Sunday, June 22

About Her

If you met her for yourself, Anna's feet would be the last thing to draw your attention.The thing you'd notice about her, if you bumped into her at the market or the coffee shop, is her spirit -- her I'm-laughing-at-you-in-the-nicest-way, mischievous, determination. She's uncommonly comfortable in her own lovely skin. Perfectly blond and naturally curly hair plays around her freckled cheeks. Her petite, feminine frame carries her soon-coming babe with strength, energy.

But we're not talking about spark, we're talking about feet, she and I. Anna's first pedicure has resulted in perfect daisies painted on fluorescent green nails. "So, you know how whenever you go into something like this you always self-consciously apologize for what you imagine must be the worst feet they've ever seen? Well, it turns out mine really are some of the worst!" Her gently self-deprecating laugh assures her listener that she's really okay with whatever criticism may have been leveled at her to establish the nastiness of her callous-riddled toes.

I laugh in turn and press for detail. "It's true! They brought out a special cream! 'Just for you,' they said. Who knew?"

I'm generally uncomfortable with salons, spa's, perfume departments -- anyplace where aggressive women threaten to try to "make something" of my "challenging" appearance. I need to wax more regularly, but the fifteen dollars required is elusive (and most often being spent on slurpees, rather than beauty enhancements); the last time I visited an esthetician she, as I lay prostrate on my back in a dingy back room in a strangely decorated salon, perkily chirruped: "Oh my gosh! You're eyebrows are, like, completely uneven!" That eyebrows grow in all manner of raggedy slashes across the faces of women 'round the globe had, clearly, not occurred to her until that moment. I'm so glad I could be the one to demonstrate that imperfection.

My nail beds are too flat to handle the beautiful manicure's I love so much. My hair's natural s-curve co-operates with no one. I've started sprouting hairs in odd places ~ obvious places ~ places front and center where all the world can enjoy an excellent view (I am not exaggerating when I say that there is one that springs forth from the middle of my left cheek that can grow to the incredible length of one centimeter overnight!).

So, when Anna and I, busily setting up a picnic supper for the kids' youth group, talk about the grotesque deformity of feet, I can relate. The really glorious thing about being a few years into living is that our oddities and various uglies are becoming amusing. The youthful sting of fear and uncertainty that comes with the realization of imperfections is falling away and being replaced by growing (and sometimes grim) understanding that our callouses and sproingy hairs are not what the world is watching anyway.

If you met her for yourself, Anna's feet would be the last thing to draw your attention. Because she is clever and very funny. She catches your imagination, quickly, with engaging ideas and thoughts for the future. She is kind. She rejects no one. She is beautiful.

With a toddler straddling her right hip (Only occasionally directing a "Could you please help me?" at her distracted husband.) and a babybelly sticking out to forever, she wins her audience. She facilitates the picnic, now well underway. She organizes and executes appropriately sloppy and energetic games, the kind that only thirteen year old's can fully appreciate. She laughs. She draws in. She loves.

Bumpy feet. Flat nailbeds. Hair too-straight, too-curly. Moles. Unimportant, all. We are so much more than the sum of our imperfect features. We bring to the world. We give to the world. We share, love, offer, build in our worlds. Like Anna's feet, our flaws will go largely unnoticed, while the bits of grace and humor we offer will leave lasting, healing, motivating impressions. Now, would you please stop staring at my eyebrows?

Wednesday, June 18

A Splotch of Drool

A lunch bag, locks, and two kinds of milk. A lunch bag, locks, and two kinds of milk. A lunch bag...I'm chanting rhythmically to myself as I make my way to the grocery store. A lunch bag for Bob, locks for the backyard gates (because the neighbor kids are sneaking in to visit the dogs when we're not at home), and milk for breakfast.

Easy, right? A short list. I'm not sure how your thirty, forty, fifty-something memory is treating you these days, but mine is a bit like a dog dish on the back deck on a hot summer's morning: all the useful stuff has evaporated by midday, leaving behind only a few clumps of fir and a splotch of drool.

"Hey, Mom? I got 93% on my test."

"No kidding, son? Good job!"


"Mmmhmm?" I'm stirring or cleaning or folding, my mind on other things, but I force my mind to scramble it's way into the present conversation.

"Mom, that's the third time I've told you about that mark."

I stop stirring, cleaning, folding, ruminating. "What? No way. I would have remembered if you'd told me something so important. Are you sure you told me before?"

"Yeah. 'Cause you responded before."

"So, why'd you tell me again?

"Because I usually tell you things three times, even if you respond, so that I'm sure you've heard me."

I toy with the idea that my teenager is messing with my head. He's not serious? He's serious.

I call a friend to go over the details for a birthday we're planning. She listens politely as I ramble off the meeting times and places. She waits for me to take a breath and injects, "So, this is all of the same stuff you told me in your phone message last night, right?"

A phone message? Last night? I didn't leave a message, I'm sure of it. I'd remember that, for sure! Wrong. Bits of fir and a puddle of drool.

I do remember some things.

Like, I remember what it feels like to sit beneath a tree on Grandpa's farm. I remember the fairy-tale feel of the cool breeze and the bony roots and the reaching branches.

I remember the smell in the car-pool lady's car after she'd had her radiation treatments. How old was I then? Ten, eleven?

The woman I babysat for who cheated on her husband with (no kidding!) the milk man, my first car, Dad teaching me to drive a standard (and not ever swearing out loud -- not even in German -- when I nearly spun us into the ditch on a country road), the first teacher to give me a near-failing grade on an English paper, the first teacher to challenge my beliefs about myself, my God, my life -- I remember all of these things.

I remember the pillar-of-the-church man who was offended, weekly, by my bushy eyebrows and "man sized" hands and too-firm grip. How I felt the first time I read "The Scarlet Pimpernel" and when I first encountered God on a just-me level; my first time skiing and that one mean swimming instructor. I remember!

But the grocery list is a little elusive. Four things, I tell myself. You're just picking up four things. I keep walking and chanting, Lunch bag, locks..., allowing myself a bit of a giggle and making a mental note to just write it all on my hand next time (because, Goodness knows, I won't be able to keep track of a piece of paper). If I remember...

Tuesday, June 10


This little guy is a Brewer's Blackbird. He's intensely parental and darkly vigilant where his offspring are concerned. I know this because every time I hike past his house he chitters and flaps threateningly at me, hovering just a couple of feet above my head.

Sometimes I take him by surprise and he doesn't begin his recriminations until I'm past, but once he's spotted me I'm in for it!

He and his family nest on the ground or in the bottom branches of the trees that cluster around our local man-made lakes. His Blackbird neighbors are equally vocal in the defense of their territory, sitting like tiny sentries just a few feet off from their home turfs. As I walk by, I chatter my reassurances in their direction, in my very best Bird, promising that I won't harm their mates or their babes.

They don't believe me and make gently determined swoops at my head, encouraging me to move along a little quicker if-you-please, their tones implying that they will reign their tiny fury down on me right quick if I don't shove off.

I happen to be talking with God about my own kids as I enter the Brewer's neighborhood. I'm asking (beseeching? petitioning?) my Lord for His ongoing presence in their lives. Will He, I ask, lead them to become all that He's created them to be? Will He be their teacher, counselor, conviction, Light? Will He give them the same gift of believing that I feel so grateful for in my own life? Will He teach them to love -- sooner, more deeply, more wildly than I?

You know what those prayers are like, I know! You know the breath-stealing intensity that settles around a Mom's crying out on behalf of her own. When I pray for you...and you...and you, my friend, my thoughts often begin as weighty and awe-filled petitions to God. After a moment's, "Lord, will You do such-and-such for my friend?" the weight of the moment lifts, vanishes.

When we pray for our kids, on the other hand, the import of what we're asking enlarges and expands inside us until it fills us to bursting: we carry unspoken, ongoing entreaties for the children, expelling them in short breaths as we mop the floor or fold their laundry. Spilling them in too-many-word rants in the privacy of the loo. Weeping them in silence in the safe aloneness of the shower. The urgency and momentous responsibility of their care is unchanging in us. The relief that follows a prayer for a friend does not always accompany the prayer for a child.

We're a little like Brewer's Blackbird. We're at our post, watchfully noting the threats and adventures and sustaining-things and breaking-things that are coming our charges' way. We may be tiny, but we will be heard. And if you appear to be a threat to our maturing broods, you'd better come equipped with a very sturdy hat and some good running shoes!

I hurry past, entertained and humbled by the Brewer's determined (militant?) vigilance. I do not have a hat and I'm unnerved enough by their angry chitchitchit's to be grateful for my running shoes. I mark the lesson on guarding the nest and, in my ridiculously high and squeaky sure-to-calm-the-critter language, leave them with a my final reassurance that they've done their work well; their young are safe, the threat vanquished for another day.