Weeds in a Vacant Lot

 

So the other day I posted this picture on Facebook: chickweed

Asking whether it was a weed or a real-on-purpose plant.

And the comments took were not as cut and dry as I was expecting.  There was some debate.  Was this Creeping Jenny, or Chickweed?  Is this plant something desirable, or an invasive pest?

(Spoiler alert: chickweed- although the discussion has now convinced me to pull up the free plant that appeared in my yard and replace it with it’s near twin that I will purchase at the store.  Sometimes gardening- and America- makes no sense…)

But over the past 24 hours, something that was just a passing query has now taken root (pardon the pun) in my mind.

How do we determine the value of something?

Is it beauty?  Usefulness?  Rarity?  Convention?

What makes chickweed a weed and Creeping Jenny a desirable plant for your garden?  (I know that there is probably an extensive, fact based answer to this particular question, but please, for the sake of discourse, let’s let the metaphor stand…)

When is something mundane, and when is it an invitation to marvel?  What is the thing that separates the ordinary from the remarkable, the humdrum from the holy?  Is it something inherent to the object, or is beauty truly in the eye of the beholder?

If you look in the Bible, God uses ordinary objects over and over again to break into our reality.  A bush.  A donkey.  A star.  A stable.  Bread.  Wine.  Things that have ordinary uses, and yet, when viewed with kingdom eyes, shimmer with transcendence.

Children are so good at recognizing this duality.  Daily I am handed a wilting dandelion or a particularly remarkable stick?  Why?  Because, in my little people’s eyes, these are treasures.  Little boy’s pockets are always filled with rubber bands and acorns and fragments of paper, because they need an arsenal of miracles within their reach at anytime.  Poking a dead bee with a stick becomes an hour long activity.  A pile of dog poop next to the sidewalk becomes the inspiration for a 15 minute fantasy tale of the doggy that left it (don’t scoff- this happened to me this past Sunday afternoon).  To a child’s eye, the world is chock full of magic and imagination.  An adventure just waiting to happen.  To an adult, these same things simply hold face value.  Where did the whimsy go?

A few months ago, I read a poem, and then immediately took a paint pen and wrote the poem on the wall in the bathroom.  Why?  Because I only have about 7 minutes a day of uninterrupted time to shower think.  And I wanted these words to surround me during that time…

Praying by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

Just pay attention.  For me, this concept is summed up in the word Selah.  As I have noted earlier on this page, Selah is a word used in the Old Testament.  Although  the definition isn’t precisely known, scholars tend to agree it means something along the lines of “Stop, and think on this.”  When used in the Psalms, it is thought that this word could signal a musical interlude in the song.

Either way, it is an invitation, even a command, to stop.  It is a doorway into silence.  A moment that grabs your attention, that reminds you that there is more to this life than the next thing on your calendar.

When is the last time you paused?  Even just for a few breaths?  When is the last time you gave yourself permission to stop, and think on something?  To simply be grateful? Do you live an interruptible life?

I seldom do.  And yet, I am constantly seeking small rituals that can serve as reminders to pause.  To breathe.  To be aware that I am not what matters in this life.  To marvel and to give thanks to a good God who is with me all the time.  In the blue iris and in the handful of small pebbles my preschooler just handed me.

Selah.  

Advertisements

Don’t should on yourself. 

I should take my Christmas lights down. I mean, for crying out loud, Valentine’s Day is on Tuesday. Yet there they are – twinkling proudly in front of the whole neighborhood. And, if I am going to be brutally honest in this confession, I should probably also admit to the multiple strands of colored lights that are strung along my back deck. From Christmas twentyfifteen. That haven’t been plugged in since. Strung merrily on the deck that should also be pressure washed and repainted. I should feel guilty about this. I should put this near the top of a honey do list. But…. meh. 

I have a feeling that most of us have a long list of shoulds that confront us from the moment we pull our heads off of the pillow each morning. I should have gotten up an hour earlier to exercise. I should make the bed. I should drink less caffeine. I should take a shower. I should buy stock in dry shampoo. I should have a wholesome family moment including scripture reading and some sort of commissioning prayer each morning with my kids over a hot cooked breakfast. I should not be putting on mascara while driving my children to daycare. I should listen to that voicemail blinking on the work phone. 

All those shoulds and it’s not even 9 AM.

And even more insidious than those are all the shiny happy social media shoulds. I should take my kids to the children’s museum. I should read more. I should make my own soap. I should have friends to be drinking wine with on a Tuesday night. I should go on vacation to Mexico and take pictures of my polished toenails in a hammock. I should learn to knit. I should join the PTA or PETA or the PLC. I should be doing the 21 day fix or eating paleo or crossfitting. (Confession- I am not entirely sure what any of the last three things are). 

We spend so much of our lives shoulding all over ourselves. And, my friends, should is a dirty word. Should is a sibling to shame. Kin to guilt and insecurity and depression. When has a should in your life ever brought you a feeling of freedom? Ever come with a sense of joy? Shoulds never do. They are heavy and muddy brown. A burden, not a gift. 

And this too – most shoulds are not actual shoulds. They are not necessary to sustain life – I would posit that one could live a full happy life without bowing to many shoulds at all. 

In fact, here is a thought experiment: what if you turned all of your shoulds into coulds? Instead of I should read that book: I could read that book. All of a sudden an obligation has turned into an invitation. One that you were free to either except or decline. You could learn how to can vegetables, or you could not. By changing one tiny letter, you sweep the desk clean from stacks of imaginary burdens, and create room for possibility. 

If should is connected to shame, could is akin to whimsy. To opportunity and, dare I say it, joy. Could invites the imagination to engage. It automatically puts you in a mindset where you can decide if this is something you actually want to do… something you actually have time for. Should forces its way in, while could simply knocks and waits. 

So. Next time you discover that you are shoulding all over yourself, stop. Ask your self if this is truly something you want to do. And even if you want to do it, ask yourself if it is something that you ever actually will accomplish. I will give you a hint – if you are anything like me, starting your own garden and/or learning to quilt automatically goes in the “I’m never going to do that” category. 

Let your should turn into what it actually was all along… A could. And see if that invitation sparks joy, or anxiety.

So yes, I should take down my Christmas lights. But darn it, I like them. So shine on you gorgeous twinkly stars. Life’s too short to should your pants. 

Santa Claus: when my kids ask…

**SPOILER ALERT** if you 1) can read and 2) are on facebook or WordPress and 3) are reading this instead of watching cat videos, I assume you are mature enough to handle the real deal… 

I love Christmas. The whole shebang. For as long as I can remember I’ve started my Christmas shopping in June. Started sneaking listens to Christmas music in September. Stockpiled glittery red dresses and Christmas shirts for my kids from thrift stores year round. 

I love the traditions the cookies and the stories that surround Christmastime. 

But last week, when my 5 year old asked me if Santa was real… I couldn’t not tell him the truth. 

Because Jesus. 

There are so many stories that circulate this time of year. Elf on the shelf. Rudolph. Frosty the Snowman. Santa. Buddy the Elf. That eggnog tastes good. The stories make this time of year sparkle. They fill us with whimsy and wonder and excitement for what is to come. But they don’t hold a candle to the other Story we tell this time of year.

Sometimes I wonder what happens in our children’s minds when the truth gets mixed in with all that fiction. 

So. 

When my sweet little boy asked me if Santa was real, I just couldn’t say yes. I just couldn’t perpetuate the confusion, the dilution, that is Christmas these days. 

So here is what I said: 

“Well Colton, answer me this… Are superheroes real? (this is a conversation we’ve already had multiple times) 

“We know it’s really fun to pretend that there are superheroes.   But the truth is, there’s no one magic (wo)man that can beat up all the bad guys. Instead, there are lots and lots of good people who go to work every day as policemen and firefighters that help protect us all and keep us safe. And there are even more people, just regular people like you and me, who do kind things all the time. They help people that need help and work to make our world a happier place. And all of us working together can do more than one superhero could ever do.

“and Santa Claus is the person we say brings gifts and joy on Christmas Eve. But really, what brings us happiness is each other. The things we do together. The family we get to see, the special things we do as friends and family. And of course the gifts we choose for each other. But  the thing that truly brings us joy is the reason we celebrate Christmas – that baby Jesus came to the world and through Him God sent his son to save us from our sins. That’s what we are really celebrating at Christmas time. 

“I’m telling you this because I want you to know that I will never lie to you about things that are really important. When I tell you something is true, I want you to believe me. We can tell lots of stories and have lots of fun, but at the end of the day I want to always be someone you know will tell you the truth.”

And after all of that, my sweet son looked me in the eye and said in all seriousness: “Mommy you are wrong. I KNOW Santa is real. I sat on his lap.”

Oh well. 

You win some you lose some. 

And to all a good night. 

say YES!

IMG_6545As a working mother of a toddler, I live in a world of no.  No.  You can’t eat Ritz crackers for dinner.  No, you can’t play with the sidewalk chalk when it is 8 degrees and dark outside.  No.  You can’t watch ANOTHER hour of Thomas the Train on Netflix.  No, no, no, no, no.

The other day, I picked up Colton from school, and he raced to his cubby.  He pulled out a neon blue lollipop and told me he had earned it at school today, and that he wanted to give it to ME.   Could I open it now?  No, Colton, we can’t open it now.  We are going to get your sister and we can’t be all sticky.  Once the kids were settled in the car, Colton asked again if I wanted to eat my lollipop. No Colton, we are headed to church supper.  We shouldn’t eat a lollipop right before dinner.  Then, heading home from church… No Colton, it’s almost bedtime. This isn’t time for candy.  The next morning at breakfast, Colton asked me if I wanted my lollipop, and tears sprang to my eyes.  My precious son was trying to give me the lollipop he earned as his prize at school.  Why was I rejecting it over and over?  So right then and there I unwrapped it.  I had candy for breakfast, and a bright blue tongue to remind me of the little boy who wanted to give me a the one thing he had to give.

I think I have started saying no so much that it is now my automatic reaction.  I call it the ‘knee jerk no’.  But I don’t want my relationship with my child to be centered around the things he can’t do.  I want to take the time to really celebrate the everyday magic in life.  So I am going to focus on learning when to say YES!

Yes.  We can read another story before bedtime.

Yes.  You can bake cookies without your shirt on.
and yes.  you can eat the dough.  That’s the whole point of making cookies!

IMG_6410

Yes.  You can choose your outfit today.

IMG_6654

Yes.  Your mother loves you, and yes, she is available and present with you.

With each yes, I see a bit more of the magic of childhood.  I remember what it was like to feel the cold breeze of winter as a novelty and not an imposition.  I remember that it is fun to take a long bubble bath with lots of toys, to wear mismatched pajamas, and that the world will not end if bedtime is 15 minutes late.  I remember that I only have this moment with my little boy one time and that it is a gift to be reveled in, not endured, or scheduled to the teeth.

Saying yes to Colton entails more than just spontaneity.  I must also learn to say NO to other things.  Extra work projects.  My mental to do list.  Even good things, like time with friends or fun events.

And there are still many no’s to be said… I am still trying to raise a God-loving, responsible, unselfish human being.  But I want to remember that part of my role as a parent is to show the joy in life as well as the rules…

And then there’s this…

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 7:9-12

IMG_6607