Is this the real life?

snow-dayAs we round out the first month of this shiny-if-not-still-perfect new year, many of us have had the opportunity already to enjoy multiple vacations. Some were on purpose over New Year’s Day and the holidays, and some came as a pleasant surprise, thanks to the widespread blanket of snow provided last week by Winter Storm Jonas.  We have seen parties, pajamas, pancakes, and about a million snow selfies thanks to the modern marvel that is social media.

Now the other shoe drops.  As the snow is clearing and the breaks are coming to an end, I keep seeing the same sad message posted over and over again: “Well, back to reality…”  But is it, though?  Is our normal routine the true definition of reality, or could it be that daily life itself is the illusion?

Let’s have a closer look at Snow Days vs. regular days and see how they match up.
(Note: Gross generalizations follow; feel free to replace them with your own experiences.  Also, weekends don’t count as regular days, in case that had to be said.)

Food
snow day foodOn a regular day, food is what happens between activities and obligations.  We grab drive-thru on our way to work, toss some processed and pre-formed freezer meals or (God help us) Lunchables into a bag for midday, and throw together whatever is quickest and least guilt-inducing for supper – not to mention all the caffeine we keep infusing just to make it through on pace.   Sure, we have phases of entree salads and crock pot meals, but I’d say those are balanced out by the days when we just can’t, so we eat out for all three meals.

snow day frenchtoastOn a Snow Day, food is an act of love.  As evidenced by the empty aisles at the grocery store, we prepare for every possible nutritional need or desire on a Snow Day.  French toast with bacon and strawberries, heaping pots of chili that simmer for hours, s’mores and piles of homemade sugar cookies…nothing is too good for our loved ones and ourselves.  The kitchen becomes a veritable playground for reviving old traditions, trying new things, and turning nutrition into an art form.

Family and Relationships
snow day 3On a regular day, relationships are something we dream about or long for or miss. 
In order to pay the bills or build the career, we are often leaving behind someone else we’d rather be with.  Meanwhile, we’re surrounded by secondary relationships with others who are forced into our circles by circumstance and equally wish they were home with someone else.  We’re all just trying to smile and make the best of it and love the ones we’re with.

Black-Family-in-SnowOn a Snow Day, relationships are right there in our faces, whether we like it or not.  We wake together, eat together, build snowmen together, go through our entire TiVo library together, get bored together, get irritated together, sleep together…  Okay, it’s a lot of togetherness, maybe too much after a while.  But the thing is, we’re connected.  We know what’s going on with each other, and we have the time and opportunity to share if we want to.  Plus, we can’t run away from each other when it gets difficult.

Fun
no funOn a regular day, we don’t have much fun; we function.  
We’re busy.  We’re worried.  We’re doing the grind and bringing home the bacon and recovering from doing the grind and bringing home the bacon.  Maybe we catch a good song on the car radio, make a silly face over dinner with the kids, or divert our attention with a little Facebook, and those moments are nice but they’re truly not enough.

 

snowday2On a Snow Day, we can barely function because we’re having so much fun!  Want to take advantage of the day off and sleep in?  Can’t, because the kids are jumping on your head to go look at the snow, play in the snow, take the animals out in the snow!  Need us to shovel the driveway?  Okay, but we’re totally just going to snowboard back down it when we’re done – or even before then!  Think you’re going to catch up on some work or chores?  Can’t, because there are piles of snowy outerwear strewn all over the house!  It’s a soggy, beautiful, mad mess all the day long.

Free Time
On a regular day, free time is…wait, free time? 
What is that?

snow day sabbathOn a Snow Day, we are given the gift of a mandatory Sabbath.  We’re stopping to look at the sky.  We’re getting outside and appreciating nature.  We’re taking time for the things that energize us and the people we love.  Our routines are broken, our fallbacks are shaken up, and we only have ourselves and whatever we brought with us into the day.  We are at rest…if not well rested.

On a regular day, we do what is necessary.
On a Snow Day, we do what we were made for.

THAT is the real life.  It’s okay not to want to leave it.

new year, new…weeds?

weeds-for-saleAs part of our 2016 New Year rituals , my family decided to spend our final day of winter break this week in the garden.  We made this plan expecting to uproot and discard leftover dead growth from last year’s harvest, and to cover the newly bare earth with a blanket of leaves.   Sounds perfectly lovely and symbolic, right?  What we did not expect was encountering a large distribution of healthy, deeply rooted green weeds that we would have to spend fully two-thirds of our morning digging up  – in January!

How do you think we responded?

Did we hunch our shoulders and give up on the task entirely in disgust?  Proudly, no.

Did we smile, inhale deeply, and plunge into the fresh challenge with optimism, gusto, and a deep appreciation for the character we were about to build?  Not exactly, though we may choose to remember it that way.

Did we procrastinate a little to assess and discuss the situation at length before digging into the unavoidable with a mild air of resentment?  Maybe some of us did…a little.

Here, in the spirit of full disclosure, is a composite outline of my mature and deeply spiritual thoughts as we bravely took back our land from the encroachers:

Not fair!  This is not okay.  Weeding is a summer activity, not a winter one; don’t you know that?  It’s January and this is ridiculous and I shouldn’t have to do it.  No.

Rats.  My kids are watching.  If I quit this, I will never get them to finish a chore ever again.  Where’s the stupid rake?

Sleet?  Really?  NOW comes the cold, dry, weed-prohibiting weather?  Thanks a lot, Mother Nature.

Hey, that sleet is kind of pretty in our hair.

sandhill cranesWow, sandhill cranes At first I thought they were geese flying overhead, but that’s wrong because their calls sound like a cross between domestic turkeys and Julia Child.  They are really beautiful.  Happy travels, cranes!

How do I not have all of these weeds out yet?  I rake and I rake and I pick and I pick and still there are clumps, usually stupid tiny ones hiding under the rake marks, impervious to my might.  Get out, get out, get out already!

Aw, my girls are working so well together.  Look at them, filling that wheel barrow and encouraging each other and making jokes.  They’re going to do so great on their own someday.

-“All right, you guys, knock it off!”  Will they never develop the people skills to get through ONE DAY without arguing or having any meltdowns?  They’re never going to make it on their own.

Oregano is the devil.  It has overgrown the entire herb patch and I am going to break this rake getting it out of the ground.  Burn in hell, Oregano!

-[holds giant, basketball-sized Oregano root ball to the sky]  I did it!  I got it! I have emerged victorious from the trenches of war!  Away with you, vile foe, never to darken our dirt again.

That was fun!  Let’s all hug and go inside and chow down on some chili.  Maybe later, we can clean out the closets!

garden 01.16

 

the kingdom for a cookie

The most beautiful Christmas tree I ever saw was a discard on its way to the dump. kingdom treeIt had been a lean Christmas for us, and in the absence of funding for elaborate decorations, my mother built a simple faux fireplace on the main wall of our living room. The mantle allowed just enough room for our stockings and for the nativity scene to rest in prominent view as the center of our celebration. The whole display was actually made of cardboard, but it was colorful and festive and she got it special for me, so I was perfectly content. My uncle, however, who came visiting the day after Christmas, found it confusing. He pressed my mother at some length for a good reason that I did not have a Christmas tree, as all children rightfully should. (This is probably a good time to note that it was my first Christmas, and he was only five years old.) Not having the financial acumen or social sensitivity required to grasp the situation, he finally resigned himself to the injustice of it all and – no doubt at the behest of the adults – decided to spend his energies playing outside. kingdom fireplaceSome time later, in the midst of dinner preparations, my uncle came bursting back into the house. He was red-faced and out of breath, yet oddly reserved and mannerly for a young boy in the throes of vigorous exercise. This could only mean that he wanted something. Sure enough, not even waiting for a pause in the conversation, he donned his most cherubic face, widened his eyes with pure innocence, and inquired as to whether he might have six of my mother’s chocolate chip cookies, please, right away. This was oddly specific. My mother had made plenty of cookies and was happy to dispense them to her sweet little brother generously, but there was something curious in his manner that led her to question him. Why six cookies, and why the urgency? It turns out, my uncle hadn’t resigned himself to injustice at all; he had been busily setting things right. kingdom cookies 6As he was enjoying the outdoors, one of our neighbor boys had been assigned the chore of taking his family’s used Christmas tree to the curb for pick-up. Sensing providence and opportunity, my uncle immediately approached the boy and began wheeling and dealing for its acquisition. Since cookies were the only currency available to him, that’s what he offered and the neighbor decided six would be fair. All my uncle needed was to take those cookies out, and the tree would be ours. Swallowing back a rising lump in her throat, my mother opened the cookie jar and let him choose his six perfect cookies. He ran them outside, then talked his new friend into helping to carry it into our house. These two earnest young boys muscled my tree across the street, through the door, and into a corner near the nativity scene, then somehow managed to prop it up securely enough for display. This was some tree. What had originally been perfect form was now lopsided from the weight of its former decorations. There were scattered clumps of crushed icicles all over it on random branches. It had lost a fair number of needles at the hands of its young movers, too – but it was mine: my tree, my gift, bought with the uninhibited love of a young boy who cared enough to go find it for me. Love made it perfect. I don’t know whether my family added any decorations to my tree that night, or how long it was allowed to stay. In truth, I don’t actually have a visual memory of it at all, just images imprinted on my heart from the story as we’ve told it over the years. Yet that tattered old leftover tree remains as the standard to which I hold all Christmas trees, and the epitome of love made tangible and real. Oh, and to this day, my mother still gives her little brother cookies for Christmas.  Every year. kingdom cookies

the big reveal

Halloween costumes have been the subject of much colorful discussion this year in my circles.

First there was this cartoon, which I saw posted on several Facebook pages but most notably on A Mighty Girl:

costume dilemma

Somewhat related, several of my coworkers have loudly bemoaned their difficulties in finding the perfect work-appropriate costume that is fun while remaining firmly within our safety and HR-friendly standards.

And scary clown costumes are making headlines, thanks to some disturbing experimentalists in California and Europe, as well as our freaky friends at American Horror Story.

All this talk of dressing up and what to wear and whom to be and how to be it has me thinking.  I don’t believe we actually cover ourselves up in this tradition of donning the perfect disguise / gag / alter ego for the night.  Rather, our choices reveal much more about us than we intend.

halloween 13For example, two years ago, my oldest daughter, in the midst of a tumultuous inner bout with teenage emotional upheaval, chose that Halloween to become Storm, the X-Men team member with control over any type of weather.

My beloved cousin, who moved away this year to law school, is being the Mad Hatter for Halloween: a kinetic, poetic creature driven mad by his craft, but coping through the whimsical interpretation of a comforting domestic ritual: afternoon tea.  (He also happened to escape an unjust conviction and sentence through manipulation of the “law” and an appeal to the Queen of Hearts, who had condemned him.)

Celebrities often dress up in surprisingly tame choices – surprising until you remember that they are already larger than life.  In that case, a simple cat or garden gnome costume is comforting in the other direction: a reflection of things that are ordinary, simple, and safe.

When you consider that the original purpose of wearing a disguise on Halloween had to do with warding off unwelcome spirits and/or attacks against the soul, the expressiveness of our costumes becomes all the more poignant.

I myself am not dressing up for Halloween, and haven’t done so for years.  Whether it’s due to an excess of honesty (I am who I am and I like who I am), crippling indecision, or mere self-deprecation (I don’t feel qualified to wear the one I really want to be), I will leave to your imagination.

Then again, that might tell you everything you need to know.

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.  Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.  -Oscar Wilde

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. -Oscar Wilde

 

much and more: a tale of four apple seeds

4 apple seedsFour little apple seeds.  That’s how it all started.

Four tiny little apple seeds have dominated – nay, wrecked my household over the past two weeks.

Because of four little apple seeds, I have lost approximately fifty hours that I had earmarked for other purposes.  Instead of getting my hair cut, reorganizing my bedroom, and a host of other noble activities, I have been forced to heed the urgent, silent cry of 50 lbs. of produce on my counter: Clean us!  Cook us!  Preserve us before we rot and grow flies!

Because of four little apple seeds, my house is a mess.  My precious living space, which I prefer to keep tidy and full of peace (or at least vacuumed), is gasping for breath beneath a layer of earth and leaves.  Sweep as I may, it is all for naught; the moment I approach the next apple, another dusting begins to fall.  This endless cycle has led me to neglect my regular weekly chores as well, and the cost is piling up.

Because of four little apple seeds, I am exhausted.  Working through my days off and cooking into the night have trimmed much needed hours off of my commitment to rest and relaxation.  My hair is frizzy, I’m always hot, and my clothes are riddled with patches of cinnamon-scented goo.  I am not a pretty picture.

And we’re still not done.  There’s another whole load of apples at my aunt’s house, whimpering and waiting for me to come pick them up!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd yet…I wouldn’t change a thing.

Thanks to those four little apple seeds, my family has spent the majority of our last two weeks in real face time together.  We have filled our humble kitchen with slicing, stirring, boiling, laughing, arguing, singing, and more, with nothing but music to accompany us.  We have made memories that we already enjoy to recount – and we’re still not done.

Thanks to four little apple seeds, our hands have generated more than 40 pints of locally grown, chemical-free, homemade apple butter.  It is – and I say this with all due humility – the best apple butter I have ever tasted.  Of course, we have more than we could ever possibly hope to eat ourselves, so we will be able to take the excess and sell it.  At $4.00 per half pint, the project will more than have paid for our investment – and we’re still not done.

Thanks to four little apple seeds, we have been given a chance to participate in the harvest.  We have shared, in a very small way, the sweat and vigor of those who live off of only what their own hands can produce and preserve.  We have a physical reminder of the multiplied blessings that come when we plant good seeds in the world and in the lives of others.  We have received and given back thousands of times more than what was originally sown.

And we’re still not done.

Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed."  -Robert H. Schuller

Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed. -Robert H. Schuller

the stuff of dreams and lent

Last night, I had an epic trilogy of nightmares.

In Part I, I was first pursued, then held hostage by a serial killer.  This dude was scary; he was Hannibal Lecter and Lex Luthor and Nurse Ratched all wrapped in one.  I kept trying to get away from him, but he always caught up.  I couldn’t let anyone around me know what was happening or else he’d kill them all, too.  He wanted me and only me, and I felt like a mouse being played with by a cat.

Eventually, I was able to distance myself and my family from him somehow, because Part II found us at church.  The service and Sunday School were over and we were about to go outside when a brewing storm system suddenly gave birth to about a dozen tornadoes.  Most of them were far away, but I saw one coming right for us, so I ushered us down into the basement.  It passed over us without harming us or the structure around us, but I could hear people’s screams outside as they were sucked in.

This transitioned into Part III as we drove home and settled in.  My girls went to bed and I was talking with my mother, when out of one of our bedrooms came the person with whom I have the most difficult relationship in my life.  She came out and stared right at me, but she wanted to talk to my mother, not me.  I stepped aside and let her pass, and then walked away, praying fervently my mom wouldn’t allow herself to get hurt in the conversation.

Then I woke up.  I believe my profound thought upon rousing was, “What in the [bad word] was that?!”

Now I’m no Joseph, but I enjoy dream analysis and interpretation very much.  There is a lot of material in these dreams to pore over, and it doesn’t take a genius to speculate that there is some kind of stress / turmoil going on in my head.

Do I think it a coincidence that my last thoughts before going to bed that night circled around Lent?  Absolutely not.

I have observed Lent since I was sixteen years old and it is always a complex labor of love.  Deciding what to do / not do for forty days seems straightforward, but I easily devolve into a sort of tug-of-war between what God is calling me to do and what I think will benefit (or, let’s be honest, what will look best on) myself.  I must constantly check myself and pray over it, or I can degrade the spiritual work by turning it into a glorified New Year’s resolution.

And that’s the “easy” part.

After that comes the real work of living it out.  Giving without letting my right hand know what the left is doing, keeping up appearances so as not to garner the praise or sympathy of others, and doing it all without complaining or arguing…well.  I can barely master those disciplines on Christmas Day!  Throw in a little warfare against my human nature and will and it’s amazing how fast and furiously the rationalizations start to fly.

The truth is, I know this all affirms that the work is good.  If my flesh lashes out, it’s because it needs the discipline.  When my mind tries to talk me out of it, it only shows that it needs this retraining.  Every swing of my emotions will only reorient them to the One I really need to connect with for peace.

Serial killers?  Come ahead!  I’m killing myself anyway so I can live with Christ.

Tornadoes?  Blow away!  I serve the One who will both use and calm the storm.

Enemies?  Do your worst!  I will walk in love and forgiveness, and God will make everything right in the end.

coalesce

  • I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

  • Prejudices are the chains forged by ignorance to keep men apart.  ~Countess of Blessington

 

  • Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught.  I have a two-year-old son.  You know what he hates?  Naps!  End of list.  ~Dennis Leary

 

  • To live anywhere in the world today and be against equality because of race or color is like living in Alaska and being against snow.  ~William Faulkner

 

  • It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little – do what you can.  ~Sydney Smith

 

  • People know about the Klan and the overt racism, but the killing of one’s soul little by little, day after day, is a lot worse than someone coming in your house and lynching you. ~Samuel L. Jackson

 

  • Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated. ~Kofi Annan

 

  • Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope… and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.  ~Robert F. Kennedy

 

  • Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.  ~Mother Teresa

 

  • How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.  ~Anne Frank

 

Happy MLK Day, all!