Friday, September 27, 2013

On hospitality and writing

I just finished reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott and I wish I had read it years and years ago, so I could have already read it ten times at least by now. I wish I had my own paperback copy so that I could mark up the whole thing and draw big boxes around my favorite sections and dog-ear about half the pages. So many words in the book screamed out at me, words about how to write, and why, that have given me a whole new passion for and confidence in putting down these little words of mine. This sentence in particular, though, somehow touched at the core of who I am and why I write:
"It is one of the greatest feelings known to humans, the feeling of being the host, of hosting people, of being the person people come to for food and drink and company. This is what the writer has to offer."
Yes, hospitality. Hospitality is what the writer has to offer, and it is what I as a human being have to offer, need to offer, too. I have been holding the word in my heart for years and years now, trying to make sense of why it keeps calling out to me like a Siren, of why I seem to find it hidden in every corner of my life, and of what it means for me to live it.

That word, hospitality, it feels like home to me somehow, is home to me somehow. It is the essence of what makes our place, our place. It's the commotion of a tiny space filled weekly with friends old and new, of meals shared over a table spread wide with makeshift leaves, of kids and toys scattered across the floor below, and everybody knowing where the cups are. It is in the friends who know just to knock and enter, any time of day, and in the comfort of those who stop by to pour their hearts out over a quick lunch. It is in saying, "make yourself at home" and "you're welcome any time" and meaning every word. It is in the way neighbors can turn into friends and roommates can turn into family. It is in being a place where people can come with empty hands, empty hearts, curl up on the couch, and be themselves. And somewhere along the way I have found my soul was made for this, for being home base to those that need one, this year, this month, this hour.

Our place via
What Anne Lamott is telling me is that this is true for my writer heart, too, which has been calling out to me long, long before hospitality ever entered my consciousness, with the words, "Record, record, record." It turns out this part of me was also made to be home for people, to provide a space in which they can find a little piece of solace or understanding or hope.

I don't think I am there yet with my writing, not really. But I get a hint of it every time someone says "Yes, me too. You have put my thoughts to words." And I am learning that maybe this is why I so long to hear such words, not because of my ego (though surely that is not entirely absent) but because I was made to open up my space, my heart, to others, and to help them feel at home.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Wonder lost and found

Once, when I was a kid, I saw this episode of Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood where he visits a crayon factory. I thought it was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. Something about the imagery, the bright liquid wax hardening into little tubes, the dozens of unique colors mechanically merging together into their boxes, completely captured my imagination. It seemed like probably the most beautiful, magical place in the whole entire world. After that, it was my secret dream to work in a place like that, making crayons.

At some point before I finished elementary school, I realized that working in a factory wasn't really a very respectable childhood dream, so I gave it up. But I never forgot about the images, of the beauty I had seen in rainbows of wax raining down and floating away in little cardboard boxes.


Before Andy and I started dating, back when we were pretending to just be friends, we used to drive out to random fields in the country and stare at the stars. As we sat there in the grass I would think about Abraham and his stars, about how many millions more he must have seen, back before electricity and metropolitan areas, than we could ever imagine. I would think about the whole vastness of the universe, every square inch of creation, and I would let the wonder and incomprehensibility of it all melt over me in waves. And I would let myself feel small and insignificant in light of it. And I would let it scare me.  

Later, Andy told me it was one of the things he loved about me, that capacity for wonder. Hearing him put in into words made me want to embrace that part of me and never let it go. But life has gotten busy and my mind is scattered into a million little pockets all around me. I spend so much time looking down at all the little things that I hardly ever remember now to look up at the wide open skylight of images rotating above me.


Something about having a kid has made me think really intentionally about my life. Even as the days move slowly, I am aware that they will also speed by and we will awake one day to find a grown up human being who is the messy, beautiful combination of all our mistakes and failures and good intentions. I think a lot about the good things I want to pass on, too, and how to make sure all the best of what Andy and I have to give gets through, undiluted. I want to pass on things like gratitude and generosity, empathy and hospitality. And I want to pass on wonder, too, somehow. I want to find a way  to capture what's left of it in me before the final drops are gone. I want to bottle it up and wrap it in paper and give it to my children as a gift to take with them for their whole lives, through their very last days.


It is dawn when the baby makes his first peeps of the day and I step into his room to pull back the curtains. His eyes squint and and his arms reach out as the morning light slowly emerges and settles into the corners. Outside the sky is filled with a hazy pink glow. I pluck the baby out of his bed and we head out to the front porch, before breakfast, before diapers. We sit on the steps awhile and I point up to the sky saying, "Look! Look at the sky, so early in the morning, pink and new. Isn't it beautiful? Isn't it wonderful?"


Thursday, September 12, 2013

What church is like for a doubter

Remember those Magic Eye posters from the 90's? I was always terrible at those. Supposedly, if you look at them in just the right way, a secret image appears.

Whenever I would pass them as a kid, in a store or at someone's house, I would spend several minutes  staring intently per the instructions, waiting and waiting for the image to pop into view. Inevitably, other people would gather around and start saying things like "O I see it!" or "There it is." At this point, I would either asked for help, or just give up and pretend to see it. Rarely, for a fleeting moment, I would get a glimpse of it, or at least think I did.

That's what church is like for a doubter, or at least what church is sometimes like for me, because you're  surround by friends who can all see so clearly something that you can't, at least not anymore. Some days you strain really really hard, because you want so badly to see it. Some days you just pretend to see it, because that's honestly all you have energy for in the moment. Some days, some magical, glorious days, you get this beautiful, fleeting glimpse of it and you close your eyes so tight just to keep it from floating away. Some days, days like today, days like this year, you just say, "Friends, I honestly can't see it, but I believe you see it, so I know it must be there." On the good days, that becomes enough.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

How my single friends make me a better parent

I have a dear friend who danced into my life less than three years ago with her trademark enthusiasm and passion. She's the type of friend who accepts and embraces who you are from the moment you meet her, and though we haven't known each other long, we've somehow always been family. She lived with us for a year once, and we would sit at the dining room table late into the night talking about all things hard and true, or sometimes mundane, or sometimes hilarious.

Though I don't do it on the page, during intimate conversation I have a tendency to go on little rants. So during our late-night musings, I would often find myself using declarative phrases like "Here's the thing..." before falling down a rabbit hole of long-held opinions that had been silently bouncing around in my brain waiting to be let out, to which my dear long-suffering friend would usually reply "Tell me the thing."

Though there's a hint of sarcasm in it, a hint of here-we-go-again-brace-yourself, I've always found "Tell me the thing" incredibly affirming. To me, it says "Go ahead, I'm listening. And I've got all the time in the world for whatever it is you have to say." I get the feeling that maybe she'd like to grab a drink and get comfortable while I pour my frequently too cautious heart out over all the little messes that don't really matter.

She really is an incredible listener, my friend, and a couple weeks ago, after I had apologized for selfishly highjacking yet another conversation with her, all for the sake of emptying out my own cluttered brain in front of real adult people, that's when it hit me: She is teaching me how to parent. Because in the midst of her listening, I am learning the holy, redemptive act of hearing others out. In the midst of her listening, I am reminded to hear and affirm the words of even the smallest voices in my own life. In the midst of her listening, I am realizing that sometimes the best way to build trust and dissolve tensions and form bonds, is silently. So someday, years from now, when my son comes home from school all worked up over some little incident that feels so big to his childhood heart, she will be the one who taught me not to fix or diminish or ignore, but to grab a drink, pull up a seat, and say "Tell me the thing."

Baby and Auntie.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

So is a mother

Last fall, a couple months after my son was born, I heard the saying "When a child is born, so is a mother" for the first time. Of course, mothers can be born in more ways than one, but I think the point is that new mothers, like newborn babies, go through an intense process of growth and change. No one would ever expect a baby to have life figured out from the day he emerges, but sometimes, mothers expect this of themselves. So for me, the phrase is a reminder that I'm really no older than my son when it comes to motherhood. The thought has followed me all throughout the past year, my first year, and it came to me again last week, surrounded by cupcakes and wrapping paper, as we ushered in our sweet boy's second year of life.

It was his birthday, but it was mine too, in a way. I turned one-year old last week in my mama heart and that's about as unsteady as I feel today. I'm still just getting on my feet with this whole business, but I have learned a lot, too. It has been so much harder than I thought it would be, in all the ways I didn't expect. Sure there are the sleepless nights and nursing struggles and endless diaper changes, but for me, the difficulty has come mostly in what I have had to give up.

People always say that in marriage your spouse is like a mirror, reflecting yourself back to you. And sure. He is. I get that. But I've never seen myself so clearly as I do each day around 4:00 p.m., when the naps have been taken, the snacks have been given, the husband won't be home for another hour at least, and the baby is sitting on the floor completely unsatisfied with the way things are going. And here's what I see in the mirror: I am needy.

At least once a day I feel the need for solitude, reflection, exercise, companionship, and food. I also regularly feel the need to read, write, create, be outdoors, and shower. Then there is the need for accomplishment, for getting things done and checking them off my list, which usually involves mundane tasks like laundry, dishes, cooking, or grocery shopping. I also have this pesky little need for contributing, both to my community and to the larger world, which is forever buzzing silently around my face like a gnat. On any given day, my son's needs, which primarily involve food and/or my full attention, are usually at odds with at least half, if not all, of these.

So you can see my dilemma. Not all my needs can be met every day. If I'm lucky, I can pick two or three to indulge in during the sacred hours of nap time, but even that luxury will disappear in a couple of years and I'll begin compacting my neediness into the holy edges of the day, into early mornings and late nights. But maybe by then, as my son gets older and finds his footing, I will find my strength too, and my needs will not feel quite so desperate. For now at least, though, I am just giving myself grace in the neediness, because as my son learns to grow and move and communicate, I am learning a lot too, like how to put someone else first every time and not hate it. So I am trying to show as much compassion for myself in this as I do for the needs of my baby. It's only been a year after all. We are still just a couple of one-year olds at this.

*linking up with Imperfect Prose*