new year’s eve…


I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. 

Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show.

-Andrew Wyeth

Well, my friends, here we are again. We are entering into that end of the old year/beginning of the new year holding pattern at the airport of life, waiting to land and disembark into the foggy future. We are ready to let go of the stale air we’ve been breathing all year and take in the fresh sights and sounds of  2014.

I have always liked even-numbered years. I have great hopes for this one. Even so, I admit it’s hard to get excited about the New Year in the middle of the gray Chicago winter. The view outside my window seems to work against that overall “hopeful” feeling I’m meant to employ this time of year.

The first full winter we spent in our Chicago bungalow on the north side of the city, my husband and I decided to stay in on New Year’s Eve. Our house sat at an odd bend on a “cut through” street so though we were snuggled in close to our small, wood burning fireplace in the front room of that bungalow, we were privy to each wild reveller who staggered down the sidewalk and each drunk driver tearing down the street. We turned off the lights in our house once our daughter was in bed and we sat, warmed by the fire, watching the action outside. The snow had been piling up all day and showed no signs of stopping. By the time midnight drew near the snow lay as a thick carpet on the road and the sidewalks. Cars tearing down the road began to slow a little, just a little, sliding along that odd bend and we watched from the safety of our house set back just enough from the road.

When, finally the magic midnight hour had passed, we made ready to get to bed. Just then a car came careening down Manor avenue. We could hear it plowing its way through the thick, compacted snow on the street, cracking under the weight of the car, brakes squealing and failing, tires locking. The mid-sized vehicle hit the snow bank opposite our house, not being stopped by or entering into the bank but, rather, seeming to climb it. It came to rest, for the most part, on top of that 5 foot bank of snow. It was suspended there, the driver and passengers of the vehicle making no move to get out. The driver spent some time trying to back his way off that snow bank but it was no use. The car was taken in by the snow bank, picked up, embraced and adopted. After a short time, the car wobbled a little as doors opened and four men tumbled out into the waiting cold. They were laughing and swearing, teasing the driver who seemed completely flummoxed by the situation. They were most likely drunk and most certainly amused. It surprised my husband and I to see them turn quietly, all at once, and walk away from the car once they began to feel the cold and the falling snow. It was as if a switch was thrown and they were given orders to move from the place.

The night was quiet then, maybe a car or two drove slowly down the street, perhaps a plow or a salt truck, slowing down to see the wrecked car taken hostage by the snow bank. In the morning the car was still there, residing in all the white. It was a banner storm. The tow truck showed up a day later when the roads were clear. We were never really sure of the whole story there. We would invent scenarios in the coming days to amuse ourselves, imagine the conversations that came in the wake of that event.

I don’t know exactly what it is about that story that begs me to write about it today, on the cusp of this New Year. It may be the strangeness of it, the unexpected nature of things, perhaps prophetic to where we’re find ourselves in the coming years as we struggle with seeking out peace and embracing the chaos that’s bound to show up despite our best efforts to stave it off.

It’s life. It’s just like that and we take it as it comes, whether we’re the ones in the car climbing the snow bank or in front of the fire witnessing it. The story stays though. It remains in us, waiting for the telling.

Many happy returns, lovely readers!


whispering into the chaos…

That head cold everyone has been sporting this year finally caught up with me. I’ve been ducking it for months. Every time it came around the corner I hid, sure it would eventually give up and move into another region of the country. It’s clever, this head cold. It finally found its way into my body while my immune system was on sabbatical. I think it entered through the corner of my eye. For a number of reasons I haven’t been sleeping well. There has been an awful lot of eye rubbing and that spot is vulnerable; soft tissues, windows to the soul and all that.

I felt the head cold rush over me yesterday with the general malaise, the throat on fire, the constant sniffling. I tried to ward it off with garlic and apple cider vinegar and vitamin C but once it is in your system there is no going back. It cannot be weeded out of the body. It can only be endured. The body is treated with care; rest, water, juices, propped up head on pillows when the nose blocks up.

There is no cure for this common cold.

Today the head cold robbed me of my voice. I knew it before I even tried to speak. Even the air through my throat had no sound. The force of trying to get a noise behind the word I was attempting was laborious and even a little painful. I took the path of least resistance and so I am not speaking. I am only whispering.

There is something calming about this forced outward silence even though the people around me are as loud as ever I’m carrying this strange quiet around with me. This morning when the kids realized I could not yell up the stairs to answer their bellowed questions they’d come down to me to ask again. Each time the kids came to me with questions or problems I answered them in a whisper and they returned with a whisper too. The calm was contagious.

I may never speak aloud again.

Alright, that’s a false promise, I confess. It does plant in me a new idea, one that I am not entirely happy to admit. For as much as I complain about the loudness of my family and about my need for the silence I understand today that screaming into the cacophony can never silence the cacophony. It’s a good theory that whispering into the chaos might find me some sliver of  calm, some crack in the crazy into which I can inject a little wisdom. All this time I’ve been trying to out loud the loudness, to slam down my mighty fist on the drama machine never realizing that I am not separate from the drama machine. I’m a cog in it as much as anyone.

And then I’m struck with the idea of “control.”  Yelling louder than the thunder feels like control. Losing my cool feels like power. Becoming Mt Vesuvius feels like the all-encompassing final word…and perhaps it is. The question I find I ask today however becomes, “is that the final word I want to use?”

It isn’t really the final word though. In reality when I lose my cool and erupt the final words are actually, “I’m sorry” and “will you forgive me for losing my temper?” and hopefully “yes, you are forgiven.” And while these are good words, vital words upon which to end the scene I wonder today, in the midst of my virus induced vow of silence, what it might look like for me to be able to whisper into the chaos more often, to go there naturally knowing I have nothing to lose by leaning in, knowing that perhaps the whispering is the virus and the whispering is the cure and the whispering is the practice we need to keep our cool, to mellow the yelling, to soothe Mt Vesuvius.

It’s a good theory, anyway.


all about the storm…

This monday morning finds me in an unexpectedly contemplative place or it could be that my coffee is simply not doing its job well enough. One more mug and I’ll be as impatient and disquieted as ever I expect.

But while I’m here, sitting in this relative peace I thought I’d type up some thoughts. Because my kids are young and homeschooled I have to grab these moments. It’s too bad really, that my first instinct is to snatch them up and stuff them in my pockets rather than just relax a minute, holding those moments in my hand, open palm, vulnerable. Somehow I think that keeping them tucked safely away means that later on I’ll be able to pull out my treasure trove and let it all sink in but we both know that’s a trick of the light, don’t we? It’s like an old fable or a new movie plot, once I have the chance to take in that stored up moment I realize that it was perishable and it’s rotted in the dark of my pocket.

And then I’m grieving because I realize I cannot put my fingers on that moment ever again.

It sounds dire and perhaps it is. It’s especially dire for me right now, mother of four home-schooled chaos champions. Those moments are manna, vitamin packed and yes, perishable. It’s hard for me to remember that, to take the time needed to eat, to be ready for the next grouping of catastrophe prone adventure. In some ways I suppose I always thought that the reward for keeping us intact day after day was this moment of peace and clarity but I see now it’s not. It’s fuel. The day-to-day living part is where the magic things happen, I’m not just a cog in the wheel in those moments. I’m not only there to keep us intact, in fact I’m not sure I’m there to keep us intact at all. I like to imagine myself, the center of the swirling storm during the day-to-day chaotic living, arms raised in orchestration, smiling though the thunder and lightning. Looking back now, in this moment of reflection I confess I can see it all clear now. I don’t feel that “eye of the storm” calm. I feel cranky in those moments, out of control, desperate and grasping for any dry land I can find. I’m not the eye of the storm at all and it surprises me to realize that I’m as much a chaos provider as the rest of my wacky family. It surprises me and right now, honestly, in this moment of quiet I realize too that I’m relieved by this realization.

While being the “eye of the storm” looks to be a satisfying role to take and one I hope I will be sometime, somewhere,  I understand now that trying to operate from that vantage point with no real margin or motivation ends up being a total drag. I’m not holding the line, I’m barking out commands, I’m laden down with fear and doubt and I’m having no damn fun.

What this season of Advent affords me, I hope, is the reminder about the manna. This moment of reflection isn’t my reward for mistakenly thinking that I’ve kept this ship afloat all along because that’s an arrogant statement at best. Rather, this moment is a filling up of my spirit so that when the next storm hits I can wrap my arms around it well, not to stop the storm from happening or to lash us all to the masts and hope for the best but to be there, all hands on deck, riding it out. To be on this ship together, on this unpredictable and wild sea is the choice we’ve made here. Maybe in this family, in this season of our lives, it’s less about storing up the quiet and all about living in the storm.

monk’s cell…

That monk’s cell is beckoning again.

I can recognize the signs from a distance now. I start to say “yes” when the kids ask for more computer or tv time. I neglect the dishes or the laundry. I scowl at just about every news story filtering in. I lose my temper, my motivation and my patience all at the same time. It’s not pretty.

The world breaks into every aspect of my day, the fatigue I feel is overwhelming and I realize how far behind I’ve fallen on just about everything. Then I start to let that inform my view of my self. I don’t return important emails or voice mails, I put off tasks for another day, I let the refrigerator go empty.

In that moment, I picture my monk’s cell…self-contained, small cot like bed, clean wooden floor, neatly stacked clothing and lots of alone time.

Then I remember that I’m not alone. I’m linked into a bigger system, a big loud chaotic frenzied family system.

So the monk’s cell becomes my happy place, unattainable at the moment but existent at the very least. I’ve taken silent retreats. I know how they minister to me. I’ve explored the possibility of one day becoming aBenedictine Oblate  (thanks to Kathleen Norris) or taking a pilgrimage to Greece to visit the chapel of St Theodora of Vasta or to  Annunciation Convent in Ormylia (thanks to Scott Cairns) but realistically, those things are still years away for me. Living in the “now” is tough and often unsatisfying when there is still a world of possibilities waiting ahead of me.

This is when I stop paying attention to what’s happening around me, in this very moment. I begin to think less about the empty refrigerator and more about the monk’s cell.

And yet, even now, in this very moment, great things are afoot. My kids are making remarkable discoveries all the time. They are making unbelievable observations about the world and about our lives together. My band of little prophets speak into me every single day, sometimes all at once.

My life is a lavish feast of movement and sound, joy and angst. We’re together all the time around here, it can be exhausting. It’s a lot of work. I begin pushing back from this expansive feast because it is stressful. There is a lot of preparation in this feast, there is a lot of care, clean up, passing the ketchup, fighting over the last biscuit. The table is wild, loud, hands reaching, feet kicking under the table. It’s a far cry from the simple, silent meals of the monk.

And then, even as I write this my daughter calls out from behind her Biology book to ask me if I knew that our cells were named so because the scientist who first identified them thought they resembled monk’s cells.

I respond with a deep sigh of recognition. I recognize this moment as sacred, this message as important. Maybe in some strange metaphorical way I did know this. The idea of the cell being individual, self-contained, a universe within itself and yet part of a whole, a bigger organism, a wider community, maybe I knew that somewhere deep inside. Perhaps this explains my tendency to run screaming to my monk’s cell when it all gets to be too much.

Silence has its place even if I’m not entirely sure where it lives at this moment. But there is that cell, within each cell of me, though. And something about knowing that today, hearing it from my daughter in a rough moment, reminds me that great things are afoot. If I’m willing to see them, if I’m willing to pay attention in the present tension.