Monday, June 20, 2011

For Father's Day

An old post:

The Buses

I think the only place to start is with the buses. It just says so much. We lived in the buses the summer after I finished kindergarten. Dad parked two buses side by side and cut a hole out so we could pass between them. The yellow bus was the living room/kitchen and the blue bus was the bedroom/bathroom. Off the back, outside the emergency exits, Dad built a porch where he set up a table for meals and a curtain-enclosed stall for showers. I remember during every meal the ever-present bees buzzing around us.

For the shower, Dad had befriended the neighbor up the hill from us, who had allowed him to tap into his water supply. A series of hoses ran down the hill from the back of this neighbor's house to a 50-gallon drum on top of the buses. This was really ingenious as I think about it. The water must have heated up in the summer sun enough to provide a warm, albeit quick, shower. I never remember Mom in the shower; maybe she washed up at a friend's house once or twice a week. Mom bathed Lauri and I one at a time in a little round blue plastic tub with water she heated in the microwave. Dad might have been the only one to shower on the porch. The shower curtain hung on a wire half-circle, and Dad would pull it around him, the ends each touching a bus. Once, a lady from church who stopped by, probably out of charity as I think about it now, got quite a show. I'm sure Dad didn't realize she was there when he got in the shower, but it was just a glitch in the system: From inside the yellow bus, she could see him showering through the rear window. (My parents say they don't remember that, but somehow I do. Who knows whose memory is faulty? I say it makes a good story.)

In the bedroom bus, Mom and Dad slept on a mattress on the floor. My older sister Lauri and I had bunk beds, which were old doors my dad had covered with blue shag carpet. I seem to remember Lauri was scared of falling out of bed, so that's why I got the top bunk, which I loved. Paulie was just a baby, so I'm sure he slept in a box or a drawer somewhere. In the mobile home we moved into that fall - when it started to get cold - he slept on top of the dresser.

The bathroom was right where it had always been in that bus, a tiny room by the rear exit, with a port-a-potty. I distinctly remember a sign above the toilet paper, printed neatly in my mother's hand: "Eight squares apiece." I think that had something to do with the capabilities of the tank, maybe a tendency to clog or how often it had to be emptied. (Now that I've watched my own young children use giant wads of toilet paper, I can see why she might have been worried about clogging.) But surely we used double-ply. Otherwise, it seems like a scanty allotment.

You're probably wondering the reason for our unique accommodations. Well, we weren't just camping. My father's ingenuity only began with the buses. What he was really about was just up the hill. He was working on building a house literally with his own two hands and with mostly "found" materials: glass from an old greenhouse, fieldstone a farmer gave him for digging it out of his field, oak trees my dad cut down himself and helped to plane at a friend's mill. The oak was for the beams. The fieldstone was for the fireplace - three stories high. The glass was made into windows that covered the front of the house. All the floors were pine. I remember when he sealed the downstairs floor with polyurethane, he suspended the piano from the ceiling to get it off the floor. When he sealed the stairs and we were waiting for them to dry, to get upstairs we climbed a ladder and then crawled across a plank. That was one thing my mother complained about, and overall I can't say she really complained that much, considering the unconventional nature of her life with my father. She protested all the way, but she did climb that ladder and crawl across the plank. At the time, she was eight months pregnant with my sister Elizabeth.

As kids, we all thought mom was kind of a party pooper. She wasn't cheerful as she scrubbed panes of greenhouse glass with a bucket of hot water on the kitchen table in our mobile home (after feeding, bathing, and putting to bed three kids in a single-wide.) She seriously fussed when she had to crawl across that plank. And when she knocked herself out when we were leaving for church because she didn't duck coming out of the emergency exit of the bus, she was actually angry, maybe even livid. Looking back now as a wife and mother myself, I don't know how she did it, especially considering that as I am writing this, those are the only three examples I can come up with of her bad attitude. It makes me want to cry. It's sweet to think of her going wherever my dad took her, doing whatever crazy-sounding thing he came up with for them to do, maybe objecting at first but always giving in in the end.

Of course, Dad's plans might have sounded crazy, but for him they were more or less realistic, though they didn't always reach completion in exactly the time frame that was at first agreed upon. The house was supposed to take six months; it took five years. Still, he finished it, and pretty much single-handedly, with a little help from friends on things like pouring the foundation, erecting the beams, nailing the shingles. Someone else would have been crazy to try. Most people wouldn't have even thought to. My dad, as I used to say, "could do anything, just like Jesus." Mom was always quick to correct me and say "almost anything." Like, for example, Dad couldn't save my soul, I guess she was thinking. Maybe she was also thinking about one or two other things he couldn't do. Wives have that vantage point. (Mom, though, was usually too busy thinking about all the things she herself couldn't do, like keep herself from sometimes getting angry or keep her kids happy at all times.)

I think Mom just had a very sensitive conscience; she didn't want us making an idol of our Dad. I don't know if we made an idol of him, but he was definitely our hero. Life with him was a fabulous adventure. Time taken out of working on the house to stand on the ledge of the driveway and throw a weighted rope over and over until he hooked it over the branch of a tree fifty feet up so that he could make us a swing - and not just a swing, a thrill ride - was time well spent in his opinion. A house without a rope swing, after all, wouldn't be much of a house.

Of course, he wanted that rope swing as much if not more than we did, partly because he'd gotten it into his head, and he couldn't get it out of his head until he'd solved how to do it and accomplished it. I just know he lay in bed at night working it all out in his mind - inventing - and then what fun to get up in the morning and try. Nothing could stop him. He was single-minded. But it wasn't just the problem-solving, which has always been his main hobby in life, it was the dream he had and wanted to invite us into. He was creating a place that lived inside his heart and head, a place for his family to experience a thrill ride, even before we knew what one was. And I must say, we certainly did.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In Secret

It took me awhile to understand what Jesus was talking about because it took me awhile to understand his kingdom really is upside down from this world. "Really?" I started to think, "You want me to pursue a direction exactly opposite from where they pointed me in school, in work, even in church?" Everything around me said, "Go higher! Get larger! Make a name for yourself." When I was eighteen, I thought my life would be meaningless if I didn't end up famous. But misgiving nagged me; even the messages in church sometimes didn't jive with his words, and I wanted to follow his words. It took me so long to believe Jesus really was leading me down, to diminishing, to even disappearing. His voice, so quiet among the voices screaming, "That's the way to death!", said, "Yes, but the only way to life."

It takes a lot of faith to trust that quiet voice and follow it down to the grave (and I can't without his help): to stand silent before my accusers instead of defending myself; to not fight for my rights, to even lay them down; to do more than my share of the work without bitterness; to do humbling - even degrading - acts of service without recognition or thanks; to receive insults and choose out of love to go back for more. I thought, "Can this really be the way?" But then he helped me try it, and I knew it was, because I felt the hint of a brand new kind of joy; I sensed the sprouting of a living seed I didn't know was in me. I know if he helps me continue, and I know he will, I will see the growth of a glory I could never have imagined.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Holy, holy, holy God,
Be glorified in these hands,
In this self-serving life
Trying to serve you;
I only scratch a dent
In paint that needs to come off,
Not even a fleck.
But I'm new to knowing what you see in
Little me, with my unwashed hair in a pony-tail all week,
With my smile and the lines that don't go away when it's gone,
With my love for ice cream, with my dandruff,
With the way I down-dressed my husband in front of his sister,
With my Gatling gun laugh that does delight you so,
With my pensive looks and love of a good comedian,
With my hands wiping, changing, dressing, bathing, buttoning, brushing, patting,
With my twisted vessel for loving (it never comes out straight,
But sometimes when I'm unaware
And my busy hands stay out of it,
The love that fills my heart makes its way
Where I meant it to go);
I'm new to drooping all my weight
Onto your arms,
My lamb-head against your chest
Where you carry me.
I revel in it,
Into myself, I suppose,
But in awe of you,
That you would bear me thus;
I always knew you could
But now I know you want to.
Now I see
It doesn't put you out
To do what you made me to need.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Someone Wants to Hear Me Sing

Who am I kidding? I'm wretched. I'm lonely. I'm in need. No one sees what I am doing. The ones I love most are not satisfied with me. The love I am grasping for like a hungry infant is not forthcoming. I'm empty. I hunger. I want.

We finished swim lessons today. Finally the summer stretches out lazily before me like a river. I have nothing to do but visit the beach and my relatives in Kentucky, and then in August to start rehearsal for a play (more on that later!) I'll hit these marks and in between we will get up each morning with a single daily goal - to log hours in the pool, punctuated by meals and nap-times. From conveying my children to swim lessons and back every day for a month, I am spent. I'm so glad I don't have anywhere to be tomorrow. Maybe now I'll clean my house.

Maybe I won't.

But I aspire to. I aspire to too many things, self-improvements: better housekeeping, better parenting, better communion with nature, better finances, better responses, better loving. I do well, but I could do better. Every day this month, I cared for my children. I fed them three meals a day, kept them safe, and sometimes did their laundry. I worked on teaching them to clean up after themselves and to obey their mother and to stop screaming at each other. I made it possible for them to learn how to swim. I also taught Sunday school and saved hundreds of dollars with coupons and threw a birthday party. That's a lot, isn't it? Even just keeping the children safe is worth more than all the rest combined. I'd like to call it enough. But to satisfy every expectation, I know it's not. There is still space for someone to find it lacking.

"Mommy, keep singing!"

I was singing along with the radio in the car this morning. I knew almost all the words.

"You are Lord of Lords,
You are King of Kings,
You are Mighty God,
Lord of everything.
You're Emmanuel
You're the Great I Am
You're my Prince of Peace
Who is the Lamb.
You're my saving God
You're my saving grace.
You will reign forever.
You're the Ancient of Days.
You're the Alpha, Omega,
Beginning and End.
You're my savior, Messiah,
Redeemer, and Friend.
You're my Prince of Peace
And I will live my life for you."

Whenever I got quiet, my two-year-0ld told me to keep singing, a touching request. So I sang louder, and with feeling. She was right - I needed to keep singing that, over and over. And I think I needed someone to want to hear me sing, and I don't think she was the only one who did.

Now, late in the day, as I type this, over and over a sweet baby is relentlessly climbing my back. Detritus litters the floor. I fear, in the end, I may never be much more than I am now. I'm too much of a drama queen. I'm too passive aggressive. I'm too exacting (of myself mostly.) I'm too craving.

I have lately been contemplating - at times obsessively - the Roman Catholic church. Is it the true Church? Am I going to end up in it? I hear of it being our Holy Mother. I don't know if that description includes every branch of Christ's Body, the low along with the high. All I know is I want to run into her arms. Where else can I nurse and be satisfied at those comforting breasts? I mean, is God Himself equipped with those? I don't know how to imagine it. I just know it's what I need.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lord, Have Mercy. Christ, Have Mercy. Lord, Have Mercy.

And so it goes. And so it goes.

I am sure Fernando Ortega didn't know he was singing for me when he sat down to play Kyrie Eleison for the cameras in his home in New Mexico.

I put the kids to bed and now I'm sitting on the leather sofa, wine in hand. I usually don't drink alone, but Shep is out of town for the night, and so I've digressed, not only from my pious perch of eliminating sugar from my diet - ten peppermint wrappers (what a pitiful binge - I wasn't prepared) and a twice-emptied ice cream bowl litter my t.v. tray - but also down into a glass of wine - only one, but just one takes the edge off.

I'm blowing off steam. I want to go wild. I've been juggling all day, no, all week. Three kids and an armload of towels, to the Y and back every morning. Three wet kids, learning to swim - with success, so at least it's worth the effort. (One does the crawl. One does the float. One does the freestyle - meaning for now she is happy with what she knows and wants to be left alone.) Three stretching, straining, flailing, calling, weeping, whining, shouting, laughing, bossing, screaming, chattering, prattling, yammering, yattering, yapping, jawing, babbling, jabbering, bucking, braying kids. To breakfast, to make beds, to the potty, to the car, to the locker room, to the potty, to the pool, to the potty, to the pool, to the potty, to the car, to the store, to the car, to the house, to the nap, nap, nap, not-long-enough nap, to the grouchy - I mean, the evening - hours, to dinner, to bath if it's that day of the month, to bed, to bed, to bed, to bed. And then the baby is teething, so bedtime is done three times. Three times' the charm.

I want to go wild.

I feel better when I am measured and even - no sugar, bed by ten (or eleven...thirty), plenty of sleep, then hitting my marks: breakfast by eight, out the door by 9:30, nap by 2:30 - three at the latest - dinner by six, bath (I tried to add that one in there as a regular thing - ha!) by seven, bed by eight, eight, eight, NO SUGAR, BED BY TEN! But then a day comes when I've got to blow off steam, and I'm eating...whatever I can find...with the internet on my lap, wasting time down rabbit trails.

I googled how to grow great-tasting cucumbers. After half a glass of wine, that innocent query almost turned me aside into dangerous waters, but I stayed my course and found out that size makes the biggest difference in taste of cucumbers grown in the garden - really! (Irrigation and soil acidity are also important factors.)

I by-passed Facebook somehow, thankfully, since it always makes me feel like crap to peep over the fence into other people's lives. My latest obsession has been couponing, anyway, but I by-passed that too, and found myself reading essays about my identity in Christ. I guess there is some worthwhile material on the internet. And a man at a piano calling down mercy.

I'm fried. But, too, I'm sad. My sister is sick. She is in a lot of pain. When we exchanged texts this morning, she was just trying to make it through the day. Sometimes just making it through the day requires the most mercy of all.

So pour it on, sweet Jesus. Rain it down. I'm waiting here to soak it up.