am participating in Sarah Bessey’s Sychroblog, because she’s asking a desperately needed Question.  If you don’t read her blog, please do, it’s quenching and beautiful.

What’s Saving Your Life Right Now?

My daughter Noelle is going through a perfectly lovely pretend phase.  She is always a baby animal and I’m the mama.  Tonight I was mama chicken and earlier this afternoon I was mama bird.

This week alone I’ve been mama piglet, mama puppy and mama kitty, but mostly mama chicken.

She calls for me “MAMA CHICKEN?!?” When she doesn’t want to stay in bed and when she needs me to wipe her on the toilet.  I makes me smirk every time, mama chicken, really?

As Noelle runs around like a baby chick, my son learns the word “NO!” and he uses it, again and again and again.  When I try to gather him up to kiss his baby skin he squirms and screams “NO!”  When I offer him his favorite food he throws it against the wall, “NO!” “NO!” “NO!”

When I try to change his diapers the squirming “NO!” chorus continues and I glance at the clock wondering how I am going to manage to entertain them for another 7 hours by myself with nowhere to go.  Can it really only be 9:42?  What the junk is wrong with our clock!?!?

And then Noelle runs in with her pink cape!  “Mama Chicken!  The baby chicken needs you to help build her nest!”  

Suddenly I breathe deep in spite of the summer dryness and I become the mama chicken, strutting proud with yellow feathers.  I chase after her and lift them both up into our bed as we gather the pillows into a circle and settle in the coolness of the ceiling fan.  As my children still for a few moments I  read about Toot and Puddle and Curious George.

This is the same bed that’s been bringing the nightmares lately.  The ones where they fall and drown and run in front of cars.

God how I want to be the mama chicken and gather them under me tightly forever.  How often I pray with words not fully formed that God will give me some sort of guarantee that they’ll live strong and free and decades longer than I do.

All us mama chickens want that don’t we?  But it’s not going to come, this absolution, no matter how we beg, and I beg…

So, in the midst of the summer heat and the nightmares this cool nest of pillows is saving my life.  This reminder that this nesting time isn’t forever and that time isn’t a guarantee.  Mama chicken and her chicks won’t gather skin to skin for too much longer, baby birds always fly the coop eventually, and they’re supposed to, and I want that, truly.

They will fly and my nest will finally be quiet, too quiet.  I know all the older hens tell us constantly to cherish it but it’s not as easy as words.  The poop seems endless, both realistically and figuratively.  There is peanut butter on my walls and crayon on the back of the couch, they take turns getting up every few hours, I’m so tired.

Yet, this nest imagery, the constant reminder that this house which often feels like a trap is a truly soft place to roost.  The vivid imagery that these tired arms are the wings that today can gather them tight and close.

I am the Mama Chicken, and so we will read another book and do the chicken dance and this nest, this pretending this peace with the no guarantees is saving my life.

Daily Bread, Raining Manna

Give us this day our daily bread.

For a long time it was something I recited as a child because they taught me to.

At some point I realized that it was about asking God for food, something I wasn’t lacking in my blessed, middle class, American life.

As I grew in faith and maturity I became aware that even though I never lacked food, that my world was full of people who were starving to death.  When my friends flew and returned from Africa and Honduras with stories of streets full of hungry children it became more real, this prayer for bread.

Sometimes I wander into my stocked pantry with exotic jars of dates and 4 different kinds of rice and wonder “where do I get off, God?  Why me?”  I have daily bread to spare and it leaves me in a mixed place of thankfulness and fat guilt.

The Hebrew teachers describe scripture as a book full of jewels with many facets.  Each passage and verse filled with layers of meaning, taking us ever deeper.

Lately, Jesus’ prayer for Daily bread has gone beyond food for the stomach and has spoken to the food needed to sustain my hungry soul.

Summer life can be dry for me, leaving me hungry for quiet moments and routine, desperate for sustained rhythm.  Caedmon is going through his “no” phase and Noelle is so resistant against potty training it’s ridiculous.  There are moments I want to cry, or scream, mostly both.  Sometimes this supposedly blissful mom life makes me want to run out the front door like my hair’s on fire.

Lately, when the ends of my hair start to spark and threaten to burn, God’s been showing me my daily bread.  I stand in the kitchen, face down on the cold countertop when suddenly Caedmon peeks around the corner and yells “a-peek-boo!”

That moment is a bit of my daily bread.

Noelle is beautiful and creative and bless her heart she doesn’t stop talking from sun up to sun down.  There are moments that I long for quiet as she peppers me with questions about what skunks like to eat.  Then she starts playing baby bird with me and asks if we can go to her nest (our bed) and read books together.

Suddenly her tweets as she circles pillows are daily bread.

For too long I thought manna was something that only fell in the desert ages ago, then I realize that it’s raining manna in my home.

Even though life is somewhat hot and dry, I am sustained by a portion beyond measure.

Around the world there are millions with hungry stomachs and billions with hungry, lonely souls.  My heart is burdened with the hungry all wondering if they will be seen, loved, fed.

Can I lift up an entire world that you’re already holding in your hands?  May heavy manna find its way to their tongues, their heart feeling full of your sweet sustenance and love.

As for me God, I dare not ask for more.

How about you?  What manna has hit your tongue this week?

Can you see daily bread, even in your dry spell?

Oh Should! (should happens)

After my Mother’s Funeral I made a valiant attempt to thank all the people who had graciously spoken or sang on her behalf.  Most Importantly I wanted to thank her Friend Kathy who gave the most beautiful and gracious eulogy imaginable.

In the midst of my thanks I confessed all the my guilt over my Mother’s death, my mind was swirling was all the things I should have done.

She said something, funny, slightly vulgar, and profound: “Don’t should on yourself.”

But I do, all the time.  I’m constantly living in a pile of my own should.

Here are some examples:

  • I should develop a better morning routine for the kids that doesn’t involve turning on the tv in the first 20 minutes.
  • I should become a better gardener and pour more of my heart into the earth that way
  • I should keep a bit tighter reign on our budget
  • I should have said or done this when I was talking to her / him earlier.

The list goes on, and these shoulds pile on the guilt, inadequacy and the “less than.”

The other day we met my brother Brian and his wife Lisa at Craig’s Cruisers, a local arcade, mini golf, go kart place with an endless pizza buffet.  It was typical flashy childhood entertainment and the kids went crazy for it.

After the simulators and crane games I fixed their plates piled with pizza AND Mac n Cheese.  On a whim I stopped by the soda fountain and got them clear, fizzy glasses of sprite.  My husband’s mouth gaped when he saw me deliver the drinks and plop down with my own cherry coke, my first pop in almost 10 months.

I told him: “I don’t give a *!@# about what I should right now, I’m so tired, I’m on vacation.”

We sat in a room covered in children’s murals with 4 huge TVs showing “Finding Nemo”.  It was flashy, easy, kid heaven when in my mind we should have been throwing frisbees or reading books.  Yet, it was just what we needed in the exhaustion of that day, should be darned.

My shouldn’t was exactly what we needed.

We all have our should lists, the ones we make when play compare / contrast and feel like we’re coming up short.

Here’s what I’m learning about dealing with my pile of should.  Everyone on this planet has deeply rooted, God planted purpose, which must flourish in the assault of should the world flings at us.

We must use our true purpose as an umbrella against the should storm.

When you feel “should” creeping in when you see other’s people truly good pursuits, remind yourself that their passion it probably just your should.  If it keeps bugging you, bring it to God and ask him to put it in the right category.  90% of the time the should will flush away, although sometimes the spirit is at work.

Remember that you’re uniquely and perfectly crafted for your purpose, and not everyone else’s.

When do you find yourself should-ing on yourself?
Any wisdom on staying daisy fresh in the should storm?

Traveling Mercies

We made it home after our 12 day visit to Michigan, our trip-o-meter reads 2,457 miles.

On the way up our tire exploded in smoke as I drove through 8 lanes of Chicago traffic.  I  was able to easily pull over so the damaged tire was on the inside lane, away from the morning rush of cars.  I consider this a gift.

the remains of our passenger side mirror.

On the way home last night we had an accident where another driver’s carelessness caused me to swerve to avoid T-boning him at 55 MPH.  Both vehicles were damaged, but drivable, my nerves suffered the worst of the collision.

We staggered in the door at 4am, Caedmon got me up at 6:13, I crave my bed in unspeakable ways.  Yet my soul is simply happy that we arrived home together, with minimal damage.

I love the phrase “traveling mercies.”  It’s like someone speaking blanket of blessing over your journey, asking God to show you beauty on your travels and shield you from the ugliness.

We aren’t guaranteed safety, this is why we as for safety and mercy before we embark.

We’ve never had a blowout or an accident on a road trip before, yet this time we had both while I was behind the wheel.  This isn’t unfair, it’s just life.  The reason we ask for traveling mercy is because we’ve seen what can happen, people will drive badly, machines will fail, rubber will burst, weather will turn ugly.  It’s a mad mad mad mad world, full of brokenness and pain.

When the inevitable happens, we can either respond with lips full of anger for the trouble or thanks for the loving grace that carries us through.

If you survive the damage to continue on, then your best response is always gratitude.

We aren’t guaranteed perfect miles, but endless sustenance from the giver of life.  It’s not always easy to see, but freedom is realizing that the sustaining mercy is bigger than the trouble.

Last night as cars collided, our children continued watching a movie and eating teddy grahams as if nothing had happened.  For this, I  buried my head in my hands and weep.  In the light of all that could have happened as two cars collided at high speeds, we were relatively unscathed, able to press on toward home.

In the blowout, the inside lane was greater grace

In the accident, the peaceful children were a blessing

In funerals we have been surrounded with love

In lean months our bills have been paid

I am one adorned with traveling mercy, sometimes so blessed that I realize it.

Do you see the grace in the trouble?  The gray light in the dark room?

“In this world you will have trouble, but I leave you my peace, that where I am there you will also be” ~ Rich Mullins

Our Mother/Daughter Bucket List

the plunge

My Noelle is three, and as I watch her jump off the driving board in the crystal blue water it hits me, she’s not a baby anymore.  I’m the mama of a bouncy, beautiful and brave little girl with a world to explore.

As parents, especially with our first borns, the first years are all snuggles and safety, feeding, changing and car seat checks.  We track milestones and baby proof endlessly until one day we wake up and realize that we have so much more than just this one day to sustain, we share a lifetime with our children.

As we cruised down the parkway yesterday I found myself singing “On my Own” from Les Miserables, loudly, with interpretive hand dancing.  Noelle looked at me with a coy curiosity and I had a sudden urge to introduce her to the classic musicals!  Music Man!  Sound of Music!  Phantom of the Opera and My Fair Lady! (even tho the ending drives me  nuts)  

God help me she will have a strong show tune repertoire to hum through life.

I have a daughter to guide into a woman, as the days add up to years I’ll expose her to as much of the earth’s beauty as I can, and inflict as little pain as possible. Continue reading

Memories and Milk Glass

Last night the Verkaik women gathered together for a girl’s night.  We joined up to laugh, devour appetizers and catch up.  We try to do this any time the “out of towners” come back for our summer visits.

However, last nights gathering had a unique purpose, to absorb the history of all the dishes, antiques and memories that fill up my Grandmother’s curio cabinets and shelves.  To divide and receive, so that we may eventually take these heirlooms and integrate them into our own homes and stories.

There was a silent battle for milk glass, a confused googling over what exactly a “hummel” is and a hilarious roar when we found a little german sculpture of a naked couple intertwined in a passionate embrace.  We decided that our unmarried cousins must use this as a cake topper…. come on ladies, please?

At one point my Aunt Ruth commented that all this colored glass and delft made up my Grandma’s life, spoke of her journey, her memories.

These dainty cups and delicate plates came from California, Vietnam and Washington.   A few pieces remained from my great grandmother’s original journey across the Atlantic from The Netherlands to America.

There is something about a tea kettle that floated past lady liberty in an old wooden trunk that takes my breath away.  So much hope, and adventurous fear contained in a small silver vessel.

We each left that night with a piece of my Grandmother’s story, but more than anything we could hold in our hands we all left with a deep sense that our most cherished gift was the gift being a woman of this family.

We’re daughters, nieces and granddaughters, whether by birth or marriage, who will carry this family into the future.  We will retell and create the stories of “us.”

Of course we will cherish the vases and plates and retell their stories, but more than that we will carry and tend the flame of identity that is infused into our blood and bones.

Every time we gather I feel inner warmth and each time we part I feel less complete for the distance.

I’m honored to be a woman in this story, my grandmother’s second granddaughter, chosen to carry her legacy into the future.  To glimpse of her life in delicate blue delft and share it, and so much more with my own daughter and granddaughters.   I will teach my Daughter to love almond paste, appreciate delft and make blueberry buckle and pea soup.

Lineage, we all have a story that spans forward and backward from this very moment.  We are all part of some collective “we” and if your family has left you story-less, I must remind you that we are brothers and sisters together you and I.  Loved children of a God whose story includes all families in an infinitely redemptive tale that has neither a beginning, nor an end.

Today, may you see all that you carry and cherish, and may you share it into the future.

The “Home Hole” Our Universal Ache

I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams 

Feels like home to me, Feels like home to me, feel’s like I’m all the way back where I belong.

Another airplane, Another sunny place, I’m lucky, I know, But I wanna go home,  I’ve got to go home.

We’re in Michigan, the land that birthed me, broke me and forever holds me captive.

This is the place I know, the seasons I understand: Sundays at the beach with a box of wheat thins and winters with snow suited kids waddling up sledding hills.  Boxes of blueberries, endless evergreen trees and miles of sparkling water.

I’m not saying it’s perfect, driving along the train tracks where my mom died or the street we used to live on still stands my hair on end and steals the air from my lungs.  These streets are haunted by many ghosts, yet still they feel like a well worn hoodie and  jeans.  When I slip into them I feel like the purest form of myself, stripped down and comfortable in my skin, known and loved.

I want to share every bit of this with Noelle and Caedmon, to infuse this cozy Michigan beauty into their childhood memories.

So, what do I pray for?  Freedom from being bound here or a window to return? Continue reading

Road Trip & Hungry for Connection

Good morning from Holland, Michigan!  We had a somewhat safe drive up North save for a very intense blown tire while I was driving the van just outside of Chicago at rush hour.

Luckily God provided with a durable spare and a nearby tire shop.  Total props to Kel who laid down on the dirty highway shoulder to take care of business, he’s a real life super hero.  Send Capes.

This is how we roll in a tire shop

seriously blown and smoking tire.

We are still recovering from our 1,000 mile, straight thru car trip but I am excited to share with you the link to the online version of my first published, print article with “The Banner, The Official Magazine of the Christian Reformed Church.”

Hungry For Connection

“I feel as if I’ve been hungry for a long time. Absolutely starving, really—I mean the kind of hungry you feel when you’re ready to tuck into a holiday feast complete with pie and appetizers. The thing is, this hunger I’ve got is not for food—although I love food; don’t get me wrong.

What I’m really hungry for is time to connect with friends and family. I crave a long, satisfying meal filled with delicious food, infectious laughter, and that comfortable feeling you have when you know you are completely safe with someone. When you don’t fear judgment because you know you’re loved and known.

Most of my communication these days comes from texts, tweets, and e-messages in at least a million forms. These forms of relating are like saltines for my hungry soul. When you’re so hungry you could eat your own arm and someone hands you one saltine, it’s a joke! You might be thankful for a little something to chew on, but you need a whole lot more than one salty little morsel to satisfy your hunger.”

To finish up this article, go to the Banner’s online magazine to read on.

As for us, we’re off to the beach.

Forever Journeyers

Every morning at the Penny Casa is fairly routine:  Caedmon gets up, crying “mama mama” from his crib.  I get him up and we search the floor for his “bobby” (pacifier) and “mamake” (stuffed elephant) which he has angrily thrown while waiting on me.

I get him up, change him, he yells for milk and starts his obsessive chant for berries at the fridge door.  The next part is tricky.  You have to give him his bowl, fork, milk and berries in the right order or else he’ll throw the whole mess on the floor.

He demands I pick him “uk” and slice his berries in a one handled balancing act.

All this happens in the first 5 minutes of my waking consciousness, before I’ve had my coffee. Continue reading