Sorrow Sent by God…

 

Whew. Sometimes the weight of sorrow surprises me.

 

I came online today, logged in to the blog, and tried to translate some recent thoughts to coherent words.

 

I made a very quick trip home about a month ago. I wanted to see Mom, and the rest of the family. There is a lingering homesickness that strikes sometimes, even when you moved away from home 24 years ago. Even when you have lived away from home longer than you actually lived at home.

 

That homesickness is amplified when you grew up in a place as unique as New Mexico, where the skies have a special shade of blue and nothing else will take care of the craving for red and green chile.

 

And it is amplified even more when one key, elemental, powerful force of your life is slowly inching her way toward eternity.

 

We all are, I know, but Mom is in her own way. She is holding her place physically here in our presence, while most of her is somewhere else. Her thoughts, her words, her connection…it has become hidden. Her laughter.

 

Her smile remains, and the twinkle in her eye.

 

I sat down and tried to put words to this nagging feeling, this sorrow, that has been present for years. I have several friends who continue down this road and I wanted to share something that would encourage…or at least remind that we are not alone.

 

 

And then this came up in memories on FaceBook…a picture from ten years ago.

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And the sorrow settled upon me.

 

An acute sorrow with this picture of a more clear minded person. A person who was able to interact and who still knew in some way.

 

There is a sense where mourning is set aside with a long disease like this. I don’t know what it would be like  if it was a long disease where her mind was present, but I know on this journey we simply cannot be sad all the time…it is exhausting.

 

I think of Mom as this place holder…this bookmark in life. Or maybe a pause button is more appropriate. She is present and not…and we continue with life, and yet we don’t. My brothers and my dad are more impacted by this, obviously than I am, as the rhythm of their days is dictated by her meals and her life.  But she causes this pause in life, she reminds us that she is still here, and yet she also reminds us of all we have lost.

 

She reminds us that we are broken. That sorrow is lingering around the edges of our joy. Sorrow because things are not as we know they should be. Sorrow because we long for something else.

 

G.K. Chesterton has a poem where he suggests that sorrow is used by God to bring us back to attention to the divine, to the eternal…

 

Sorrow

At last, at even, to my hearth I hark,
Still faithful to my sorrow. And inside
Even I and all my old magnanimous pride
Are broken down before her in the dark.

Sorrow’s bare arm about my neck doth strain,
Sorrow doth lift me to her living mouth
And whispers, fierce and loving like the South,
Saying, “Dear Pilgrim, have you come again?

“Whether you walked by wastes of upland green,
Whether you walked by wastes of ocean blue,
Have you not felt me step by step with you,
A thing that was both certain and unseen?

“Or haply is it ended? haply you,
Conquering and wholly cured of loving me,
Are but a wavering lover who would be
Off with the old love ere he take the new?”

But, seeing my head did but in silence sink
Before her ruthless irony and strong.
She gave me then that dreadful kiss to drink
That is the bitter spring of art and song.

Then with strange gentleness she said, “I choose
To be thine only, thine in all ways; yes,
Thy daughter and thy sister and thy muse,
Thy wife and thine immortal ancestress.

“Feed not thy hate against my rule and rod,
For I am very clean, my son, and sane,
Because I bring all brave hearts back to God,
In my embraces being born again.”

Thus spoke she low and rocked me like a child,
And as I stared at her, as stunned awhile,
On her stern face there fell more slow and mild
The splendour of a supernatural smile.

 

 

 

Sorrow is appropriate. The words are gone and the understanding is gone, but her presence remains. In the same moment it reminds us that this world is broken and it is painful, and because we know in our being that it should be otherwise, sorrow sparks hope that things will ultimately be put right.

 

The rest of my day was shadowed, though, as that picture intensified the sorrow. And maybe that is what I was to write about after all: it is okay to be strikingly sad that those we love dearly no longer know us, and no longer can speak to us. It is okay to take time in the long journey of a set-aside mourning to mourn with tears and acute sorrow when God allows sorrow’s stern face to bring us back to know our need for Him.

 

I think we all carry a sorrow with us that is part of this broken world, and sometimes God uses this acute sorrow to allow a true mourning that cleanses us. A good cry can be tremendously healing, so we can sit back up and be present in the midst of this broken world and bring hope.

 

So for today, if you took a picture of us together, I may not mirror her quite as I did in the picture above. Her expression has relaxed as her knowledge of me has slipped. If you ask how she is I won’t know quite how to answer…I wonder what whispers God is telling her that we cannot know.

 

 

And for those who are on this same journey…take heart. You are truly not alone, and God is moving even through this. Lean in to the sorrow and hear God’s heart. Do not try to ignore it or overcome. Allow the moments of deep mourning, and be reminded of the hope that all will be made well.

 

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The Last Game….

That was hard.

 

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Our final weekend of youth hockey. Our final weekend of loading everyone up, with all his gear, and trundling off to the ice rink. Steve and I knew this would be tough, that it was the first of the big “lasts” of this year.

 

And it was tough. We won three games and came to the Championship so excited about how the weekend had gone, and yet feeling the weight of this last game. This final game ended up not only in a loss, but in a sour loss. Bad calls, missed moments. The loss shadowed the three victories.

 

So this morning I watch my boy walking around with his head hanging a bit, with a sorrow in his voice. I know, it’s just sports…but, well, it isn’t.

 

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Somewhere around 700 hours at the rink, more than 300 games played. Steve and I were either sitting on cold bleachers or one of us watching via Periscope. Every game.

 

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Stinky gear. Moments of frustration and tossing gear at the truck more than in the back. Moments of shouted anger and shouted delight. Our truck has 230,000 miles, and a great number of them could be allotted to hockey transport. This game about a little rubber puck, a stick and some skates has set a rhythm to our lives for nearly ten years.

 

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We have learned the great delight of cheering for our boy. We have learned the companionship of standing in the stands, or in the freezing cold, with other parents and making ourselves look foolish as we gasp and cheer and shout and moan.

 

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We have watched a child learn to skate. Learn to handle a puck. Learn to shoot. Learn to defend. Learn to skate faster. Learn to hit. Learn to take a hit. Learn to shoot harder. Learn to skate even faster. Backward. Learn to take a deep breath and defend against guys much bigger…but not back down. Learn to take responsibility for his role on the team. Learn the discipline of showing up to practice when it is fun, and when it is not. Learning the meaning of skating suicides.

 

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Learning to value something so much that when it ends sourly it makes you want to cry. Or punch something. We have watched a little boy grow and mature with the help of just a game. With the help of coaches who cared and teammates who pushed him. That is quite a foundation to leap from high school to the next adventure…quite a lot a little rubber puck and a stick can accomplish.

 

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So, Zach.  Today, be mad enough to punch something. Preferably inanimate. Be sad enough, and disappointed enough, to cry, even if you have to do that in the shower. Be glad that you had something for all your youth to care enough about that it sparks deep emotions.

 

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Experience those emotions. Don’t ignore them. They are part of the best of this story.  Today that loss is heavy. You feel the responsibility as part of the team, and the sourness for the things out of your control which were unfair. There is nothing easy about leaving on a loss.

 

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But Know This: Your dad and I loved watching you skate. We loved watching you do something you loved. It brought us great delight. Know that that delight is just a glimpse of the delight of God in you as you walk and move and become the man He has created you to be from before we knew you.

 

Know this, that  we have watched every game you played, and we never got bored. We were as excited when the puck dropped last night as we were when you stumbled on the ice the first time. Last night was as fresh and engaging as your very first game…and we feel the loss with you.

 

 

Tomorrow, though. Tomorrow remember the wins. Tomorrow take the time to relish all the joy this sport has brought you. Tomorrow think about how you played your best games this last weekend, with probably your best game ever that very last game. You went out playing hard and with all you had.

 

2016 Champions

 

Tomorrow think about how you can appreciate watching a game in a completely different way because you know the feeling of the ice beneath your skates.

 

Tomorrow think of all the folks who came to watch you play, who cheered you do something you loved.

 

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And now is that moment when I get to use my favorite Frederick Buechner quotation once again:

 

“There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” – Frederick Buechner

 

And this…the ubiquitous quotation usually attributed to Dr Suess (even though it’s not really for sure he said it, but it sure fits!)

 

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” –

Dr Suess or someone much like him.

 

 

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Well done 74.

The power of the Sugar Cookie…again.

This will be the third time I have posted this article. The repeated ritual of making cookies each Christmas season brings all these thoughts back to mind. I love the ritual, and I love that my children enjoy the ritual. Funny how something as simple as a cookie can carry so many memories, for each of us.

My mother was able to make a home come alive in the holidays; the decorations were all well thought out and brought a sense of elegance and delight. Our meals were lavish at Thanksgiving and Christmas and we lingered over them. We learned conversation and story and the joy of being a large family. We learned that the seasons stood out and were different.

Sometimes, though, it was the more simple things that brought everything to life. Like sugar cookies.

Here are my thoughts last year, continuing to try to stir us to thinking about Advent as it will begin in just a week. Hoping these thoughts will help to inspire us to do something to make this Christmas, this Advent, stand out. Also aware that as we move through these seasons there is that ache for those who are not whole in our midst. For minds which no longer take in the wonder around us, or for those who have passed away. Balancing that ache with the wonder of the season can be difficult…sometimes, though, the simple things that we do to make the season stand out will provide comfort and delight when we need it most.

The Power of the Sugar Cookie.

The box arrived yesterday, stacked with a few boxes from Amazon. This box was different, though, and it stood out. The address was hand-written, and the contents were able to evoke memories and emotions, a power the other boxes could not muster.

Even Chip the dog noticed. He kept walking over and sniffing the box, waiting for me to take it upstairs and open to see what was inside.

Little tiny stars that brought back so many memories. This year my dad, with the help of a long-time family friend who stays with mom during the day sometimes, sent out mom’s famous Christmas cookies. The recipe actually goes back to her mom, and possibly beyond that, although I’m not sure. Grandma was a great cook, and Christmas was filled with cookies and candies and fudge and divinity and, yes fruit cake. No, you are not allowed to make fruit cake jokes around me. Her fruitcake was made painstakingly…cutting each candied fruit to the same size and spending a full day in the kitchen working away. The result was a cake that even as a kid I enjoyed, but especially with a special warm lemon sauce poured over.

This year, though, it’s the cookies that bring back the memories. These do not quite compare to the cookies of my childhood, but they still carry in their little flour and sugar forms all the memories of Christmas. Christmas was not Christmas without the sugar cookies. We made hundreds. Literally. I mean, hundreds….500, 600, 700 cookies. We would watch them be made, help decorate with icing and red hots and sprinkles, then load them all up on plates with Saran Wrap and walk the neighborhood, delivering these cookies to all the neighbors. And the teachers. And the Sunday School teachers. And friends. And then we would munch on them happily for days.

It has been a lifetime, it seems, since we made those cookies. Dad has pictures somewhere, lots of pictures, of the kitchen filled with cookies.

Now, a little box came and let me know that it’s Christmas time.

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The cookies are not quite the same. They still taste great, but the decorations are simple when they used to be detailed. The activity was more of a distraction to keep a mind occupied that tends to be overwhelmed by how much it cannot figure out…constantly questioning and being frustrated. Still, there was a hesitation when I opened the box, a moment of not wanting to eat these cookies, because, well…what if they are the last ones?

I’m wired that way. I have books from favorite authors where I refuse to read the last chapter because I always want there to be something I have not read from them. I admit, though, it would be pretty silly to leave a sugar cookie uneaten, and I’m not sure I have that much discipline anyway.

Mom’s mind is a little more gone than it was last year. It is a little more difficult to keep her on the phone when I call and I feel the distance acutely this time of year. Mom used to always tell me that the house seemed to love Christmas time, that it came alive as we decorated and brought that wonder in that only belongs to this time of year. She made Christmas a magical time, a time of excitement and wonder and delicious tastes as well sounds and sights. All of these efforts were not wasted, and now at 42 a little sugar cookie can evoke a whole avalanche of memories and feelings and emotions.

So, as I get flustered trying to get it “all” done this season, this little box of cookies stopped me. I’ve got laundry that needs to be folded and dishes that need to be done, and floors that need to be mopped. I have a lot of ‘duties’ to do….but there will be sugar cookies made this weekend. A lot of them. Steve does a great job of getting the house decorated and pulling out all the stockings and candles and garlands and lights. The house twinkles with a special kind of wonder, and in the midst of a world that is so full of sorrow and fear and tragedy…I hope memories are being made for my kids.

More than that, though, I hope that a foundation of wonder is being formed. That is part of the heritage of my mom. There is an importance to the wonder and to the beauty. It is not merely decoration. It is a statement that these things matter and that it is important to feed our souls with beauty…with music and with images…and even with sugar cookies sometimes.

Thanks, Mom and Dad….

Grandmadriveway

The Hardest Part.

 

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I have my favorite seat, the one in the corner of the coffee shop where I can watch all the people and wonder about their stories. The seat where I can observe and listen and think; where I can watch and feel just enough removed and yet still part of the hum. I have my favorite cup of coffee, even topped with a little heart of froth. The music is even right this morning.

Everything is set up perfectly.

This doesn’t happen very often.

Everything is in place.

Everything except the words.

I have been grumpy the last few weeks. There has been a wall or something that I have not been able to break through; like a task that needed to be accomplished and I could not get to it and I knew until it was accomplished I was going to be agitated.

 

Have you felt that? Have you had that feeling of something undone, something needling you, something calling for your attention and not letting you go? Leaving you out of sorts as a result?

 

That has been the feeling of the last few weeks, and the result has been Steve and the boys pointing out that I have been, well, grumpy.

 

The task? Writing about Mom. Somehow bringing this life that brought my life context, a memory, for me. Maybe it is from a fear that my memory will eventually fail as hers has, and I want to set her story down for my children. I want them to know her. Maybe it is because she is right here with us still, and yet not with us, and there is so much I wish I could ask her. So many stories I wish I could ask her.

I want to find the words to begin to tell the story of my mother. I want to find the words to tell more than the story of loss of her memories. I want to find the words to tell more than the loss; I want to find the words to tell more than the present. Most of what I have written in the last five years has been about the decay of her mind. Most of what I have written has told of the failing of a mind, of the brokenness and the limitations.

I want to write more about the memories that I have of the power and the nimblness of a mind which was so quick and so full of wit, and yet when I begin I find the words faltering. I find them difficult. Becauase writing about the wit and the wisdom and the beauty is bittersweet as it highlights what could be right now. It is like a spotlight on the reality of today.
So, this is the start.

 

And there is a realization. Even if the task is not easy, even if the words are not flowing as quickly and as well as I would like…once the task is begun, the frustration and the grumpiness eases. The wall that has been blocking me comes down and that task that has been needling me and agitating is not there anymore, because it is at least begun.

 

The hardest part is starting.

 

That is not completely true, because in beginning I realized what was agitating me the most.

 

I don’t want to be writing about Mom.

 

What I really want is to be sitting and having coffee and talking with her.

 

The Party Wouldn’t Have Been Complete Without You….

There are significant moments in the lives of those we love which call for us to stop and pay attention.

Marriages.

Births.

Deaths.

And 80th Birthdays seem rather appropriate as well. If you have followed this little blog very long you will know it is the time of year for my Dad’s birthday, and this year marks the 80th. He has now lived longer than his father, and has entered yet another decade.

What on earth do you do to celebrate? Well, when you are part of a family that is not terribly crafty, and when there is not really a gift you could give that would be more than a mere gesture…you simply come together.

All of my siblings are in Albuquerque for the present time, and I am the only one no longer living in the home town. So, our “gift” was a surprise dinner, including my flying in from TN just for the dinner.

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Our gift, though is really just recognition of the gift we have received. We have this tremendous blessing of growing up in this family. This legacy is the real gift, and the dinner was just a simple way of recognizing that this is important to us.

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Recognizing that we were blessed to have a rather tremendous man as a Father.

“The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.” -Buechner

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I have written much about my Dad in the past, but it is worth saying again that he inspires us as he cares for Mom. He examples selfless love on a daily basis, but more than that…he has always made us feel special as his children. He has always pushed us to do more with our talents, and to be thankful in the simple things.

He is one of the constants in my life, and along with Mom has created a family that truly enjoys being with one another. We were thankful that Mom was content for nearly three hours as we laughed and told stories. That is a gift in itself…and she was not only content, she seemed to enjoy being with us.

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When I think about memories and about thinking well about our lives, I do turn to Buechner often. He does not fail to have the words I need to express this importance of family…

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” – Buechner

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I would not have missed out on my Dad’s 80th birthday, but the reality is part of the gift he has given us is simply who we are. Hopefully we give that back to him as well. He has given us a foundation to be a family where there is strength and laughter, where stories flow quickly when we are together. He has raised up children who are eager to bless him, and that is part of the gift.  We didn’t have to say that…sometimes flying a few states over makes the point.

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Happy Birthday, Dad. 

Hello Instagram, Meet my Dirty Dishes.

You know those pictures I post of food and of when the house feels warm and cozy and clean?  Those pictures of when I’ve been cooking our favorite meals? carnitas

Pictures like this

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Pictures of when things fall into place and there is a peace that settles on the home. When the home feels more like a sanctuary…when it feels like I hope for it to feel and like I desire.  A home that is inspired by articles like I find at Art House America.

I have to admit, though.  There are times when things simply do not mesh.

There are times when I feel like I am running to stay ahead of the day, and I am just barely keeping up pace. I don’t have the lessons planned far enough ahead. I don’t have the groceries bought. I don’t have the meals planned. I don’t have on hand what I need. The kids are just enough more energetic than I am and it is keeping me on edge because it is highlighting the fact that I am falling short.

That is when the house looks more like this:

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Yep.  Not a lot of healthy, home cooked, green wonderful veggie-type food there. Meds. Flung to and fro, mixed in with all kinds of snacky type food.

Oh, and the sink…well…we’re really keeping up on the dishes today as well:

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It actually looks much worse in person.

I would have taken a picture of the laundry room, but I had to stop and clean up the cat vomit and got distracted.

Here’s the thing.  In the middle of this we have accomplished math lessons and reading, we have learned about Hittites and Canaanites, about the battle of Troy and about the Judges of Israel.

We have laughed heartily.

We’ve been to the grocery and the orthodontist and on the way sang loudly to TobyMac and Taylor Swift.

I rocked Maddie, after stepping over her toys that were scattered on the floor, and I sat for a few minutes holding her and just breathing her in. Just being with her…even though I didn’t have a few minutes. Because, even though I am far behind on duties; on lesson plans and menus and laundry, I am still in the middle of a life full of promise and hope and love.

We’ve been doing life and sometimes the chores get a bit sloppy because life gets backed up. I have the tendency to get edgy and grouchy when I know I am behind on the duties that I am responsible for, and I can take that out on the kids…because I know I am falling short. I desperately need a pause button so I can get caught up.

Those pause buttons are hard to find and the duties and the stress can continue to pile up. But we have to find those pauses…when we are rocking the babies, or listening to the laughter of the older kids…or looking at our kids sleep.

And then everyone else is still posting pictures of great meals and clean houses and clean smiling kids on Pinterest and Instagram and FaceBook. We’ve all seen the posts, and we’ve all read the blog articles telling us not to stress over them…but sometimes we need another reminder.

So here is another reminder.

Don’t stress.

Everyone has the back-up of dishes in their sink sometimes. Everyone’s cat, or dog, or kid, pukes on the floor at some point 😉

Everyone feels the need to hit the pause button…we just don’t always post that on Pinterest or FaceBook or Instagram all the time. We like to post the good side of us. And sometimes that makes it really tough for all the rest of us to say that we struggling and that we are hurting and that we are lonely…or disappointed…or …. whatever.

But we need to say it and we need to not swallow it down and try to just ignore it and shoulder on, because it just becomes bigger and harder to swallow down.

So…go ahead…post pictures of your dirty sink on Instagram and tell the world you need a day to pause! Recognize your limits!! Before they become something larger than they need to be.

Because we have an enemy that will take something small and twist it and turn it and poke at it and fester it until it becomes something it never needed to be. He will take a silly picture of someone enjoying life, posted on a social media, and make you feel less about yourself.

Listen…the successes and the joys of our friends do not diminish who we are…they simply are the joys of our friends. Let them be that, and rejoice with them. That’s all.

I promise to post some unflattering pictures of our life in the coming months 😉

For now…remember that the One who cares for us cares for us in the midst of the life we are in, right now. Not the life we hope for, or the life we wish we had. Not the life we hope to create.

Right now…with the promise that He is the One who is Faithful to bring about the life we hope to create. He is the One who can bring us to the place where we are loved and whole and well…and where we have peace even with dirty dishes and cats who vomit.

Stake it out – This is a ‘Quiet Zone’

“Honey, I realized today that it has been 12 days in a row we have had to get in the car and go somewhere. I’m so glad today we don’t have to go anywhere.”

“Sarah, we leave for Biblestudy in an hour.”

“Crap.”

Okay. I love Biblestudy, love our home group, and was very happy to be there last night. I was actually in the midst of cooking enchiladas and cupcakes to take to the home group with us, I just had not connected the concept that I had to leave the house.

Not so happy that the string of days is continuing. I looked at the calendar…the string will go to 18 days before we have a day without the requirement of loading up and heading out the door. I know for most of you that seems rather obvious; everyone goes somewhere pretty much every day, right?  Well, with home school my goal is to stay put as much as we can, and this year it just seems that we cannot achieve that simple goal.

Dentist appointments, car registration renewal with the mandatory emissions test, tutorials, practices, church, doctors appointments, etc, etc….ugh.

Simple things add up to what feels like a fractured and distracted life. Mostly because I have never been the best at organization. I have always been the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type, always been the procrastinator, and now that I am mom and homeschool teacher I am realizing more and more how much I need to change. I have matured and become better at not trying to become Suzy Homemaker (which I will never be), but at trying to create an environment where family and faith can happen…or at least where there is the opportunity.  A place where there is the space to understand each other and to be heard; a place where life can happen in all its messiness, but where there is a sense of calm and sanctuary.

That’s why the last 12 days, and the next 6, frustrate me. I don’t like feeling scattered and I want to have days at home to linger over the school work and to get the house in order. To cook good meals and to enjoy the process of being together and learning. Rather than rushing and marking off the to-do-list.

I do not respond well to the scattered feeling. I become agitated and frustrated and the spiral goes downward. The kids respond in kind. 

Then I read this simple line in an article (the whole article is good, but this line caught me)

Staking Out & Creating Quiet Zones

Yes.  It was one of those moments where everything just eased and I was able to focus. I have said before how there is this ache for silence and for quiet, especially in the midst of a household that is increasingly attracted to technology. We gave in whole hog to Twitter and Instagram and FaceBook leading up to Nate’s birthday in the hopes of catching Taylor Swift’s attention…and really just for the fun of the experience. It was fun, for a very short season.

Now, I want to stake out and create a quiet zone.

More than that, I want to teach my kids to do the same. I am continually convinced that this next generation is not going to understand how to handle distractions and noise. They are not going to know how to turn it off. That is one of my goals, and I think this may become one of my mantras.

“With the people I love most I can sit in silence indefinitely. We need both for our full development; the joy of the sense of sound; and the equally great joy of its absence.”

-Madeleine L’Engle

Stake it out. Protect that quiet zone and that space of silence. The author of the above article was addressing professional writing, but when we think of this in view of our walk in faith, it takes on even richer application.

Stake it out and protect that quiet zone and that space of silence that allows us the opportunity and the framework where we turn our attention toward God.

Wholly. 

I’m hanging on for another six days and cannot wait for those three days in a row when we will not have to leave the house!!! Woohoo!! Today, however, I am eyeing the zones. I think this is one of the most difficult things about home school for me…finding the space to handle the usual household duties, the space to deal with personal things, and the space for educating, the space for parenting. Those things can be juggled and they happen somewhat organically…but the space and the zone for quiet is something different. We have to stake it out and protect it, or it simply gets run over.

Off to set some stakes…