Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Appliances are a Girl's Best Friend

Belated Merry Christmas from S.Wells!

Our family just got back from a snowy trip to Mansfield for dinner and a little shopping.  BW came home early this afternoon from working in Louisiana over Christmas, and it was lovely to be able to get out of the house with him and the kids for dinner at Cheddar's.  I am so grateful that our children are capable of being civilized creatures at restaurants - it is a minor miracle that "dinner out with kids" is actually enjoyable, given that they are 5, 4, and 7 months (going on 24 pounds...).  It is not always so, but tonight, they were goofy little saints.

After dinner, we wandered around Menard's and exhibited impressive amounts of self-control, only buying a laminate remnant for our bathroom floor, appropriate accessories to make the magic happen, and an air filter for the furnace. 

Come on, people, three cheers!  We were looking at carpeting and wood flooring and almost committed the crime of impulse buying, diving headfirst into the bottomless pit of home remodeling.  We're really good at spending money, so if you have any money that you need to spend, just let us know.  We'll take care of it. 

So, leaving the store with only $42 worth of merchandise to complete a desperately needed smelly olive green bathroom carpet replacement is a serious victory.  P.S. I really like adjectives and adverbs.  Really.

I was feeling pretty good about myself after the Menard's victory.  The kids were continuing with their above-average behavior and only climbing on some of the boxes of laminate flooring and rolls of remnant carpeting, so I thought I'd take a chance on Kohl's while we were out.  I had Kohl's cash to burn and a couple items to return, plus some money from my in-laws, and believe it or not, Kohl's was having a sale!  Surprise, surprise!

Well, the witching hour hit and my well-mannered children turned into giggling hyenas while I waited in the service line, but we managed to push on and spend my Kohl's cash, 20% off, in-store credit, and Christmas money on a fine looking Dyson vacuum cleaner. Let me tell you right now, Marilyn Monroe got it wrong.  It's appliances, not diamonds, that are a girl's best friend.

If you haven't been in our kitchen lately, you'll note the new stainless-steel refrigerator and dishwasher that were early Christmas presents to ourselves (Home Depot was also having a sale!).  The refrigerator comes complete with an in-the-door ice and water dispenser, cool blue lighting, a thermostat that actually works, and a choir of angels that sings every time I open the door.  On the other hand, the new dishwasher doesn't wake the neighbors when it washes the dishes.  And it actually washes the dishes, unlike our previous "dishwasher". 

I never dreamed that kitchen appliances and vacuum cleaners could bring such joy and lightness of spirit, but it's true: I am a happier human being because of Dyson, LG, and General Electric.  I smile every time I open the refrigerator door, every time the dishwasher runs and I actually forget that it's running!  And if it weren't for my sleeping children, I would be happily dancing around the living room and up the stairs, vacuuming with glee.  Merry, merry Christmas to me!

Minor asterisk: While I love my new appliances, I certainly do not shun jeweled, chocolate-covered, musical, floral, sparkly, or perfumed gifts.  Just in case there was any confusion about my enthusiasm for appliances.  I am an equal-opportunity gift-receiver.  :)

AND, I need to share my happy news that an essay of mine, "Those Summers, These Days", was recently published online by Ascent Magazine!  You can read it by visiting: http://readthebestwriting.com/?p=1097

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Swimming in Troubled Waters: Writing about Faith

I started another essay a month or so ago that is about (or will be about) swimming, obedience, and faith.  It starts with Elvis jumping into the pool at swimming lessons after his floatation device was off and nearly drowning.  I want to return to working on the thing but I just haven't had the time to do it, and to be honest, I'm a little intimidated by the project.

After reading lots of Christian nonfiction and Christian self-help-ish kind of books, I have this mental block about faith writing.  I'm so afraid that I'm going to come across cliche and shallow in my attempts to write about faith that so far, I've avoided it in any in-depth way, outside of peripheral references to church.  I'd rather not write about God at all than to do so in a way that would be off-putting to readers.

I don't have as difficult a time with poetry because I can write about God or my relationship with God in metaphor.  I can talk about God without talking about God.  I can meditate on the things of this world and the things of Christ without using Christianese to do it, without using direct references to scripture except maybe in an epigraph.  When I begin to try to write about my faith in essays, I fall right into devotional and didactic language, reference Bible verses and start writing as if my audience has been regularly attending church for the last decade. 

I don't want to write to a strictly Christian audience.  I like y'all, but I want to write something with  universal truth, something that is good and true and real and beautiful, well-written, layered, accessible, and moving, something that doesn't rely on the premonition that the person reading already buys into my ideologies.  I don't want to write persuasive arguments to convince someone to follow Jesus.  I want to write about events in life that have caused me to see God in the every day, to see how he intersects, overlaps, and infiltrates every area, the spiritual colliding with the physical and emotional world in such a way as to be inseparable, and how that has changed me and the way I relate to the world.  No big thing.

The added challenge is that in order to write convincingly and authentically about faith, I need more time.  Honestly, it is easy for me to sit down, blather on this blog about some spiritual flicker that caught my eye during the day, pull out a corresponding Bible verse, and call it a night.  I can do that with relative ease -- and I'm grateful for that gift.  But to develop something with greater substance and length takes time and extra meditation.  I need to write and write and write, and then read and edit and revise and write some more and think while I'm not able to write and then write again.  Yeah, that's just about the way it goes, so you can see the barrier.

There's no doubt that I love the life that Brandon and I have made, with our three children, our careers, our home, our church, our hobbies, etc., which makes it very hard to choose into writing time at this stage of life.  Something's gotta give, after all, so what's it going to be?

I keep reminding myself that Christmas break is just a few days away, and then maybe, maybe I'll be able to sit down and do the work that good writing requires.

With regard to the topics-- faith and swimming and obedience, and why not throw in some fear-- I think I just need to do it, without inhibitions, and fish out the cliches and didactic language later.  I just need to employ the same skills I use when I write about other topics and hope that it holds water.  Literally and figuratively.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Message for Christmas from Last Year

I thought it would be fun to look back on a couple of posts from earlier years, and my post from Christmas last year was a nice reminder about this season.  So here's a link to last year's meditation on the season...


No Writing November?

It has been one very busy month, which is my lame excuse for not blogging.  My self-imposed once-a-week blogging rule broke to pieces all over the internet.  A whole month.  No writing.  Gah.

BUT, all is not lost.  I ran a half-marathon last Saturday with my mom. (Me! Non-athletic, uncoordinated, Walker's World me!)  We ran it in about 2 hours and 24 minutes.  And we finished!  Hurray! 

Aaaannd, this weekend, we celebrated Mom and Dad's 30th wedding anniversary with a really nice dinner at Punderson Manor, followed by a surprise party back at their house. 

So that's what I've been up to... just a bunch of living.  I'll get back to writing again someday.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On the Eve of the New Appliance Delivery

Potmaster 600, you have left

oatmeal dried on the cusp of my bowl

again, and I am shifting my weight

at the kitchen sink, picking at it with my

thumbnail, getting dishpan hands.

The silverware are soaking in a cup

of soapy water after another

wasted round in the dishwasher.

There are only twelve hours left until

the delivery truck arrives to take you

out of these cabinets, out of our house,

out of our town, to where they take

twenty-two year old appliances, and soon,

I will be rid of you, loading every dish

without pre-rinse, into a stainless-steel

mid-range tall tub high-efficiency

silverware jets included dishwasher,

one that doesn't need to be called Potmaster

it is and will be the master of the pots.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Occupy Tea Wall Party Street and Why I Dislike This Conversation

This afternoon I posted a link to Dave Ramsey's "Dear Occupy Wall Street" blog, which raised some discussion on Facebook.  I am a fan of Dave Ramsey's no-nonsense, pull yourself up from the bootstraps approach to personal finances, and I like his spitfire and sarcasm.  He is straightforward and pulls no punches.  He also holds strong opinions about Occupy Wall Street.  Several times I thought about jumping in to my Facebook wall's exchange, but after several typing sprees and then lots of backspacing, I decided to just let it go.

Political commentary-- left, right or dead center-- makes me really uncomfortable because it tends to be emotionally driven and confrontational, and I am a confrontational wimp.  You can almost hear the atoms start splitting in a room of mixed conservatives and liberals, and when it happens, I put on a frightened smile and wiggle deeper into the couch cushions. 

Why is it that we generally cannot have a rational conversation between sides about the economy and government?  Instead, one dissatisfied party shows disdain for the other and vice versa, when really, both parties should be rallying together for solutions.

The best way to ensure that nothing changes is for both sides to start flinging mud at each other.  Criticizing the Occupy Wall Street movement because they look like a bunch of camped-out, jobless hippies completely dismisses the fact that people feel so strongly about something that they are protesting.  Protesting is not a small deal.  Criticizing the Tea Party movement because they look like a bunch of gun-toting, anti-government rednecks dismisses the fact that "gun-toting hillbillies" are actually organizing.  Rallying for reform is not a small deal, either.

One thing is certain: The people, all of them, are dissatisfied with ____________. 

Both camps -- OWS and the Tea Party -- are made up of culturally different groups of people (generally speaking), and because they don't understand one another, they think they are fundamentally at odds and so they do not want to be associated with one another.  The media picks up on this dissonance and discredits the whole shebang because there are camped-out jobless hippies and gun-toting rednecks raising a ruckus, and if you can turn general dissatisfaction into ranting extremists, then the majority of people who don't consider themselves extremists won't affiliate with either side, and, like me, will probably keep their mouths shut for fear of being associated with a group of crazy people.  Instead of fostering discussion and dialogue, the media and other loud people shut down all lines of communication, turning the cameras on the crazies instead of on any kind of useful debate.

By far my favorite response to "the other side"-- left or right-- is sarcastic dismissal, ruthless jabs, and defensive one-liners.  There's no better way to isolate one's self and raise the emotional static in a room/facebook wall than to drop your favorite critical bomb on a topic, forcing the crowd to take cover under throw blankets. 

I know this is totally a "can't we all just get along?" post, but really, can't we all just get along?  Okay, so I think the fundamental difference between OWS and the Tea Party is that one is for bigger government and more control and the other is for smaller government and more freedom.  One presupposes that the government should know what its doing and regulate the people/corporations who don't seem to know what they need, and the other presupposes that the people are responsible, ethical, fiscally motivated, and smart and don't need the fist of Big Brother jabbing around in their business.  Those are two very different perspectives.

Meh.  I can't handle any more.  I'm afraid I might form an opinion and be classified as an Occupy Tea Wall Party Street member.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Creativity in Worship

Recently I started working with the worship team at our church, and I've been having so much fun.  I don't sing, and while I might be able to toot a tune on the ol' licorice stick, there isn't a whole lot of room for a clarinet in our contemporary worship band.  Unless we start playing songs from Fantasia.  So at first you might wonder what a tone deaf ex-member of the marching band is doing on the worship team.

We are blessed to attend a church that is not afraid to experiment.  On any given Sunday, you can expect to hear the worship leader say, "We're gonna try something different today."  Sometimes we have choreographed dancing.  Sometimes we have painting.  Sometimes we have flags.  We haven't brought out the snakes yet, but if the Spirit moved... well, we'd probably move to another church. ;)

Every week, the worship team talks via email or in person to start planning for the following Sunday, or a few Sundays ahead.  I love the intentionality, the enthusiasm, and the creativity that is permitted and encouraged.  I feel as if we are each given the freedom to use the gifts that have been given us, and it gets me just plain excited to be a part.

For those of you who are tone deaf, like me, but enthusiastic about worship and find yourself yearning for a way to use your gifts, talk to your pastor or worship leader and bring your ideas forward.  I've only been at this with our worship team for a month and a half, so I'm still learning lots of things, but it has been such a fulfilling experience that I can't help but share what I've learned so far.

Here are a few tips for bringing your creativity to Sunday morning worship:

1. Don't be afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed by your creativity.  This is important and might seem like a no-brainer, but I know from experience that self-doubt and negativity can weigh in on you and convince you that what you have to offer either isn't good enough or no one else will understand/appreciate what you have to offer because you are too different/unusual/strange.  Every good gift is from above, after all, and what better way to use what yo daddy gave you than in worship? Be bold and courageous.  Do not be afraid, do not be terrified.  The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.  Even in front of the congregation.

2. If you write poetry, write a poem about God/faith/forgiveness/grace/mercy/love/prayer/fear/justice/etc. If you paint or sculpt, interpret a passage of Scripture.  If you dance, choreograph a praise song.  If you love to read, read a passage of Scripture or a story.  If you act, work with a writer in your congregation who wants to do a skit.  If you sing, by all means, sing a new song unto the Lord.  Whatever brings you joy and passion, bring that to worship, and not only will your worship experience be more meaningful and alive, your authentic worship will help others to worship too.

3. Be other-focused.  Your creativity is an act of worship, yes, but don't forget that the congregation is trying to engage in worship, and through your writing/dancing/painting/singing, you are leading worship, too.  So that poem with all of the literary and biblical allusions and cross-references and utter brilliance that leaps from one image to the next and requires several in-depth reads in order to fully understand... that one you might want to leave in the notebook. 

4. Talk to your tech-y people, your musicians, your video people, your dancers, your writers, your public speakers, and your photographers.  Collaborate with other members of the congregation and see if you can't approach a topic from several different angles-- some people engage with sound.  Some people with movement.  Some people are visual.  Some people are tactile.  Diversify your worship pallet to engage all of the senses, and not only will you help more of the congregation to connect, you'll build up each other as each of you continues to become the fullest version of yourselves in Christ.

5. Approach the throne of grace with humility, awe, prayer, shouts of thanksgiving, reflection, mourning, rage, distress, fear, and mystery.  Praise and worship is acknowledging God in every season, and it is good to lay before him the full range of our feelings and emotions.  It seems appropriate to me to reflect this same element of worship in the corporate worship setting.  Sometimes we need to mourn and wail together.  Sometimes we need to move from wailing to dancing.  Sometimes we need to stand in awe.  Sometimes we need to be silent.  Our worship planning ought to be sensitive to the place of the congregation.

6. Listen to the prayer team, pastor, and elders of your church and pray over your worship planning.  The Holy Spirit knows better than us all what needs to happen in our hearts and minds, so make time to listen before you leap into all of your amazing plans, which are truly amazing, after all. 

7. Don't get too caught up in presentation and execution.  Remember that what you are doing is worship, too, not just a means for other people to worship.

8. Don't be afraid to fail.  Allow the congregation and the worship team to flex its muscles, strain and push.  Some weeks, what you thought would be awesome might fall flat on its face.  Other weeks, what you thought might seem hastily planned could be the most authentic worship experience your church has had in months.

9. It's not your job to carry the congregation.  It is the Holy Spirit's responsibility to move in the members of your church, during worship and beyond.  You might be a catalyst for that experience, but surely the Holy Spirit will be speaking into the hearts and lives of those he knows are ready to hear and be so moved.  Worry less about how the congregation is going to respond to what you've prepared and concern yourself more with approaching God humbly, executing your part of the plan to the best of your ability, with grace and attention, as part of your act of worship.

10. You are part of the body of Christ, and every limb and nerve ending of the body doesn't need to be in motion all at once in order to be active.  Let parts of your worship team and plan take a break from time to time.

11.  Be intentional.  Just because you have the ability to do sound, lights, video, reading, full band, flags, dancing, communion and candles doesn't mean you should do them all at once.

12.  Do not give up meeting as some are inclined to do, but keep communicating with the members of your worship team and listen when someone volunteers or even hints at wanting to contribute, and follow-up with those people.  Sometimes us creative folk need an invitation, or several invitations, to come forward.  And if you are wanting to get involved, don't wait for an invitation.  Your desire to contribute is an invitaiton from God to get involved, so go with it.

13.  Encourage one another regularly.  Just because Joe has been leading worship awesomely for months doesn't mean he believes he's got this thing nailed.  Sometimes all we need is one or two attaboys to keep the energy up.

Above all else, come with love and grace.  We're all working toward completion and wholeness, and we're all going to screw up some time or another.  The beauty of the body of Christ is that we can hold each other up, forgive, heal, and be restored.  I'm not sure exactly how this last part applies to worship and creativity, but surely we can put love and grace in everything.

So bring your gifts to the altar and let them shine!  The whole church will grow in faith and praise alongside you.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Apples to Apples

A few weeks ago I decided to try my hand at making homemade applesauce. Unfortunately for my pot, I forgot that the apples were boiling down on the stove, and I burnt the bottom - both inside and out, since I'd allowed the darn thing to boil over.  For ninety minutes.  The pot might be done.

In spite of the burnt bottom, the applesauce still turned out great, so I can't imagine how a batch I don't burn turns out.  I have a 10 lb. bag of locally grown apples waiting for me start peeling and slicing.  Let's see if I can ruin another pot.

A week or two ago, I started trying to feed Henry rice cereal.  This posed a small challenge, because Henry won't drink formula, and I'm sorry, I just won't pump breastmilk to mix with rice cereal only for him to eat a teaspoon of it.  I love my kid and all, but that's too much work for too little reward.  So for starters, I mixed the rice cereal with water.  I'm a little surprised to report that he actually ate it. 

Now that we have the hang of the spoon and the opening and closing of the mouth, I wanted to find something to mix in with the rice cereal to give it a little bit more flavor.  I don't know why I'm so apprehensive about these things, or why I rely so heavily on the internet to grant me permission to try new stuff, but anyway, I sat down and googled "introducing new foods to baby" and discovered a wealth of information on when and how to introduce fruits and veggies, etc.

Now with Lydia and Elvis, as soon as they started eating solid foods, we might as well have bought stock in Gerber.  It might be the culture we're raised in, being inundated with ads and coupons and convenience every five seconds, but up until a few days ago, the thought of making my own baby food sounded prehistoric (see "a whole lot of work for little reward" above).  When someone tells me they make their own baby food, I picture dozens of glass jars lined up on the counter, three pots stewing various vegetables and fruits, mysterious preservatives and canning equipment, aprons, house dresses, and tidy little buns.  I'm intimidated.

But lo and behold, "making baby food" is not that complicated (all you crunchy moms out there can start "I-told-you-so"-ing now)!  First of all, how much solid food does a five-month-old baby need, even my gigantic five-month-old baby?  A few spoonfuls?  Yep.  And guess what?  You can prepare baby food at the same time you're making lunch for the rest of the family!  Hello, mashed banana.  Hello, applesauce.  Hello, real people food.  If you can puree it, you can make it happen.  Why, WHY did I think that the only acceptable food to put into my baby's mouth needed to come pre-packaged and with another cute little baby face on it?

I'm really excited about this for some reason.  Maybe because I bought three containers of Gerber baby food today for convenience/travel sake, and they each cost around a buck, when I can use one-half a banana and cover Henry's solid food consumption for the day. 

It isn't the cost-savings that has me motivated, though.  When I peeled, cored, and sliced the apples a few weeks ago, allowing them to boil down in my (now-burnt) pot, eating something I prepared, with my hands, from a local farmer added something intangible to my burnt applesauce.  Mixed in with the mashed apples and cinnamon was satisfaction, delicious and palatable.  Yes, baby Henry, your mama just mashed up this here banana into sweet creaminess.  I get the same satisfaction from breastfeeding--I am making something valuable and nutritious for my little man and he can only get it from me.  You can substitute formula and bottle-feeding, and I have with Lydia and Elvis, and get similar warm-fuzzies from holding that cute little person as they guzzle down their bottle, but nothing compares with that tug and pull, that quieted-down, instant gratification of mama and her milk.  Oh how I'll miss it when it's time to stop breastfeeding.  (These are words I never thought I'd utter.  "Utter" makes me think of "Udder".  Ha. Ha. Ha.)

This growing baby is really excited about his bananas, and I bet he'll like the applesauce, too.  And when we're on the run, Gerber and its pre-packaged goodness will do just fine, too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Table of No Return

I just finished going through the stack of papers that have accumulated since Thursday on the table of no return.  Surely you have one of these--it's the counter/hutch/bureau/table/drawer where the mail, bills, newspapers, checklists, kids' drawings, homework, and other stuff that needs your attention goes when you need to clear off the dining room table to eat, or just regain sanity for thirty minutes or so.

There's a guilty satisfaction in sweeping up all of the papers off of the table and dumping them in a neatly shuffled stack on another hard surface.  They look organized, all tapped into a rectangular packet of Scholastic order forms, Market day, school pictures, and permission slips.  Breathe it in, yes, you are accomplished.  Yes, your dining room table is clutter-free, yes, yes, you can eat without worrying about spilling water and crumbs on your daughter's homework, and yes, it's true, you will forget about the forms so strategically arranged on the hutch.

Tonight's table-of-no-return surfaced a field trip permission slip, a moms and muffins invitation stapled to a book fair flyer, a school pictures order form, an evening event registration form for Lydia, and Lydia's homework.  And that was just the stuff that needed my immediate attention, never mind three newspapers no one read, coupons I meant to snip and take with me grocery shopping this weekend, a new hotel rewards card for Brandon, fifty sketches of our family in varying colors and sizes, a dozen oversized Handy Manny coloring book pages, papers with L-Y-d-i-a and M-O-M and y y y y y y y y y y y (Lydia needed to practice her y's), an old invoice for afterschool care, a checking account statement, three unopened envelopes, the Y schedule and the Kroc Center schedule, and a newsletter each from Lydia and Elvis's schools. 

Since Lydia started school, I have been experiencing minor anxiety attacks each week (i.e. SOCCER! Ah! LUNCH! AH! Pick up Lydia! AH! Soccer pictures! Ah! Library books! Ah! Gym shoes! Ah! Pick up Lydia! Ah! SOCCER! Ah! Soccer! AH! Lydia! AH! Brain! Ah!).  Does this end?  Someone tell me, will there come a day in the next twenty years of our lives where we do not panic that we've forgotten some minor yet critical component of our children's lives?

I should amend that last sentence - where I do not forget some critical component of my children's lives.  Brandon does not seem to have this problem.  Brandon remembers to pick up his daughter from school and remembers to remind me if I need to pick her up.  Brandon texts me from out of town to pack up the soccer mom van.

People, something needs to be done about the table of no return.  It's a reflection of the state of affairs in this house, and I'm feeling rumpled up and crinkled around the edges.  Every sheet of paper seems to shout MOM!!! LOOK AT ME!!! WE NEED YOU TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS OR ELSE YOU WILL BE CONDEMNED TO THE OUT-OF-TOUCH PARENT CORNER!!!  ATTEND THIS EVENT!!!  CHAPERONE THIS FIELD TRIP!!!  BUY THESE BOOKS SO YOUR SON'S CLASS GETS MORE BOOKS!!! THEIR FUTURES DEPEND UPON YOU, MOM!!!

Table of no return, it is Sunday night.  You are empty.  The forms that need my attention have been strategically relocated to the coffee table of immediate action, next to my wine glass and a pen.  Let's get to work.  There are future shelves of no return to fill with extra wallets of a goofy preschooler and a series of Fancy Nancy books.  Better to buy them now than to pay to have them on-loan for all of eternity from the library.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

You May Say I'm a Dreamer

Over pizza tonight at Brookside Park, Elvis and Lydia shared how they are going to live next door to one another when they grow up, and they will visit each other every day.  We asked where we will live, and they said that we can live next door, too. 

Brandon said, "Lydia, you can buy John's house, and Elvis, you can buy Tyler and Alicia's house (our next door neighbors)."

Elvis interrupted, "No, I'm going to buy a farm."

"Oh, yeah?" We chuckled. "That's great buddy!"

"Can I build a baseball field on it?" Brandon asked.

"Yeah. And I'm going to have a garage for my tractors," he said. "Lydia will live next to me, and you guys can live next to her," only he said "zur guys" because he's just that cute.

"What about Henry," we asked.

"He's a baby!" he said, "He'll live with you!"


Clearly, our kids have their futures all planned out. 


Eight years ago today, we had a vision for how the wedding would go.  All of our plans came to fruition-- the bouquets were held, our friends and family played music, our pastor spoke, we exchanged rings and shared communion and lit a candle, there was cake, there was dancing, the bar was open (and restocked, several times), the food was eaten-- it was by all accounts a beautiful and celebratory wedding. Our hopes for the future were there, too, but I don't think either of us ever dreamed about where the next eight years would take us.

In the last eight years, we've painted every wall in three different houses together.  We have taken new jobs and quit old jobs, left churches and joined churches.  We have made new friends and sustained old friendships.  We've bought cars, sold cars, leased cars (oops), traded in cars, and fixed cars.  We've learned the hard way that you need to replace the air filter on your furnace if you don't want your A/C unit to freeze up.  We have brought three children into the world and miscarried four.  We've attended dozens of concerts and eaten at Japanese steakhouses for many a special occasion.  We've slammed doors and cried and held back and let go.  We've forgiven each other and loved each other more deeply.  We continue to become better versions of ourselves in Christ.

I can hardly remember the girl in the wedding dress eight years ago, jumping around in a circle waiting to go down the aisle.  She's a happy, two dimensional shadow of who I am now.  I am so blessed to be yoked with my husband who has helped shape me, who supports me, and who partners with me in the great task of raising our family, running our home, and growing closer to God.  I am so proud of you, Brandon, and always grateful.  Happy anniversary to us!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

It's been a while since I made a casserole.

My default meals involve lots of dairy.  I am the queen of stuffing and cheese.  Chicken, stuffing, and cheese.  Broccoli, stuffing, and cheese.  Rice, chicken, and cheese.  Beef, sour cream, and noodles.  Chicken, sour cream, and noodles.  Bottom line: what can we mix together with sour cream and/or cheese that will bake in an hour or less?

This would be just fine if my husband wasn't lactose intolerant and if my son would eat combination foods (i.e., anything mixed with anything else... broccoli? fine. cheese? fine. broccoli and cheese and stuffing? not fine).  And, believe it or not, eating all that dairy isn't the healthiest way to go.  I have to admit boredom with these recipes, too.  Mostly, I want to be able to feed my family things that won't make them sick (husband) and things that they might eat (son).  Lydia and I, well, we'll eat anything.

I grew up meat and potatoes, all-American, spaghetti and marinara sauce, pizza on Fridays.  It isn't a bad way to eat.  I've always been intimidated by cooking outside of this box-- there's too many unknowns!  How do you cook this?  How do you saute?  How do you broil?  What's a julienned carrot?  Help! 

Allrecipes.com has changed the way I cook.  It has added variety to our evening meals.  It has lessened the amount of produce I throw out.  It has significantly decreased the number of frozen and packaged foods I buy.  Stuffing-based casseroles have fallen off the Wells menu, and in its place-- honey-glazed carrots, steamed broccoli, garlic butter pasta.  Did you know there are more ways to cook pork chops than in a frying pan?

One of the best features of the website is the ingredient search.  I grew a whole row of cilantro this summer, and I love cilantro, but there's only so much corn salsa one can make.  So I punched in "cilantro" and, wham -- cilantro lime chicken. Black beans a la Olla (mmmm).  Cilantro lime rice (mmmm).  Variety! 

Time is always of the essence.  I get off of work at 5 p.m., and we need to eat between 6 and 6:30 in order to be ready for baths by 7 and bedtime routine by 7:30, bed by 8 p.m.  There's no time for lengthy food prep.  However, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of fresh and healthy food combinations that can be prepared in an hour or less.  All it takes is a little multi-tasking, and you can have a pot of rice steaming, broccoli steaming, and salmon baking, timed out so that everything is ready almost simultaneously. 

The other thing I've learned is the value and beauty of herbs and spices.  There's so much more to life than salt and pepper!  Nothing satisfies like a fresh, healthy meal that tastes good AND didn't take forever to cook.  Yay food!

Pedal through the Bumps

My kids wanted to ride their bikes to school this morning, so we headed out at 8 a.m. on the drop-off circuit.  I put Henry in the Baby Bjorn, our new dog Jelly Beans (Beans for short) on his leash, and my travel mug of tea in my right hand, and the Parade of Wells headed down Phillips Avenue.

For the most part, sidewalks in this city are level and smooth, but I think it is up to the homeowner to maintain them, so there are a few sections that are less-than-perfect.  Tree roots and frost have driven the concrete up in sharp angles, and driveways worn down past their gravel cause detours and slow-downs in our commute.  Over and over again, I tell the kids to pedal through the bumps.  Lydia understands better than Elvis, for the most part, and she's able to buckle down. When adversity comes, she stands up and pedals harder. 

I think I'm a lot like Lydia.  Out on my morning jog, I like when I make the turn from Budd to Katherine Avenue. I like the slight incline, the tangible strain in my calves and thighs, the sense that I am working hard, and when I turn again from Katherine to Mifflin, I can see the crest of the hill and push for it even as sweat starts to drip down the side of my face, because I know after the uphill is a steady slope downward, a chance to breathe, an opportunity to let my legs coast without a whole lot of effort.  There is a reward for battling through the trial.

But if Elvis's tire hits the crack, he stops, looks up at me with a perfect pout on his face and waits for me to nudge him out of it.  He might sit there all day waiting for someone to give him a shove.  For Elvis, this walk is one he'll claim was uphill both ways.

You can't stop on an incline and expect to keep rolling forward.  When you see a slant in the sidewalk ahead, do not slow down.  Do not panic.  Push harder, hang on tight, and pedal through the bumps.  Pedal through the bumps! Elvis seems to get stuck at every one of these cracks.  On the bike and off, he needs a push to get through.  At lunch today it took all of the coaxing, threatening, and encouraging I could muster to get him through half a ham and cheese sandwich before rest time. 

Sometimes he's lazy and just doesn't want to try harder.  But sometimes, he's just plain tired, and the effort to chew seems too much because he's struggling to keep his eyelids from falling down.  And so sometimes I'm like Elvis.  Sometimes I hit my limit, and it just isn't possible for me to pedal through the bumps.  Sometimes, I need a good shove from a friend, my husband, my pastor, my parents, my family, my God.

The beauty of our walk is that it just might be uphill both ways, but that means it is also downhill both ways.  There's a climb, a struggle, a challenge, a strain, but there's also a chance to coast, to catch your breath, to appreciate the crisp fall air on your face.  Sometimes this walk feels more like uphill all the way, and every struggle stops you in your tracks. And then someone with a little more strength comes along to give you a push over the bump, and that someone will be there again at the next bump, and the next bump, and the next bump.

Yes, persevere through the trials.  And yes, ask for help when the trials seem like too much.  One way or the other, you can get beyond the cracks in the sidewalk.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Kindergarten and Everything After

Lydia just wrapped up her second full week of school, and of course she loves it and seems like an old pro at this going to school thing.  It is hard to tell exactly how well things are going though.  I can't be on the playground to see if she is making friends.  Are the kids nice to her?  Does she talk to the teacher?  Who does she sit with at lunch? 

On the mornings when I drop her off, she walks up the sidewalk, the gigantic lilac colored Disney fairy backpack bouncing.  She pins her hair back with barrettes bought by her granny, and she doesn't want me to adjust it at all because she likes it that way, and it is perfect that way - her curls loose in ringlets pulled back from her face and layered past her shoulders.  She wears pink leggings under the blue-jean jumper she picked out for her first-day outfit and Hello Kitty ballerina slippers.  She doesn't just dress herself, she accessorizes herself, prepares herself, gives me a hug and I say I love her, and she strides toward the door without looking back. 

I have nothing to worry about, except that her beautiful little soul might be damaged by some mean-spirited kid. Isn't that what we all fear when we send our courageous children out into the world? 

What I do know is that Lydia came home the other day and said that she got a Tootsie Roll for helping Ella.  She said that Ella is made different than we are and that she crawls instead of walks, and then she showed me how she crawls.  She said she sat with Ella at lunch along with another girl who comes to visit her class sometimes. 

Lord, wrap her beautiful little soul in bubble wrap for me.  Keep her heart soft, even while mine cracks open.

The Ninth Psalm as Rendered by Laurance Wieder

I stumbled upon this tonight in a book called The Poets' Book of Psalms, and I really liked it, so I thought I'd share it.  That's all :)

The Ninth Psalm

If I could tell it all,
I would say thank you
for the toppled statues,
for the dusk of gods sung
only in dead languages,
for wild grape vines tangled
in the timbers of a century
that frame our little picture
of eternity. And I remember
there was justice, maybe, since
I hope the dead might be
remembered, though their names,
outnumbered by the sontes
once used to mark the exit spot,
are worn down, in an alphabet
that can't be read aloud.

Not always and not ever, maybe
masters will stick in the mud
of what they most admired,
boasting how their acts
engraved in stone erased
accounts of people sacrificed
to feed the maw, the pointless
grim machinery of nations:
If there is something other
than our selves, they will not win
forever, will some time remember
they are human, and may even
know themselves, and feel afraid.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Soccer Mom Fail

I know I dress like an adult, go to work like an adult, and pay bills like an adult.  I've got a mortgage and a car payment.  I make decisions about budgets, buy groceries, compare health insurance benefits.  Stuff breaks--dish washers, power steering lines, toilets--and we have to get it fixed.  Us--the adults of this household.

But this week, I feel like I'm back playing house again, and doing it poorly.  I'm not adult enough to have a kindergartner who is also starting soccer, and clearly I can't keep kindergarten, preschool, infant care, work, after-school activities, and meals together.  Monday, even though I had 5:30 on the calendar, we showed up at 5:50, and I thought I was ten minutes early.  Nope... twenty minutes late.  And I forgot her soccer ball.  And her water bottle.  Of course, she didn't care, except that she was surprised practice was so short.

Today was the first try at preschool-child-care-infant-care-soccer-dinner, and it was also a flop, since, well, I forgot about practice.  We pulled into the driveway at 5:27 after picking up Lydia and Elvis from their babysitter's and Henry from a friend, and by some miracle the phrase "soccer practice" floated through my brain as we started to get out of the car. 

"Ah!  Lydia!  We have soccer practice tonight!"  We ran around finding cleats and shin guards and socks and appropriate practice attire and got back into the car, ten minutes late.  Meh, at least I remembered her soccer ball.  Arriving at the practice field, I told Lyd I would just drop her off and then park, but as I pulled away I saw her standing where we had practice last time, apparently not with the same team.  With Henry and Elvis still in the car, I parked behind a few other cars and ran out, the heels of my dress shoes sinking into the turf, to try to figure out where Lydia's team was.  Thank God for some church friends who knew our coach and could point us in the right direction, to a different field.  I ran back to the boys in the car and found a more appropriate parking spot.

I fed Henry in the SUV and then watched the practice, realizing at water break that I forgot her water, again.  The coach let me know that, next time, I should put the shin guards inside her socks.  Oh.  I didn't play soccer, obviously.  Okay.  I didn't play any sports after seventh grade volleyball when I got hit in the face with the ball and my braces stuck to the inside of my lips.  I don't know what I'm doing, clearly, so someone please rescue my poor child.

Then it was Dairy Queen for dinner, Henry sucking and drooling all over my bicep while the kids took for-ev-er to eat grilled cheese.  And heck, yes, I will have a chocoholic blizzard made with chocolate ice cream, thankyouverymuch.

I know it's just one of those weeks, and there's hope, especially since tomorrow I have the day off.  I might be able to fool the people at work and church into believing I am a responsible adult with leadership potential, but my kids and husband know me better than that.  I'm just a really good pretender.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

End of the Residency

Another MFA residency is behind us, another group of students have begun their writing journey at Ashland, and another class has graduated.  What a great two weeks!  Everyone is off to their hometowns, and today, I enjoyed a nap, a movie with my kids, a walk, and grilling some burgers and vegetables.  It was quiet, relaxed, and without agenda.  Ahhhh.  Now, the husband and I are in our respective positions - on the couch watching ESPN and behind the computer typing away. I love normalcy.

Tomorrow, we're celebrating Elvis's fourth birthday with family.  Four years old already.  Yeesh.  It feels like a lot longer than that since we were in the hospital with him at Children's.  What a blessing he is - even when he's whiny and cranky ;)

Henry will be three months already this week, and as anyone who has seen him the last two weeks knows, he just keeps getting chunkier.  He is such a cooperative baby - he cries when he's hungry, stinky, or tired, and that's about it.  I can't imagine how the residency would have gone if he had been a much more difficult baby.  This is the first year that all of the kids and Brandon have stayed in town the full two weeks, which was nice.  I'm glad that we were able to make it work without too many hiccups. 

And as always, the residency was inspiring.  I always leave the two weeks with new ideas and projects in mind.  Now to find the time to explore them.

It's no alarm clock Sunday tomorrow!  Yay! 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The MFA Administrator Responds to Email at the Residency

The MFA Administrator Responds to Email at the Residency

- A Found Poem

The washer
and dryer require
but they aren’t
coin operated.

You’ll need
to swipe a gift card
you can buy
from the bookstore.

If it is broken,
we will need
to submit
a work ticket
to fix it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

I woke up with yesterday's frustrations heavy on my chest and lodged in my gut, a physical ache I'd like to attribute only to a glass of wine before bed and not enough water.  I padded down the hall and wondered whether I could convince Henry to go back to sleep after he ate so I could sneak back into bed too, but quarter til six is pushing it.  Daylight crept through the blinds and spread itself indiscriminately on the rocking chair, crib, and dresser.  Henry flailed around like a turtle while I changed him, my brain flailing about as well, grasping at bullet points on my list of things to do.

There are a lot of days left in this week.  It's only Monday. 

Lodged in my head was a little verse repeating - they are new every morning, new every morning, great is thy faithfulness, O Lord, great is thy faithfulness.  It's hard to believe those words after a long stretch of nothing-going-right, but the song kept looping.  I preferred a new song, maybe something about going home and loading my shot gun and lighting a cigarette, something raw and country and kind of angry-like.  While feeding Henry, I read some verses for the day, a few psalms, a little of David's story, a little anger at Galatians and a little of Jesus's story.  Henry seemed satisfied, and I tried to get him to go back to sleep, but it didn't look like it was going to happen.  The sun was up, after all, and that must mean it's time to be awake. 

After a few minutes he slipped back to sleep but by that time, going back to bed seemed silly.  Instead, I went for a jog around the block, the humidity heavy but at least cooler than the last few days.  I felt the tightening of my leg muscles, exhaled and inhaled to the rhythm of my run, the swish of my ponytail, arms pumping, all in time to a mental metronome. Except for the pad and thump of my tennis shoes, the occasional twitter of birds, and the hum of an early commuter's car, it was quiet.  Sweat trickled down my back and chest and nose.  I encouraged my legs to make it to the next stop sign, and with each puff of air, I felt some of the world right itself.

Afterward, I listened to some musicians sing praise to God while I showered, and I joined in, eventually.  I turned on the iron, checked the label of my skirt, and adjusted the temperature to high.  It was going to take a lot of hot air and steam to iron out the wrinkles.  I put on makeup and dried my hair.  While my tea pot heated up I went out to survey the garden, lifting the damp and prickly leaves of the zucchini plant to see whether any new veggies sprouted overnight, but the only thing that had grown was some crabgrass.  I pulled a few weeds.  The tea pot whistled. 

The morning burned away the dew.  My skirt is wrinkle-free.  The garden is weeded.  The water is hot and ready to steep the tea leaves.  I am breathing, and smiling, and sipping my tea.

Morning by morning new mercies I see...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Day in Two Parts

Tonight I want to be ten pounds lighter. I want to have written more pages of an essay that sounds brilliant instead of boring even to me. I want to have weeded my back patio more thoroughly. I want my day lilies to still be blooming in two and a half weeks but I know they'll be spent out already.  I wanted to deliver a dessert to a new neighbor and they weren't home so now I have a casserole dish of peach cobbler and no one to eat it except me, which will be great going down and then I'll find out that I need to lose fifteen pounds instead of ten.  I wanted to run a mile but mapmyrun said I only ran three-quarters, and it was in the rain and now my shoes are wet and smelly.  The crunches aren't working fast enough.  My zucchini and cucumbers are going to be ready during the busiest two weeks of the year and I won't be around to pick/eat them.  Henry had to have shots today.  My husband is playing poker at a friend's house.  I feel frumpy and old and tired.  I can't get the dirt out from underneath my nails.  One of my kids put a cup and a sticker in the upstairs toilet and I had to fish it out.  Someone else drew pictures on the wall above her bed, and we're blaming a kid that doesn't live here.  And the nightlight cover was jammed into the vent.  I am discouraged and tired and lonely and depressed and impatient and disappointed and sad and discontent.  Alexander has nothing on me and my terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.

But I baked a mighty fine-smelling peach cobbler.  The kids and husband and I took a walk around the block with its pleasant aroma wafting up through the potholders.  And now it is waiting for me in the oven.  Henry smiled at me.  Several times.  Lydia chased me down the driveway at lunch encouraging me to have a good day at work and see you after rest time and I love you!  I made eggs for everyone at breakfast and didn't break anybody's yolks.  My toast was still hot when I buttered it so the butter melted.  My tea was just the right kind of sweet.  Sometime in the last 48 hours my husband told me I'm a good wife and mom and he loves me too.  Elvis snuggled up next to me on the couch and I could smell summer in his hair.  My boss thought I had a good idea during our meeting.  Lydia thanked God for God at dinner.  Everyone ate their food, and everyone got ice cream.  The run in the rain was refreshing and funny and I didn't even dodge the puddles.  I ran faster than I have since the fall.  The number on the scale keeps going down.  We read two picture books before bed, one kid on each side of me.  Elvis chose Mickey Mouse to sleep with tonight.  They went to sleep without getting out of bed again.  The air-conditioning is working.  George Strait is singing "Carrying Your Love With Me". 

I am running on empty, sure, but I have everything I'll ever need, I'm carrying your love with me.

I have these days sometimes, when the pessimist in me shrieks and squalls until I pay enough attention to him.  He bleeds out into all the crevices of my consciousness so that I only see his ugly face and all of the negative ways he appeared today, in the sweat and the grime and the dirt.  He blots out the satisfaction of living, that deep breath, that gratification, that swelling of joy at a job well done, that quiet peace at the end of a day thoroughly spent.  It's hard to shake him once he's fixed his eyes with mine, but this staring contest has to end.  It takes more than just looking for the positives in the day, I must rely on God who makes all things new, whose faithfulness is great, who redeems and renews and brings us to completion even in the face of grumpiness.  He's conquered sin and death, I think he can conquer crankiness, too.  It sounds trite and easy, sure-- turn to God, problem solved.  But the promises he has made and the salvation he bought has the power to wipe away all of these weeds and replace them with the fruit of the spirit.  And let me tell you, I much prefer love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to the laundry list of feelings above.  That fruit is waiting for me.  I have to choose into it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Freshmaker

It's official - maternity leave is over.  The transition back hasn't been too painful so far.  I'm fortunate to live so close to home, and that my baby is just about the best and easiest little guy ever.  Not only has he slept as many as eight hours overnight, he's waking up to eat just when I need him to, and sleeping at the best times of the day to have a sleepy baby.  He's been awake, for the most part, from 5 p.m. until 9:30 p.m., so I've gotten a good hunk of baby Hank lovin' the last two nights.

After the other two kiddos went to sleep last night, I took Henry out for a walk.  It was a really beautiful night after some storms blew through, a cool breeze and sailor's sunset.  Henry has grown to like the Baby Bjorn, and I prefer it to packing him up in the stroller... mostly because I can play with his feet and chubby thighs and kiss his cute little head.  We walked around Ashland for about an hour, running into a few friends while we were out.  It's one reason I love living here-- wherever you go, you are bound to run into a friendly face. 

I'm glad to admit that I'm excited to be back at work, especially with the residency just ten days away.  There's a lot that needs to be done before then, and after the residency, I have some ideas for recruitment and promotion along with program development that I'm looking forward to exploring.  I can't ask for a much better situation with my job and family life.  By the time Henry goes to sleep, I'm definitely tired, but the energy spent after work is even more valuable than the energy spent at work.  It reminds me of a verse in Ecclesiastes -- "Sow your seeds in the morning and at night let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which one will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well."

I try to live this way, even though sometimes the lines blur and I find myself checking and responding to email after hours.  Okay, so that happens all of the time.  More often than the reverse, morning work intrudes on evening work.  Someone somewhere (real specific, right?) said not to forget to live while you are earning a living.  Maybe Dave Ramsey.  Anyway, the last couple of days have been full, no doubt, but they have been full in a great way -- work has been fulfilling, walks and dinner and books with my kids, satisfying the needs of my newborn, watching the All-Star game with my husband, even getting some writing done -- this is the way I'd like to live all of the time.  Don't you feel like you are in the middle of a Mentos commercial right now?  But really, if I could maintain this kind of balance all of the time, I could testify regularly to the statement, "godliness with contentment is great gain."

I'm going to take Solomon's advice now, and eat my food (strawberry shortcake) with gladness, and drink my wine (merlot) with a joyful heart... and then sleep.  Tomorrow's a full day.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011



In the morning when I rise give me
a hot cup of tea. Burn away the bitter
with a couple dabs of melted butter
on a bisquit dripped with honey,
or a steamy bowlful of old-fashioned
oatmeal, strawberries and brown sugar.
If only every day began with all this sweetness.

Monday, July 4, 2011

For Freedom

"I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts." Psalm 119:45
"Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment." James 2:12-13

"In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence." Ephesians 3:12

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." 2 Corinthians 3:17

"Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God's slaves.  Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor." 1 Peter 2:16-17

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galations 5:1

"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love." Galatians 5:13

Isn't freedom beautiful?

These verses remind me that freedom in and of itself is to be valued, but possessing this freedom comes with responsibility.  Yes, we're free to do whatever we want, but that doesn't mean we should do whatever we want.  Today, I am celebrating the freedom in Christ from guilt and shame, the freedom to work toward the best version of myself through Christ, and the freedom to do so in a nation that does not persecute me for proclaiming the name of Christ.  I am celebrating the freedom to choose good over evil, to serve humbly in love.  I am thankful to those who serve to preserve freedom.  Today, I am celebrating with family, and friends, and BBQ, and watermelon, and wine, and fireworks.  Enjoy your Independence!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Peace, Not War - Online and Print Publication

In the last few days I've been thinking again about publication.  Unlike my last meditation on posting poems to a blog site, my most-read post to-date, I've been thinking about how hard we all work (and how much money we all spend) trying to get our poems published in elite literary journals, like Poetry and the likes.  I must admit to submitting every single poem I've written to Poetry in the hopes of publication (their online submission manager is FREE!!!!).  And I've submitted nearly every poem I've written to Rattle (they take email submissions, and they are FREE!!!!).  But of the poems I've had accepted for publication in the last two years, the ones that have gotten the most readers have appeared online.

I do not want to knock the literary journal, that ambitious little creature surviving off of grants, institutional support, and buckets of blood, sweat, and tears from their editors.  Writers in academia require the juried selection of their work by their peers in order to secure tenure and to give evidence of their mastery of craft.  This selection process is long, painful, and subjective-- I've learned as much working with a journal-- and when a publication boasts a 1% acceptance rate, that means 99% of submissions receive a generic note apologizing for not being able to publish it, encouraging the writer to submit again and granting best wishes for placing their work elsewhere.  What an honor and privilege to be among the 1%! 

Besides building one's CV for tenure, publication in the big guns builds a writer's reputation in the literary world.  Work is exposed to the broader literary community (supposedly).  Submitting to the patriarchs and matriarchs of the literary journal is worthwhile and encouraged, so long as those grandparents of literary publishers are still being read.

As more and more opportunities to access literature open up online and in digital print readers, writers and publishers of writers need to reevaluate the way we spread the word, so to speak.  I don't think it is any surprise that print media subscriptions are slip sliding away.  In light of this fact, in order to stay current and accessible, journals need to begin exploring alternative means of delivery and additional ways to lure subscribers and readers to their material.

There are some very worthy examples of journals that have embraced the digital age and are broadening readership by doing so.  One such journal here in Ohio is the Kenyon ReviewA quick peek at their homepage shows a full acceptance of the changing of the times-- they are blogging, posting excerpts, offering eBook editions, sharing interviews, and airing podcasts.  Compare this to journals that may have a website with subscription and submission information, but tracking down any actual writing in that journal requires ordering a back issue.

The sad fact is there are hundreds of literary journals and a handful of faithful print subscribers.  Journals like Kenyon Review, Rattle, Poetry, and others are making the wise move to providing alternative access and bridging the gap between the print version and the online version.  Given the choice between having a poem of mine appear in a journal with hundreds of other poets who will all mostly scan through until they find the page their poem appears on and then look to see if they recognize any of the poets in the table of contents, and publishing a poem online, where I can link to it on my blog, share it on Facebook and Twitter, email it to friends and family, all without any cost to me... I'd rather go online.

As an administrator at a university rather than a faculty member at a university, my primary interest isn't in building my CV, although being able to wave the flag of a hot journal in my list of acknowledgments down the road would certainly be nice.  My primary interest is in readers.  I'd like to be able to share what I've written with friends and family while still adding to a list of publications, which will serve its purpose toward book publication, someday. 

The print journals that make the leap into hybrid forms of publication and alternative delivery are the ones that I expect to survive and thrive.  The online journals that are popping up and delivering the same level of editorial selection as the highly regarded print journals will continue to grow and gain respect.  The journals that resist technology are likely to fade into the past along with the land-line telephone and the typewriter-- two devices that served their purpose for a time and still exist today but are becoming endangered species, dangerously close to extinction.  Except, of course, in academia.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In the Center Ring: Motherhood vs. Work

Ugh.  I am three full weeks away from the end of my maternity leave.

You people must know I love my job-- I do.  It is one of those job descriptions that feels as if it was written precisely with me in mind.  I've been at Ashland for four years now, helping to build a low-res MFA program and manage a poetry press and a journal, and there have been few days where I've come home frustrated or upset about work.  I have a strong working relationship with my boss and the editors of the press and the journal, good co-workers, great support from other departments on campus, and perhaps most importantly, I have earned respect and trust, granting an autonomy I value.  For the most part, I am trusted to do my job, and to do it successfully.  Besides a paycheck, I earn the satisfaction of a job well done.  Work might be stressful occasionally, but it is that good kind of stress that doesn't suck the life out of you.

Okay. So what's the big deal about maternity leave ending?

I am love, love, LOVING motherhood right now.  In spite of the interrupted sleep and a demanding infant who wants to nurse RIGHT THIS MINUTE OR ELSE, waking up at quarter til eight to a silent house and a cool breeze through the window to sip a cup of tea and wait for Baby Hank to wake up is pretty near to that sacred place I mentioned in my previous post.  The casual summer schedule of showering, oh, whenever, and the impromptu walks, piling into the car to go to the waterpark, listening to the giggle of Elvis and Lydia in the pool, and holding that precious little Henry... all of it, even the squalls and squabbles, makes me wish this time would never end.

It's an odd place to be, yet again.  Back before Lydia was born, I thought for sure there was no way I would want to work at all ever again no thanks.  And then, she arrived, and three-quarters of my brain died within six weeks.  Please, please, please let me come back to work! I begged, and after eight weeks of maternity leave, I started back at being an adult, connecting neurons and earning back a few brain cells while my little girl slept in a pack 'n' play in the closet of the Development Office where I worked.  When school started up and it was no longer possible to keep Lydia quiet or immobile, we found a great stay-at-home mom to watch her for us, and that's where she hung out for forty hours a week the first year of her life. 

When the opportunity to work at Ashland came, BW and I made a decision that drastically changed our family structure-- I would work full time, and he would be the primary caregiver of our two children under two.  Bravely we arrived in Ashland, buying a home in late October and carrying along our faithful redbone Tex, Lydia (18 months) and Elvis (3 months).  Anyone who has stayed at home with toddlers and infants can sympathize with Brandon--I, on the other hand, was blissfully ignorant of how difficult life was.  It was a tough year and tough transition for all of us, but I think it is safe to say it was hardest for Brandon.

Not once since returning to work in 2006 after Lydia's birth have I felt a significant pull to be at home with my kids, until now.  Sure, I entertained the notion when Brandon started getting more work with ESPN, and at every job posting he emailed, I insisted that I would be happy to be home with the kids if he found something he loved doing that could support us.  Always the thought of giving up my job, the job that fulfilled a deep need for me to be creative, solve problems, and work hard to achieve great results, made my heart ache.  I couldn't imagine leaving.

Five weeks into my maternity leave, over half-way through, and going back to work seems impossible right now.  Maybe it's the sleep deprivation and the loose schedule of waking at nine and going to bed at eleven.  Maybe it's the sunshine.  I think it's the kids' fault, mostly.  I didn't think I would enjoy the mundane daily routine, but I am so content with hanging out and doing lots of nothing... how could anyone expect me to return to work, given this level of contentment with life?

Oh, I'll go back to work.  In three weeks, I'll wake up at 6 a.m. to shower, eat, feed Henry, and head out the door on my bike to my office, and I'll remember how much I love what I do.  We will adjust to working-plus-family-plus-baby and restart the hectic routine we abandoned back on May 10 when Henry arrived.  In the meantime, I am going to keep reminding myself to treasure these minutes because they will expire July 10.  Pout.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Balancing the Writer Life with the Mom Life

Last night I wrote a poem for the first time in several months. I go through seasons of creativity - like the seeds I just sowed in the garden yesterday, it takes a while for my ideas to germinate.  Eventually, the seeds pop, the stems poke through the soil, and before you know it, you are picking bowls full of cherry tomatoes. 

Some writers are able to chisel out a very structured and sacred writing time and space.  I envision an overstuffed armchair, an open window, a morning breeze, a couple cardinals too-weeting at one another, and a hot cup of tea.  Probably some James Taylor playing on Pandora, too.  And my lap top, since I write and revise with greater efficiency on a computer, though I can never retire the writer's notebook, that essential tool for when you are on the go and trying to use a smartphone notepad just doesn't cut it quick enough.  I can see that sacred space in a corner of our bedroom, waiting to be created, but let's be honest, when in the next decade will I be able to sit in that overstuffed armchair?

So let's revise the first sentence of this blog entry.  Last night, I wrote a poem between nursing and rocking Henry, who decided to be cranky when he wanted to fall asleep, which also happened to be the time I decided to try to write.  Last night, I balanced my baby on my lap and my laptop on my knees, Henry's head propped up with my elbow and my wrist bent at an awkward typing angle.  I chicken pecked the keyboard, one. lousy. letter. at. a. time. while he nursed, and then we switched sides. I slid the laptop back on the coffee table and stood up to rock and bounce Henry to the rhythm of iambs, rehearsing the words I already wrote and revising in my mind.  Last night, I eked out a poem.  Probably a bad poem, but at least it was something.

The sacred writing space, both physically and temporally, just can't exist right now, and I'm okay with that.  In fact, in the time that I've been writing this blog, I've needed to get Lydia allregy medicine, change Henry's diaper (and onesie since he wet through the diaper), and change loads of laundry.  Though it isn't a writing space, there is still something sacred here, in this tending to babies and the daily tasks of living. It is in these daily tasks and relationships that the writing is conceived. The plucking of the fruit has to be something of a family affair for now.  A season of quiet for writing will come later down the road.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Confessions of a Tubal Ligation

It's been a week since our newest, and last, son - Henry Delbert - arrived safely into the world via c-section.  He is absolutely beautiful, perfectly content and as predictable of a baby as I've experienced.  Ever since we became pregnant with Henry, I've been coming to terms with this being our last baby - treasuring every little bump and kick in spite of heartburn and general discomfort during pregnancy, and now, as each day passes and Henry grows (and cries, and hiccups, and chirps, and poops, and sleeps, and stretches, and eats), I find myself experiencing similar bittersweet emotions about this phase of life coming to a close. 

Brandon and I decided this would be our last baby almost before we were pregnant with him.  I have to admit that I love being pregnant, and I love having babies, in spite of the discomforts that come along with pregnancy and c-sections.  We planned on having my tubes tied several months ago, though in my heart I could only commit to being 95% sure this should be it.  After all, I'm 28.  Most of my friends and acquaintances my age aren't even considering starting families until they are safely out of their twenties, and here we are, putting a stop to the baby making business?

However, last night as I was feeding Henry, I realized that we've been trying to make babies, recover from losing babies, or birthing babies every year since we got married.  I've been pregnant every year since 2004, counting my three living and breathing miracles as well as four miscarriages.  It has been a long season of baby-making, baby-losing, and baby-birthing, and it feels good to be done.  I will remember this period of life as one of significant growth, spiritually and emotionally, and rejoice in all that has happened in these seven years.  All good things must come to an end, after all, and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to carry these babies - for my three children, Lydia, Elvis, and Henry, and for the lost babies.  God carried us through some very difficult chapters of our marriage the last eight years, including those miscarriages, and though walking through those valleys was probably the hardest time of our lives so far, it also taught us a lot about God and our relationship with Him.

Now that the decision is official, and permanent, I am surprised at how relieved I am to be closing this chapter.  I am sad at the finality of it all, but every month with any sort of delay or abnormality won't be plagued with the anxiety of whether or not I'm pregnant.  I can claim back my three c-sectioned body (once it heals).  We can plan our future vacations knowing we will need one roll-away bed in our hotel room and space for three car seats in our vehicles.  It is finished.  And a brand new season is beginning. :)

Monday, May 9, 2011

On the Eve of Henry's Birthday

We're creeping up on the final hours before Baby Henry is born, and we're all eagerly waiting his safe arrival into the world.  It is hard to remember what it was like to have Lydia just over five years ago now, especially compared to how Elvis came into the world.  I have to admit to being a little anxious about the delivery and post-delivery in light of the trouble Elvis had when he was born, but I also know that worrying over these things is absolutely fruitless.  Plus, God carried us through that storm, and no matter what happens tomorrow and beyond, we can rest in his presence.  Any time those little worries start to creep up, I've been praying them straight to God -- he can handle them better than I can.

I'm enjoying this last day with the kids and my husband as a family of four - we've gone to the playground and had lunch together, and now we're spending some time outside on the deck at my mom- and dad-in-law's.  Lydia and Elvis picked a bunch of wildflowers from the woods.  The beauty and detail found in nature is marvelous - I love the variety, subtlety in color and scent, and seemingly effortlessness of growth. And then there are the little hands that are picking these flowers - simple, sweet gestures of love.  And now I am sentimental and mushy. :)

Probably the next time I write will be in between diaper changes and feedings :)  I can't wait to share details of our new little one's life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Vessels of Wrath and Their Destruction

In light of varying responses from Christians, non-Christians, Republicans, Democrats, et.al, it's tempting to just say, "no comment" and move on with today's news that Osama Bin Laden was killed last night.  Status updates on Facebook and Twitter feeds keep us within a certain character limit that is nowhere near sufficient for reflection.  If you find cause to celebrate the end of a decade-long manhunt to capture or kill the man behind the deaths of over 3,000 Americans, someone is sure to post a note about it being God's to avenge.  If you are a believer and post something about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you, your more patriotic friends and acquaintances flare up and declare that justice has been served.  Everyone wants an opportunity to step up on the soapbox that is social networking, spit out something clever and/or abrasive, and wait for the likes, retweets, and comments to roll in.

I think it is good for us to post these things - it keeps us thinking and dialoguing with one another - but I also think the world is complicated, and I think God's ways are mysterious.  As I refresh my wall on Facebook, I find myself nodding, yes, yes, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, and then another, yes, good has triumphed over evil, yes, he is gone, an enemy is vanquished, a step is taken toward victory in what seems a neverending war against powers of darkness.  I think, yes, it is true that vengeance is the Lord's, and he will repay, but then I think, God has given the people of the world governments to uphold justice.  Government is "a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil" (Romans 14:4).  I think, yes, it is our hope that none shall perish but have everlasting life in Christ, but also God is sovereign and raises up vessels of wrath, prepared for destruction. 

Pray for our enemies, yes, pray for their souls.  David prayed to God that he would be delivered from his enemies.  Often that came about the same way we have been delivered from our enemies - at the hands of men in an army of a nation.  I want to tip-toe through this minefield, but I do believe that upholding good and fighting against evil is a charge and a responsibility that God has given the governing body of this country.  I think we can all agree that bin Laden and his mission were evil, and that left to his own devices, he would have done much more than 9/11.  Of course we pray and hope that the world would lay down its weapons.  But as long as evil continues to strike down the innocent, I hope we will not deny the sword its power to serve justice.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Explaining Easter

Explaining Easter

for Lydia, my three-year-old

Imagine your marshmallow Peeps devoured
by your brother without one lick
of sticky sweetness, giant chocolate rabbit
melted in the sun. Even your mother and father—
those great false gods—have eaten every jelly bean.
You hold your basket, empty.

This is how Good Friday feels, waiting
to be taken to the playground all day, then
rain, wanting to wear pink but asked to don gray.
And then tears—you are scolded—
told to sit still for three minutes.
This is more than you can bear,

but be still, consider how much
you had hoped for that delicious
candy basket, how you had dreamed
to wear purple sparkle shoes
and flower prints, to savor
those puffy, yellow Peeps. Now, child,

let us rejoice—time-out is over,
see the basket overflowing, Cadbury eggs,
Reese’s pieces, pastel M&Ms, more chocolate
bunnies and sugar-coated marshmallows
than you could ever eat, sweetness you can share
with the whole starving world.


Have a Blessed Easter!  He is Risen!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Last Words Series, Part Six - "Enough"


“Jesus called out with a loud voice,
‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’
When he had said this, he breathed his last.”
– Luke 23:46

Here I am, my son.
Your struggle is over.
It was near impossible
to keep from turning
toward your cries.
I felt each lash,
wailed as they
drove the nails.
I blacked out the sun
so as not to see
your suffering.
Come to me now,
let me bandage
your wounds. Drink
from the spring
and rinse clean, rinse
until the water
runs clear. This part
of the journey
is finished.
We only need
to wait a second
for morning.


Probably one of the most difficult tasks for a parent is to watch her child suffer, and next in line is probably the tough love of discipline.  While nothing is too difficult for God, surely watching his Son suffer and die hanging on the cross must have been anguish, even knowing the end result.  I'm probably projecting my own humanity onto the God of the universe, but the God that created me and my emotions must be able to feel, as well.  There are plenty of examples in the Old and New Testaments of this very God experiencing and expressing rage, joy, and grief.  So why not here, too?

Unlike Mary's personal grief, which must have been coupled with bewilderment and the limitations of perspective, God the Father knew the end results of this suffering.  He can see all of eternity, and this earthquake in the middle of time is a mere blip on the radar, a blip that changes history.  Can you visualize the reunion of Father and Son?  I imagine it would have been like the reunion of father and child when a child returns from war.  Or after a car accident where one's life is spared.  The child that returns is transformed by the experience - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically.  The father receives him, unconditionally grateful for reunion, scars and all. 

The best part about the reunion of God the Father and God the Son is that Easter Sunday is right around the corner, and all that was promised to be accomplished on the cross is indeed finished and realized when Jesus returns to earth, bringing the Holy Spirit and the Kingdom of God with him.

Tomorrow is Good Friday.  I've always thought of the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday as the darkest day in the Christian calendar.  Baffled disciples of Jesus went into "what now?" mode - the man they put all of their hopes into was gone, and how do you recover from that kind of an encounter, that kind of a disappointment?  Thank God it was just Saturday.  Can you imagine having to hold out longer than that to find out that Jesus really is the Christ, after all?  Saturday is enough.  We only have to wait a second for morning.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Last Words Series - Part Five, "Drink"


“Later, knowing that all was now completed,
and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled,
Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’”
– John 19:28

The fount of living water
bellows drought. I want
to lift a ladle, cold and pure,
so you could be relieved.
But I’m deceived with ease.

My cup is sour, dilute
the wine from dirty
cisterns. Nothing I
can offer satisfies.
Are you glad you chose

to filter septic water,
offer your body to be
my purifier? How I love you.
Keep taking this cup:
Drink up, drink up.

This, too, was a verse that stumped me.  It's a very human moment - Jesus is thirsty - and what is offered to him is a sponge soaked with wine vinegar.  Commentaries talk about this drink as being one that quenches thirst, but my initial reading imagined a strong vinegar drink as being quite repulsive.  Keeping with the reasons why Christ is on the cross, I imagined myself offering Jesus a drink, but I am unpure, human, and he is the source of living water - whoever drinks of him will never thirst.  Jesus is the great Brita filter for the soul, the city water treatment facility.  He accepts all of my waste, my contaminated life, and decontaminates it. 
In light of what Jesus does for me, what baffles me are the same words of Paul, "For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing... What a wretched man I am!  Who will save me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:19, 24).  In spite of what I know to be true in Christ, my offerings to him continue to look suspiciously like chocolate milk.  But, "Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 7:25-8:2).
I don't want Jesus to have to keep taking this cup of mine.  But I am grateful that he did indeed take the cup back on that dark day, that God did not let the cup be taken from him, like he prayed in the garden.  And his cleansing and purifying continues in our lives every day, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Last Words Series, Part Four - "Fear"


I taste the juice of forbidden fruit

dripping from Adam’s mouth.

And in my hand, the dagger

that killed Cain’s brother. My arms

are sore from building Babel.

Abraham’s fear rolls in my gut.

I cling to Sodom as it burns, connive

for the birthright at Isaac’s bedside,

stand by as my sons slaughter a city,

hear the roar of weeping women

whose husbands die by the blade

of my knife. I go into a prostitute

and father two sons by my daughter-in-law.

A slave now free, I wander the desert

longing for Egypt under my feet.

I take the vow of a Nazirite and eat

from the carcass of a dead animal,

kill thirty men for unraveling a riddle.

The men I’ve murdered to marry their women.

The cold shoulder I’ve given to collapse a kingdom.

All of this and more,

borne upon my spirit, every crime

a hornet in my chest. I ask and know

the answer, groan the question anyway,

out of this agony, “My God, my God,

why hast thou forsaken me?”

Ever since I can remember, the words of Jesus on the cross, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" have confused me.  This was probably the hardest of the verses for me to imagine or write about, because it is Jesus, Son of God, who feels abandoned by God.  I can understand any other normal human crying out to God about being abandoned, but this is Jesus.  In that dark moment, God the Father had to stand by and allow all of the wrongdoing of mankind to rest on Jesus.  He had to carry that massive burden.
In writing this poem, I needed to find out where "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" came from, because Jesus is actually quoting scripture here.  If you have some time to read Psalm 22, it's worth it.  This psalm expounds on what Jesus must have been feeling, beyond that single sentence.  If the Son of God is the epitome of faith, then this moment on the cross embodies the opposite extreme - fear.  Here, every dark thought, word and deed buzz, stinging and sapping strength.  This is what we are spared.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

It's Out of Your Hands

I've been feeling some anxiety lately, that nasty little bug of an emotion that crawls in between your sheets each night, wriggling around so that all you can do is focus on it and where it might wriggle to next. Normally I'm not much of a worrier, but occasionally worry sneaks up on me and I find myself rolling around in bed trying to stop thinking and start sleeping.  And you know how effective trying not to think is.

Worry and anxiety manifest themselves in two forms for me: what could happen to me and what is happening to other people right now.  These scenarios have two things in common - both are almost totally out of my control.  I say "almost" because there is one thing I can do in the face of worry and anxiety, and it's spelled out for me in Scripture.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." I love this passage from Philippians 4:5-7.  What it doesn't say is pray about this and surely God will change your circumstances.  What it does say is pray about this and surely God will make it possible for you to cope with your circumstances.

When circumstances seem beyond our control, they probably are.  They probably need to be turned over to God.  We can always pray for God to change our circumstances, or pray for the best possible outcome, or pray for miracles, and I think God hears those prayers.  But when those requests are not answered the way we hope and we're faced with a difficult person, an unchanging job situation, a health complication, or some other anxiety-producing life circumstance, the one thing we can do is share our anxieties with God.  Give it over to him.  Let go of whatever silly notions we have of controlling the situation or changing the person and invite God to change us and how we are responding to the situation.

So much in this world is beyond our control, but we are able to control our reactions and our attitudes.  When the weight of anxiety, fear, and worry press down on us, God invites us to lift the burden off and hand it over to the one who spun the universe into existence in the first place.  He replaces that weight with peace and his strength to carry us through.  On the other side of the storm, God's work isn't just holding us together but refining us, and the suffering that produced perseverance that produced character also produced hope.  It's a tough road, weathering the storm, but with Christ, it's worth it.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Last Words Series Part Three - "Mary at the Cross"

Mary at the Cross

I am not old. A bewildered mother
since conception who stored up
each moment. Now I will recall
the way you reached for me, a babe,
and only see your outstretched arms.

Son, do not abandon me—every hour
has been mystery, how my Lord suckled
at my breast, relied on me to learn
the ways of men. Standing here watching
you die is my own death. I am afraid.

Yet even now, you look down and know
my thoughts—who will lead me through this,
on whom can I depend? By the power
of locked knees and women I stand,
resigned and resolute. I will soon be without

my son, my Lord. Dear woman, here is your son.


Just like he did with the criminal on the cross, Jesus keeps on looking out for the needs of others, even while he's dying on a cross.  Seriously, is this guy the Son of God, or what?

In this poem, I wanted to receive the words from Jesus as he gives her John as her son, to take care of her and minister to her needs now that he's dying.  This puzzles me because Mary has other children.  I don't know if it is because the others are much younger or because Jesus wanted to entrust Mary to his brother-from-another-mother, John, because he knew that John would be a spiritual rock for his mother once he died.  It really doesn't matter in the bigger picture. Jesus - suffering, bleeding, sweating, aching, dying Jesus - looks down from the cross and sees his confused and grief-stricken mother and meets her needs.

As a mom, I can imagine the temptation to say to my son, look, just stop with all of this high-minded Son of Man stuff, deny it and live out a happy, quiet life.  I wonder if Mary, who treasured so much of her early memories in her heart, worried about the direction Jesus's life had taken in his teens and twenties.  Was this rebellious, revolutionary, peace-speaking, Pharisee-scolding son of hers always going to be getting into trouble?  Did he embarrass her by not meeting her expectations, like many of the others who met Jesus while he was alive?

And now she's standing at the foot of the cross with a few other women and the only disciple that hadn't completely abandoned Jesus, staring at her son.  Her SON.  This isn't just the Savior of the World.  It's her son.  I'm taken back to those early days of our son's life, when he laid in an incubator, intubated and limp, his very breath mechanically administered, and how unimaginably helpless we felt.  Of course we loved him already, before he was born, but now he's almost four years old, and we know him.  How much harder it is to imagine him suffering now, after this relationship has evolved so far.  What must it have been like for Mary, who loved Jesus for every second of his 33 years, to know him the way a mother knows a son, to watch him die?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Last Words Series - Part Two, "Breath"

This poem wiggles around on the page and has funky spacing, but I thought I'd give it a shot here, because I don't think you need to have the visual effect in order to read the poem. In fact, I've changed some of the line breaks for this post, just because. :)


You are wondering why I am
up here with you, why
our blood is mixing together
in the dirt, why our lungs
heave out as if we have
the same spirit
in us
begging to be set free,
why we keep

Each inhalation,
a gasp.
All I want to do
is breathe out
a final time. You, a criminal, exhale.
I inhale
your air.

Do you feel the weight of it
off your chest even now,
before your final sigh?
You wonder why
must last
so long.
For this breathing—
and grace,
guilt and
grace, guilt
and grace—and yet

I assure you,
you will be with me
in Paradise.


This poem relies on what Jesus says to one of the criminals next to him on the cross ("I assure you, today, you will be with me in Paradise"). When writing this poem, I wanted to evoke the physical strain of breathing when suffering, and I also wanted the process of breathing to be that exchange between guilt and grace - salvation at work. I was also thinking of the "breath of life," breathed into Adam by God back in Genesis, and how Jesus's breathing on the cross could serve as a second wind, so to speak.

It is phenomenal that Jesus can look over at this confessed criminal and declare that he will join Jesus in paradise that very day. In the face of suffering and grief, the last place I tend to look is at other people's suffering-- my focus is on my own pain and troubles-- but Jesus extends mercy, even with his hands and feet nailed through to the cross, even with the weight of the earth pulling at him. Take a deep breath - inhale that mercy. It's awesome, isn't it?