Category Archives: home-making

Rambling Vignettes of Listening {An Abstraction on Slippers}

I walk to the bathroom in my slippers at 6 pm, when my back feels like it will break, and bend over the bathtub anyway. Water and giggles splash me awake. I gently coerse them to their feet for a slathering of soap and the wash rag slides over their little bodies, and it’s like a good cleansing of my soul.

I do these things over and over—heat up the pajamas over the free-standing oil heater, slide them on, zip them up, then roughly towel-dry their heads and comb through wet hair. These rituals are quieting and peaceful, the heater a make-shift altar, the stool a pew, and the careful zipping and closure of buttons a concrete theology of the only kind that makes any sense to me—love. The theology that puts clothes on bare backs, brings a glass of water to the lips of the thirsty, washes the dirt of the unclean, and wraps arms round the filthy, looks into their eyes and accepts them the way they are.
Still in my pink and white furry slippers, plaid pajama pants, and stained Aeropostale hoodie, I dump can after can of tomatoes, beans, chilis and olives into a stock-pot large enough to feed a family of six for two nights. The soup simmers and warms the kitchen and my heart.
It’s difficult to pull myself away from the computer with all my adult friends, who make me feel so validated, and to ring my hands in prayer, in these rote routines that are never-ending. As soon as I wash and fold the clothes,  they are in the dirty pile again. I don’t get to leave home much, so it’s hard to stop “involving myself” in adult things. But living in this gentle, patient way requires that I turn off the noise and listen to my little people. And what I hear is beautiful in the silence, in the waiting, in the serving.
I practice the discipline of going outside, even when it’s cold. I don’t let myself be overcome with angst and melancholy. I look at the stars, and wait, because God speaks to me there.
I practice cutting off a conversation I’d really like to have on messenger, and walk outside because I can hear the giggles wafting in through my window from the trampoline, and don’t fancy myself too dignified to jump up on the trampoline and play silly games.
These are my altars, they are my sanctuaries, they are my church, my holy place.
This weekend I went on a bike ride with my daughter again to the store. This time it was the six year old. She is so fearless and brave. Not once did she say, Mama wait, or Mama I can’t keep up, or Don’t leave me. She cheerfully stayed behind, or sped on ahead, a huge proud grin spread wide across her face, and I, warily aware of cars that might come our way any moment, constantly tried to hold her back, or pull her up with me. Her bravery makes me come to a stop, and really take a look at my own courage, or lack thereof.
We all went to the playground on Sunday, and there was lots of sunshine there, as if it was waiting for us. It had not been beaming as brightly before.
Their smiles when I took pictures of them soaring on the swings found me in my stalled faith and depressed mood, and startled me awake and once again, I found a reason to believe.

I’ve struggled in my relationship with God, because I am afraid when I step out onto that limb in shaky belief, that He will leave me hanging, that I’ll be left alone, in jadedness and hurt.
For about a week, I could not hear Him at all, I thought. It seemed my heart was overwhelmed, confused, muddled. I worried, I doubted. I walked outside late one night, bundled up, and everything was still and my heart felt dead along with all the winter barrenness buried deep under the cold, wet ground. All the life had been beat down by freezing rain and all felt numb and desolate.
I let the sterile sleepiness overtake me for a moment. I felt abandoned. Then I surrendered, and looked up and the stars jolted me with their twinkling, their stark loveliness. I knew He was waiting. I said out loud, which is rare for me, Talk to me, GodWhat do I do with this?
And you know what? He didn’t leave me hanging. No friend, He comes on wings of love. He said to me, crystal clear, You are worrying over things you have no business worrying over. I am going to take care of it. Trust me, and stop worrying.
And he spoke something with limpid lucidity—grace.  And—love.
Yes, Father, I know. I see. I hear. And just like that, my fear was dissolved. In His hands, picking me up off that shaky limb.
I may have a relationship with Him now, all on my own, without someone else telling me what that should look like. Seriously. This is not blowing smoke, y’ know? No, for the first time, I mean it.
I thought I meant it long ago,  and I think in some ways I did. But– and here’s the really honest part– I was following someone else’s leading. I was doing it because I felt I had to– the advent, the lent, the praying, the homemaking (making cookies, folding clothes, and all the things). It was never enough unless I was doing IT ALL. I thought I was finding God in that. And in a way, I did. But maybe it was only a glimpse. I limited him, boxed him in, not in the ways I always had, but in a different way. I just gave him a new box.
Now, I’m listening. I’m not making idols, not play-acting, not doing Lent just because I’m thinking how much content it will offer my writing. I’m listening to the Spirit. I used to HATE it when people said that. Because I’m a rebel, and spiritual talk felt so superficial to me.
Oh, what I was missing out on, and then again, I wasn’t missing anything. Because I’ve travelled this roving path, like a gypsy desperately seeking the spark of life, and I’m listening. He is in the pain, the mess, the times I have too much to drink and go to bed drowsy, He’s in the words that aren’t being said when I’m talking to a friend, and I have to listen  for them, because then I get to hear HIM.

He is in the beauty, He is in the homework I don’t want to do with kids. He is in that beautiful dimpled smile my girl gives me, so proud of herself, when she reads her kindergarten reader.
I don’t care about prayer rituals. I don’t care about church services. I don’t care if my blog sounds dignified or if a lot of people read, or if I EVER write a book. Because these altars, on this sacred ground of wet bath-time tile floor? They teach me something a church service never could.
I want to listen, and I want to learn to be brave, and to be who He made me to be. And I don’t want to miss one precious moment. Oh, and believe me, I miss plenty.
But there’s the beauty in the mess, right there. I get to start all over the very second I pull myself away from my selfishness. Full Stop. Grace.

I guess I’m just talking about being set free.

To be free, we have to strip down bare, shirk of all that entangles. The noise, the comparisons, the selfishness, and the bitterness too–let’s throw them off. Those things keep you from listening, they keep you from freedom, and they keep you from creating the way He meant for me and for you to do. I know, because for a time when I allowed those things to consume, I just could  not write. My ears were stopped up, and I was caged inside the prison I had constructed for myself. 

Now I will embrace fearlessness. 

The courage I find in a bike ride teaches me to be brave enough to step out on the shaky limb, to believe and to say it out loud, that He speaks to me when I take notice, and that it’s in the red-winged bird’s flight, the rock song playing on the radio as we all bump along down the highway and it’s in the text messages a friend sends, holding fast with me in prayer and trust before God that His promise was never that things would be easy, but that He would finish all good things He has begun. 

He has spoken. I hear Him. 
What do you hear Him saying?

***Will you do this with me, friends? Let’s explore the practice of listening! This week, before you write, take a walk, in the woods, at the lake or park, down your neighborhood road, ride a bike, play tag, listen for the wind, watch the trees, the sky, pay attention to the small, seemingly unnecessary details of your day. It is here you will find wholeness, here you will find strength, beauty, brokenness, goodness, joy, pain… Here you will find God. THEN write about it– Our prompt is Serve (next week’s is below), but our focus is on the practice of listening and then writing. Excited? We’ll connect on twitter and facebook with the hashtag, #listeningtoyourlife and of course as always, #concretewords. Do me a favor and use these on social media and share with friends–invite them?

What this link-up is about: We “write out spirit” by practicing writing about the invisible using concrete words. In case you are going “what in the world is a concrete word?!“–this just means (using the prompt to inspire) write out what’s around us–concrete words make the senses come alive, gives place. In every story, there is always an above and beneath, a beside, something tucked away, aromas in the air, something calling in the trees or from the street, notes in our pocket, rocks in our shoes, sand between our toes. Go here to see Amber’s take on this. It was very helpful to me–I think it will be beneficial for you, too.

A few simple guidelines:       1. Be sure you link up the URL to your Concrete Words
                                             post and not just your blog home page URL.
                                         2. Put a link to this post on your blog so that others
                                             can find their way back here.
                                         3. Try to visit one or two others and encourage their efforts
                                         4. Please write along with us, using concrete words–
                                             and the prompt–Please no entries with how-to’s, advertising,
                                             or sponsored posts
                                         5. We connect on twitter with the hashtag #concretewords–
                                               please share so others can join!

Today’s prompt is Slippers. GO!

**{This link up will run until next Monday, the 10th, 11:59 pm., giving you plenty of time to write and link-up before the next concrete words is posted the following day. Sometime between now & then, I will read your stories and highlight one of them from this link-up on social media. On the 10th, the prompt will be Altar .}

Bending {Patron Saints and Spiritual Midwives}

I open wire gate, walk through tiny garden and white azaeleas toward the kitchen. Her soft, croaky voice, with it’s high notes, weathered with time, wafts out the screen door as she instructs the children that have already flown inside to her, ahead of me.

This is not the home of my childhood that I remember, but she cooks for us here and makes her days here, and so it will do.

Dumplings and chicken piled high in the pot, the steam rising, she’s slightly bent over the counter in the tightly spaced kitchen, beautiful white hair slightly coifed from church that morning, rolling dough out in flour, the dough that my grandfather said she rolled way too thin. Less meat, more dumplins, he tells her. This would become the center of discussion and debate at the table.

“Ah! You are making chicken and dumplings!” She nods–I see the twinkle of pride in her eyes. She knows it’s my favorite and I had asked for it weeks ago when I was sick but she couldn’t come because she was too.

I set about the hard task of putting myself right into the work, a hard thing to do when you are used to your Granny always waiting on you, for all those years, and she never asked, really always discouraged help.

But I can’t bear sitting while she bends and breaks, so I plant myself right in her way and throw the soft unbaked bread on white powder and roll it out with 50 year old wood, careful of the sink water two inches away from floured paper.

The old wood, full of family history–it feels perfect in my hands and I watch the way the thick stuff flattens and smooths. We work side-by-side, Sunday afternoon sun streaming in through screen door, hitting our backs, and she willingly waits for the dough, throws it into boiling broth while I do the bending and smoothing.

She and I strain pears, that good juice running down the drain making no sense to me, and I call the girls in for them to pile the grainy sweetness on plate with mayo and cheese. The pears, they shine in the Sabbath sun. We do the most important and holiest of work and teach them a poor man’s {or hurried woman’s} Southern dessert.

I go to the hall closet in search of some stain remover for baby’s dress, and I see a woman’s tireless work, how she chooses to walk out her days, always working, serving, never giving up and there they are, staring out at me–clean, plush towels lined up neatly row after row, her bottles of cleaning supplies tucked in here and there. She has touched deep places of influence in me she will never know anything of.

In the kitchen, we cluck and cackle and over sweet tea–has the sugar been added?–where the children will eat, girls, set the table, ice for glasses, and I take Granddaddy’s tea to his chair. The kids will have the little table in the kitchen.

Granny steps to the living room, and addresses Granddaddy: “What do you want now?!” We laugh at their old-couple squabble and we all gather around with trays and talk important matters, including whether the dumplings should have been thicker, and our stomachs are nourished with flavors of the South, that soul food warm all the way down.

Granny gets enough of Granddaddy’s complaining and in her feisty way, tells him she was aimin for healthier.

After the plates are cleaned, Husband needs a t-shirt for football with the church men, and Granddaddy says look in the second drawer. Underneath several bottles of cologne for a man who enjoys smelling good, I open drawer and pick up soft, worn t-shirts one by one, reminded of when I was a little girl, needing a t-shirt for staying over-night. They all say XL, and I know that will not fit my man.

I search and in the back, in shadows, a card with cute purses on the front sticks out between folds–I know immediately it was the card I gave him years ago. My heart hammers a little harder as I hold it up, open it, and I am so touched that he has kept it safely tucked away in his drawerthe place all men keep things close to their hearts.

The greatness of these two people stands above me, looming, but I try to tell them in scrawled words–loops and crosses a little unsure and timid but knowing what is in the heart to say–how I sit and think sometimes of the beauty of how they live out the gospel in their livesthat they may never have been missionaries, or involved in some limelight ministry, but their family has been their mission field–how they never stop giving even after they’ve given all–they have fleshed out Matt 5:38-42–how they have brought glory to God, our very realest purpose, and I tell them this is the greatest compliment you could ever be paid.

“You have heard it said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” –Matthew 5:38-42

Husband finds me standing at the drawer, asks if I found anything. He sees the tears brimming, wants to know what this is about. I show him the card and he says, “Who is this from?” He watches my eyes, looks into me. Nothing gets his attention like the wet pouring down his wife’s cheeks.

A little shyly–“Me.” I pick up a bottle of cologne and inhale, and try to remember.

He reads the first few lines and skims it over, smiling. He reads the date, “2007…” his voice a little unsteady. I wonder if he is remembering the year that we had Isabella, when we were still at our old church with our beloved Pastor and his wife, when we were married to a church body, before spiritual devastation happened, when life was very, very good and God’s graces flowed abundantly. Like babes, we ignorantly lapped it up, not fully knowing what we had.

I reach up into the closet shelf where a soft blue t-shirt, something close to cadet blue, peeks out and I look at the tag, oh, a Large, this will have to do.

I walk into the living room, right up to the man and hand him the card, tell him it made me cry to find it there, to read it, bend down and take his face in my hands and tell him he is a wonderful Granddaddy, my body bent over and my heart bent over in all this weeping reality, all this gospel light, all this love.

Instead of looking at me and acknowledging, he makes some remark about how not everybody thinks he’s so great. But I know it’s hit it’s mark–right there in the softness of his heart the arrow pierced–I can see that little bit of twinkle in his eye, the smile dancing in the corner, that he won’t let have center-stage.

He avoids my eyes, but I know he hears me. These are the only words he ever wanted to hear in the whole of his life.

I lay down in the dark coolness of their room with baby girl next to me, and she fidgits some, but like me, her body soon gives way to Granny’s high thread-count sheets, shadow’s cool of blankets piled high atop us.

I lie there thinking as I drift off, how many graces God has given, how He has bent low and heard me, listened to my heart’s cry, that mighty God himself would bend over, heart exploding for me, this is extravagant grace that I can hardly imagine or fully allow.

But in spite of me, His arrow has hit it’s mark and I gush over and out and I can do nothing but fling arms open wide to all this love.

**edited re-post from the archives

Shared with Sarah Bessey at her International Women’s Day synchroblog, where we’re writing about Patron Saints and Spiritual Midwives…

Related: A Beautiful Tapestry Not Of My Own Making {Patron Saints and Spiritual Midwives}…“I have sat on summer and fall afternoons on her screened in wrap-around front porch, us swinging on her oak swing, Mississippi breeze blowing gently, as her voice so shaky and slow, told me of her husband, an alcoholic, and how he beat her. She told me of how the kids would run outside and play up under the house so they wouldn’t have to be around…” Click here to read more…

When You Just Want To Be A Better Mother– How We’re Saved Everyday

I turn over, bury head underneath covers against morning light, trying to sleep away the fogginess from staying up too late the night before. I finally tumble out of bed, equilibrium rolling and room’s floor shifting. The unlevel wooden floors of this ‘ole house don’t help much.

My hair a ratted nest, I grab my water and chamomile tea cup and head for the kitchen and freshly brewed coffee, hoping for one of those heart cookies Husband left for us this morning.

Upon entering a little too sunshine lit living room, Ivy informs me that the little ones ate all the cookies and left none for anyone else. So the first duty of the day before I can even brew a cup of coffee is to discipline my little ones.

My wee one asks, “Out, Mama?” and I call back, with a warm smile, “Yes, cutie pie, you can get out.” “Yay!” she cries, and so the day begins. I cozy up on the couch and drink coffee, find the recipe for Lorna, mourning that I didn’t prepare and buy ingredients ahead of time for us to do our normal tradition of baking sweets together, all of us hens in the kitchen, clucking happily away.

That won’t be this year, because I botched it up. I have no one to blame but myself. I know there is only a vapor, a moment of time to create memories with these girls, and then they’re gone. Teaching them to bake, sew, and do fractions, how to find the right man–I only have a blink for those things and then they’ll be off, teaching their daughters.

I go into the kitchen, awake now, and tell Lorna I want to make the pancakes, all of us together. It’s Valentines Day, after all, I tell her. I am seized with new hope and get out the heart-shaped cookie cutter, place it on the griddle. I pour in the chia seeds and flax seeds, because I’ve been wanting us to eat better, but have lacked the energy. Zeal settles upon me and all of the sudden everything must be perfect. We are going to make heart-shaped pancakes, and it’s going to be awesome. Ivy will wash while I ladle thick batter onto sizzling heat, Lorna will measure out the dry ingredients, then Ivy and Bella will both come and stand on the stool and ladle the last of the batter into the hearts. And we’ll do it all with smiles.

Then the coffee kicks into over-drive, because in an instant I go from happy zeal to irritated and my face and body is hot all over. My blood pressure feels elevated, heart beating way too hard and fast in my chest. I fuss too loud at Ivy, underfoot, not obeying my request to wash and she walks away lips trembling. One tiny is yelling my name at the top of her voice over and over, the other tiny is provoking her, loudly sing-song-ing “Wah-wah-Wah-wah”, and the pancakes are burning. I can’t find my Wise Words For Moms discipline and training chart, I ruffle through the tray on the fridge and it goes crashing to the floor, contents spilling. Lilly is standing right below me now, crying, clinging, the pancakes threaten to turn black, sizzling fiercely, eldest daughter watches me with big hawk eyes, and I’m much too keenly aware of the impression my actions are making on her as the clock ticks on the oven. Everything begins to close in too tight around me, and I turn around and shout at Bella to just. shut. up!

Lilly begins to wail and snub and I realize she thinks I’m yelling at her. I sink down to the floor, look at the tear running down her little face, and grab her, fold her into my safety and nurture. I begin to cry with her, and she pulls back, looks at me. I sign that I’m sorry, rub my chest with my fist. “I’m sorry,” I sob. Tears run. She sees the sadness on my face and her lips turn down and tremble. Her eyes have huge questions in them. I call to all my girls–come here, come to me.

I tell them Mama is sorry that I got aggravated and angry and sinned. I tell them the bible says do not sin in our anger, which means that while it may be completely natural to get irritated or angry at times with someone, what’s important is what we do with that anger. We are to love them in our anger and not sin against them. Mama sinned, I say. I yelled, I disciplined you in anger and that was wrong. I look each one in the eyes and tell them. I tell them Mama needs Jesus.

I crumble over and my body racks with sobs in confession, so good for the soul, so good for their little souls.

I fall forward because really, when I make lips tremble that I swore to protect, who can save me then? I let the repentance wash over.

It feels like a powerfully good strong cleansing.

I tell them of Christ’s pilgrimage to earth and to the cross. He wasn’t of this world, and if He’s a pilgrim, so am I, human but also spirit.

I tell how that he comes into Mama’s heart and takes away all the sin because of that cross, and how it makes me a better Mama, and all the things that I can’t do on my own? I can do them because of Him. I look straight into Lorna’s eyes.

Even Christ crumbled, even his body fell forward in agony, head bowed, the grief racking his body as he begged His Father for another way. He was torn between spirit and flesh. He was human.

And there I sit, feeling so human, looking straight into her big green eyes, taking me in, every bit of me. I direct it to her because I know she cries when she is in trouble, not because she has been found out, but because she is frustrated with herself for sinning. And so I tell her the secret that Christ knew, that Paul knew, that I know now– “You know how when you want to do good, the right thing, instead you do the wrong thing anyway?” She nods.

“Well, that’s what happens when Mama sins, too. I want so badly to be a good mother and to do the right thing. You understand that, right? But Jesus is the only one who can help me with that, because in my own sinful nature, left to my own evil heart, I would choose wrong every time.”

She nods again.

Lilly points at herself, her lip tucked downward and trembling. I know what she wants to say and can’t.

“Are you sad?” She nods, “Yeah”.

She points at me, her lip still down, her eyes speaking a thousand emotions. Oh the way children can see into a soul.

“Mama is sad too?” She nods yes. I hug her tight, tell her I’m okay and I hold all of them close. I promise them a great rest of the day and it is.

Jesus is love and He is God with us, saving us over and over and over again. Every day.

Valentine Heart Streamer Window Treatment


Some of the things we worked creatively on this year: 

Buttermilk Heart shaped pancakes made from scratch with whole wheat flour, chia seeds, flax seeds, blackberries, blueberries, with honey butter, pure maple syrup, and cinnamon.

Strawberry cake with cream cheese icing, red sprinkles and strawberries.

Red velvet cupcakes with fluffy white frosting, melted 100% cacao, shaved 100% cacao, topped with a strawberry!

Arts and crafts from last year:

*Edited re-post from the archives

Linking with Imperfect Prose: