Tag Archives: freedom

Full Mind, Full Heart…

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There are a lot of things in my head right now. The song is “I Can Her the Bells” from “Hairspray Jr.” which we saw at the middle school four blocks from our house on Friday. Several alum from our elementary school plays were there and in good form. The steps under my feet and in my head are for “Make ‘em Laugh” which we will choreograph this week.

I’m rereading Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, a fantastic novel that throws together everything that interests me into a lovely disastrous science fiction salad, languages, medicine, with some alien life forms thrown in. I am emotionally tired from our community group’s project on Saturday to feed breakfast to seventy five people through City Hope, our church’s community center in the tenderloin district of San Francisco.

I met a young lady named Ari. When I had talked her inside off the wet street she left moments later with tears in her eyes. She had been looking at my kids. Out of prison for five days, her seven-year-old son is with his father in Alabama, her two-year-old daughter is in Petaluma with friends. We talked about being mothers, she talked about the weight of the family she was raised in, the weight of caring for children on her own, the weight of her addiction that led her straight back here to the streets of San Francisco.

She came in again, she ate, she met my children, I connected her to our pastor there. We found out where she could get clothes. She went to use the bathroom. I sat with her bag.

When she came back she said, “I’m glad you watched my bag. It would’ve been too hard not to — if I had had it with me.”

“You have drugs in there right now?” I asked.

“No,” she said after the slightest pause.

And this is how far I’ve come, I’m still naive enough to be surprised that a drug addict has drugs on their person. But, as it turns out, I’m not naive enough that I didn’t recognize that she was lying to me in the second instance. So, that’s something.

The emotional response in my body brought to mind another instance of similar discordant realization. We were in Manila on a mission trip. We were touring lots of areas and different ministries. One night we went down to the slums to meet some of the thousands of orphans left on their own to form families. We had a group of about twenty boys, six to ten year-olds. We told them Bible stories, learned their names, fed them. We had been there for hours when I began noticing that they were leaving one by one and coming back after a while. They would come back a little happier, red eyes, a little less attentive, distant.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked one.

“He’s high,” the boy answered succinctly.

As it turns out these beautiful brown boys were taking turns leaving to huff glue out of discarded glass jars.

One of our set up guys at church has been clean for two years. He posted on Facebook. “Two years off the needle by the grace of God.”

Another time in college a young man, long blonde hair in a ponytail, a smattering of tattoos, was a friend of a friend of someone in En Christo, our ministry to the poor and homeless in Spokane, Washington. He showed up for a month of Saturdays, handing out bagged lunches to the residents of the hotels we had established relationships with. He gave a powerful testimony of God’s saving grace to release him from his addiction to heroine. He was witness, it could be done. He didn’t show up one Saturday. We heard the next week, through a friend of a friend, he had died of an overdose. I don’t remember his name. I remember thinking he was cool.

I am thinking of the second grader, a little brother, who told me he has begun reading the Bible when he’s bored at home, mostly the story of David and Goliath.

I am thinking of my volunteer who has rekindled her years of ASL and is practicing the story for this next week so she can communicate with two deaf boys who have been coming to our program.

I am thinking of two third grade girls who haven’t had a friend in their all-boy children’s worship class. Two Sundays ago they finally found each other and told their mothers about their new friend.

I am thinking about the two first grade boys who are a little intimidated about transitioning out of their comfortable Kindergarten class where their little brothers are. One is autistic and finally yesterday didn’t look like a caged animal when I gave him another tour of the “big kid” room.

I am thinking about all the slogans I have read off the posters of all my friends who went to many women’s marches all across the country. I didn’t think about going. I served breakfast with my community group to seventy-five inhabitants of the tenderloin and met Ari and was tired and went home and thanked the Lord for whatever combination of grace, provision, chance, will, or wisdom that has allowed me to have a house and the right to mother my children.

I thanked the Lord for a rug to vacuum, dishes to do, so many bananas that they had gotten old, and the baking space, that no SRO hotel room has, to make banana bread. There was so much joy in making banana bread for my people, so much flour, so much sugar. I thanked the Lord for the bathroom I had to clean even though I swore on Tuesday that anybody but me was going to be scouring it this weekend. I was grateful for the fridge full, the laundry basket full, the arms full of my children.

I realized that I was being domestic even while I was admiring signs, even while City Hall was lit up pink. I laughed at myself.

My favorite quote, the last sentences of Middlemarch by George Eliot. The great heroin Dorothea, who is described as having the energy and righteous ambition of another Joan of Arc, spreading out her energies into domesticity like the delta of the river Cyrus. “But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

I think about how distasteful it is sometimes to my ambition to rest in the small things, how difficult to be satisfied in diffusion.

I think of the one hundred sixty-nine kids in the school play that I get to know and encourage. I think of the eighty-five to one-hundred fifteen kids that we have in children’s worship on Sundays that we get to know and welcome. I think of the three who I kissed awake this morning with many kisses, the little one’s cheek smelling like his sweet mouth from falling asleep sucking his thumb.

This morning I don’t feel so far away from every other woman in the world. This morning I see more parallels than differences between me and Ari who is somewhere just outside this coffee shop window, maybe still trying to find her cell phone so she can see that last picture she took of her little girl. I feel my energies splitting and irrigating many tiny fields, for each of which I am very grateful.

Ruby Bridges Part 2…

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It wasn’t a long Wikipedia entry, but it was full. It lined up the people like a list of characters from the flyleaf of a play.

The six-year-old named Ruby, one of four who passed the test to go to a white school.

The mother who wanted a better education for her daughter and for African-American children everywhere.

The father who was hesitant and, later, became convinced.

The teachers who refused to teach while a black child was enrolled.

The parents who pulled their children out the moment Ruby walked in.

The one teacher who taught Ruby in an empty classroom for a year.

The US Marshalls who walked her to school every day of that year.

The woman who threatened to poison Ruby.

The woman who nailed a black baby doll in a coffin and scared little Ruby more than anything else they screamed and threw at her.

The first little white girl who broke the boycott and became Ruby’s classmate.

That first little white girl’s parents.

The market that wouldn’t let Ruby’s family shop there any more.

The employer that fired Ruby’s father.

The neighbors who watched over Ruby’s house and babysat when needed.

The neighbors who offered Ruby’s father a job.

Every good and noble shade of humanity woven together in contrast with the darkest.

And it reminds me that the Samaritan never set out to be immortalized forever in his own parable. Nor did the priest and Levite set out to play villain. They were just on their way, about their business when the opportunity came upon them.

This is very freeing to me. Not that I’m free from seeking out those in need, but free to help those as I walk, where I walk.  I may not be able to choose great brave deeds, but I can choose to act bravely in the deeds before me.

Babysitting, employing, teaching, heroes are made out of such ordinary stuff.

On the Horse…

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I am happy to follow-up and tell you that the elementary school rehearsal yesterday went very well.

I am back, as they say, on the horse. After careful review of what is going to be rehearsed on Monday I have asked for another go at blocking and choreographing the scenes. The director kindly assented.

All of this may not seem like much, but it is indicative of much growth.

Let me tell you a story.

When I was in second grade I inadvertently won the privilege of standing in front of the entire school and reciting a poem. I hadn’t known it was a contest.

So, after the kindergartener and the first grader went, I got up on stage in front of all the K-8 graders in my school and recited my poem. I then sat down to watch the rest.

I will never forget what happened then. A fifth grader got up to recite her poem. She trembled and stuttered and burst into tears and ran off the stage. The girl may or may not have vomited. It certainly looked like she was going to.

I was mortified for her. How embarrassing! I didn’t even know that sort of reaction was possible. It was horrifying.

A couple more lucky speakers recited and then, a few moments later, everyone applauded as the teacher announced that the girl from fifth grade was going to try again.

The teacher said, “How brave of her!”

I clapped for the girl, but I didn’t buy it. The girl had run off the stage. “Brave” was something they said to trick her back up there. And I remember thinking, with my advanced second grade wisdom, that if that sort of thing ever happened to me there is no way you’d get me back up on that stage.

My heart found nothing brave or admirable in that moment.

Now, I am significantly older and, as with most things, when you practice not being perfect every day you just get better at it.

My inability to fail prevented me from doing a lot of things. It’s taken a long period of indoctrination to reverse it. In fact, I now find a special pride in my ability to fail miserably, experience rejection, and try again, even if it’s an elementary school production, even if it’s a novel.

So, here we go, keeping on, practice, practice.

On Being Clean…

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First thing this morning I vacuumed the apartment.

That sentence paints a picture, doesn’t it? I mean, what sort of person am I to begin my day vacuuming?

But the truth is, the vacuuming had been rolled over from the day before and the day before that. This morning at eight am just happened to be the moment that I could do it.

Is that still too nice of a picture? Let me paint further. This morning, directly after my son left for school, I realized with a start that there were few enough toys on the floor that I could possibly pick them up faster than two kids could take them out and if I hurried I could get it vacuumed before the day began and then I wouldn’t have to watch my eighteen month old eat particles of day old popcorn out of the shag anymore. So, I cleaned up, yelling every time they tried to get out a toy and after finding my baby french kissing the vacuum cleaner for the second time put him in his crib for the duration.

There, the vacuuming was done!

And what is the first thing my daughter wants to get out? The large bin of small paper pieces belonging to craft time.

“No!” I said. Too harsh? Maybe. I’m pretty reasonable about messes. I don’t try to keep it immaculate. Goodness, I make my kids popcorn for a snack! But, you know, give me a moment before it all goes to pot again!

And now, my jeans, I washed them yesterday. It is delightful having clean jeans. It was delightful putting them on, feeling their snugness, and catching that whiff of fabric softener.

And as soon as we get to the bus stop my daughter asks if she can climb my legs. “No!” I said. It’s not like I thought I’d be able to keep them clean forever, just, well, I’d been wearing clean jeans for less than an hour, you know?

And then the baby wanted to stand in my lap and then, wouldn’t you know it, I splash coffee on them, just a bit, you can’t really tell, but then tonight was multicultural night at school and I fed an eighteen month old fried rice, soba noodle salad, and lasagna in my lap.

It wasn’t pretty people. In the now-immortal words of Queen Elsa I had to “let it go”.

All of this has me thinking. Because in moms group we’ve been talking about ritual and the meaning behind the things we do as a family. And during a collective bout of whining the other night right around bath time I cupped my four-year-old daughter’s chin and looked her in the eye.

“Do you know why we give you baths?” I said, “Because God gave you to us to take care of and because I want you to know how good it feels to be made clean.”

So, tonight I scrubbed the soba noodles out of my denim. And I picked a few cheerios up off the floor.

And I wondered if this is the ritual my heavenly Father gave me to do, this endless cleaning? Like a dirty faced child throwing a tantrum against the inevitable scrub, do I misunderstand the favor? “See how good it feels to make things new, Barbara? Do it again! Feel my joy at making dirty things clean!”

Today I realized all over again that there will never be a moment in my life when, by the energy of my own industry, I will be able to make everything clean all at the same time. Thank goodness! I rather think I need the practice of dependence in this area.

Hmm, I think I might have just given you a spiritual basis for maid service.

You’re welcome.

Itchy Itchy…

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I’ve been taking a little break.

A few weeks ago I was “angst-ing out”. That is, I was getting increasingly frustrated by my desires and increasingly ill-equipped to satisfy them.

So, I put my ambitions aside. And I took a deep breath. I made granola. I cleaned the apartment. I ate ice cream and read a book.

During the day I sat in the middle of the carpet instead of in front of my computer. I read the books that were brought to me. I admired the drawings that were shown to me. I wrestled the little bodies that stepped too close to me.

Yesterday I spent forty-five minutes making a cardboard castle with lookout towers, shelves, and a gatehouse.

And today, for the first time since my last post, almost a week ago, I got out my computer. This promptly occurred:

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My life would be much simpler if I did not need to write, if I did not wake up in the mornings with the story like a rash eating away at my brain demanding to be scratched. I would have nothing to do but be a mother and friend. My house would be the tiniest bit cleaner. Dinners would be the tiniest bit slower. And I think things would be a little more comfortable for my husband and kids. Things would certainly be more comfortable for me.

But today I woke up itchy. And so I dug out my computer from underneath the Lego ships on my dresser and established nap time firmly.

And now, I write.