We had an ice storm last Wednesday, rare in our temperate western Oregon climate. I sat on the couch in our living room watching as freezing rain coated the trees outside, and icicles grew on the power lines. I heard the bang and saw a flash of light as a transformer exploded somewhere in the neighborhood. Thankfully our power stayed on.

Later that evening, as I continued my couch vigil, watching the storm outside, I said a silent prayer that our electricity would stay on through the night. We don’t have a fireplace, or gas, so electricity is our only heat source. At the moment that I finished my silent prayer – the lights went out. My heart sank.

Spencer gathered flashlights, we put on extra layers of clothing, and I told the kids we would all get to sleep together in our king-size bed that night. They’ve both been finding their way into our bed by the middle each night anyway, so it wasn’t too out of the ordinary. It was a little fun, a bit like camping on a cold night.

Waking up in the morning with no heat and light was not very inviting. I was thankful that my parents, a few miles away, still had electricity, so I packed our bags and we headed to their house to stay as many days as needed.

We were lucky. My parents’ next door neighbor, and all down the street to the north, lost power and didn’t get it back until yesterday. The electricity at our house ended up coming back on Thursday afternoon. At Marie’s dentist appointment Friday, the hygienist told me she was without power at home, that it was an inconvenience but she didn’t mind too much. She was looking forward to barbecuing a steak that night.

My husband, who maintains parks in Springfield, has extra work now with all the downed trees everywhere. Ice storms are hard on trees. It made me think of the poem Birches, by Robert Frost:

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
(You can read the poem in its entirety here.)

The storm made me realize how fragile we are against the forces of nature. But oh, the beauty!

I may not know much about how the world works or why things happen the way they do. But I do know this: Life is full of fragile beauty. And I am here to be a witness.

“Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.” – Mary Oliver

 

I am feeling so many things at the same time right now. Gratitude that my husband and I just bought our first house, that we have healthy children, that we both recently started excellent new jobs.

At the same time I’m still processing the results of the recent election, and yes, I’m not happy with the results. I’m afraid of the future we are moving toward as a society. We seem to be in a place where objective truth no longer matters. We are jumping off a ledge into an abyss where the outcome on human rights, environmental protections, and foreign policy are all in question.

I also find myself questioning whether the efforts I have been making for years to make the world a better place even matter. Carefully sorting my recycling. Being an informed citizen who researches and then votes in elections. Donating to nonprofits. Signing petitions for causes I believe in. Trying to be kind. Praying. Going to church every Sunday so that I can work on becoming a better person. Telling the truth.

Does any of it matter?

I am not trying to be melodramatic. I am just being honest.

A few minutes ago I came upon this poem by Mary Oliver.

The Uses of Sorrow

(in my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

I will continue to tell the truth. I will continue to make the same kinds of choices I’ve always made. I will fight even harder to live out Christ’s teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Long live the resistance.

Love that boy,
like a rabbit loves to run …
Love to call him in the morning
love to call him
“Hey there son!”

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He got long roads to walk down
before the setting sun.
I said he got a long, long road to walk down
before the setting sun.
He’ll be a long stride walker
And a good man before he’s done.

— excerpt from Love that Boy, by Walter Dean Myers

 

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Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
and sorry I could not travel both
and be one traveler, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth..

and both that morning equally lay
in leaves no step had trodden black.
oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

— excerpt from The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

 

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Toddler to-do: Climb on top of princess car. Check.

 

I tend to view life in terms of to-do lists. Today: drop-off daughter with grandma, deposit check at bank, pick up prescription at Safeway, work on website design. Then, as time allows: laundry, dishes, straighten up living room, clean stovetop, scrub floors, straighten up and dust bookshelves.

I also have my toddler with me all day, as I do every day. So many of these things will be left undone, as they usually are. And even if I finished all of these tasks, there would soon be five more chores to take their place. The work of a mother is never-ending.

My mom’s magenta Honda Civic used to have a bumper sticker that said, “Every mother is a working mother.” I didn’t appreciate that bumper sticker at the time. I was in high school and frequently used that car to drive to social events. So I covered it up with two other bumper stickers, “Free Tibet,” and “Maybe if we ignore the environment it will just go away.”

Now I know the truth – every mother is a working mother, and it’s just as important of a message as the other bumper stickers. “Free Tibet” stayed on the Honda for years after the car was officially passed on to me, and received a few mild reactions. Waiting in line at the Canadian border crossing, someone yelled out “Didn’t you know Tibet is free now!” (It’s not.) Or, when I worked at a private Christian high school a co-worker commented on how the “Free Tibet” car was mysteriously in the parking lot again, as if it couldn’t belong to someone who worked there. (It did.)

Today I found an old notebook with to-do lists and notes from different times in my life. The first page has my honeymoon flight itinerary, a phone number for a travel agent and notes about our rehearsal dinner. Later I find job references, a stream-of-consciousness writing exercise, sermon notes, and a workout schedule that was never followed. I find notes about many jobs I applied to unsuccessfully, as well as notes Spencer and I made before his interview with the first professional job he landed. A to-do list from a mystery Tuesday: underwear, mattress pad, painting hooks, money back? C & B, B & B, golf practice, Mollalla job application, call Bob, Bible study, wedding photos, laundry.

Apparently this notebook was lost in boxes or spare bedrooms but resurfaced recently as it has notes from 2006 and then 2015. I find To-Do Before Baby: organize bedroom, set-up chair, return used items to Toys R Us, set up swing, bolt Marie’s dresser to the wall, childproof sharp corners, childproof sliding door?, maternity photos?, doula?, baby shower?, register w/ hospital, tour maternity ward, spare key for my parents, taxes, teaching class, Marie b-day gift.

It makes me happy to think of life in terms of to-do lists. To be able to see the tasks that need to be done, and slowly work my way through them. I feel I’m making progress; I have a vision for how I want things to be and I’m taking the steps to get there. Some people call this “adulting.” Sometimes all the dishes and laundry and diaper changes, the bills and vacuuming, feel monotonous and relentless. But I’ve come to see that God is with me just as much in these every day, ordinary moments as He was with me in Africa or in the births of my children.

The extraordinary is present in the ordinary.

 

P.S. Do you have a favorite bumper sticker?

 

 

I was blessed to spend much of Mother’s Day weekend in the company of my mom, attending several events she organized as part of the 5th Northwest Women Writers Symposium. On Friday night we listened to  Reyna Grande speak about her experiences with crossing borders — the border between the U.S. and Mexico, which she risked her life to cross illegally at age 9, as well as the borders of culture and language that she continued to cross after arriving in Los Angeles. (I highly recommend her excellent memoir The Distance Between Us for insight into the Mexican immigrant experience). Ironically, Reyna’s speech coincided with Donald Trump’s appearance about a mile away.

On Saturday I attended a memoir workshop taught by Oakland-based writer and former Portlander Ariel Gore. Ariel is the founder of the parenting zine Hip Mama, as well as the author of several books including her recent memoir, The End of Eve, about caring for her mother at the end of her life. Or, as Ariel described her book, “it’s a comedy about domestic violence.” The End of Eve is also excellent; a compelling read that is both heartbreaking and funny. I was thrilled to attend Ariel’s workshop and enjoyed exploring the difference between external and internal narratives.

I’d meant to bring my new copy of The Essential Hip Mama for Ariel to sign, but I was cleaning up my child’s diarrhea right before leaving the house and ended up rushing out the door sans book. A lot of my time is spent cleaning up other people’s shit. I guess that’s motherhood for you.

Speaking of Hip Mama, I have a pretty hip mama myself. Not only does she organize this fabulous women writer’s symposium every year, she once rode all the way from Indiana to Oregon on the back of a motorcycle. She traveled all over the world while working for an international adoption agency – to Cambodia, South Korea, China, Romania, and the Ukraine. She now works for a feminist research center at the UO. But most importantly, she babysits Marie on Fridays so that I can get work done. Thank you mom, for all that you do as a mom and grandmother, and also for being one of my most loyal readers 🙂

I’m thankful to be living in close proximity to my mom, and it’s been special these past few years to have my grandmother as a neighbor as well. In an age of unrootedness and disconnected families, it feels counter-cultural to choose to be deeply rooted in my family and community.

I’m all over the place tonight..must get some sleep.

What are some things you love about your mom? And if you are a mom, I hope your day was a special one.

 

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My parents with Paul in Newport.

Exactly four years ago tonight I was in a hospital room in Portland, hooked up to an external fetal monitor, waiting for my life to change. I had the same feeling I get when I’m about to go on a trip somewhere – the excitement and anxiety of a new adventure waiting to unfold.

And it has been an adventure indeed. The process of becoming a mom was a bit like entering an alternate universe where the idea of an unbroken 9 hour night of sleep was the stuff of fantasy. A world where my body didn’t really belong to me. Now, with a son who’s just turned 1, I’ve been either pregnant or breastfeeding for the past 4 years and 9 months.

I’m not sure if these past four years have gone by in a flash or if they’ve crept by incredibly slowly. But I do know that I remember the time before motherhood now as if it were a dream.

Happy Birthday tomorrow to my sweet daughter. You are a fierce, playful, quick-witted, resilient bringer of joy. I can’t imagine life without you Marie. Last week we just finished our first chapter book read-aloud – C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair. This evening as we walked down the hill to visit my grandmother, you ran through the cherry blossoms and shouted, “It’s raining cherry blossoms!”

And to dear little Paul who just turned 1 on Easter: We love you and are so thankful you joined our family. Paul with the gap-toothed grin and the curly red-gold hair. At this age you are like a little caveman wandering about our apartment, communicating by pointing. You know the signs for “more,” “all done,” and “please.” When you get mad, your fair skin turns bright red, and you also like to throw yourself down on the floor and cry. On your birthday we sat around my parent’s dining room table and everyone said something we appreciate about you. Except Marie, who said, “No, I don’t want to talk about Paul. I want to talk about Jesus, because it’s Easter.”

But I know the truth – she loves you. I’m in love with you both, and am looking forward to getting to know you more in the years to come. I’m praying that God will bless you both deeply, that you will be far from harm’s way, that you will be filled with a deep peace and love that overflow into those around you.

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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

 

 

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My wedding day, almost 10 years ago. Photo credit: TJ Cameron

Spencer and I have been going to a marriage class through our church for the past couple weeks, and it has caused me to reflect on some of the ways we are different. It’s even helped me understand some differences that I wasn’t aware of before.

Take the “nothing box” for example. Our pastor said, “Some people keep their thoughts in boxes. At work, they’re in the work box. Sometimes, they’re in the nothing box. They’re just thinking about nothing.”

As Jerry said on an episode of Seinfeld, “Men are just walking around, looking around.” Spencer has told me that he has a nothing box and prefers to spend as much of his time there as he can.

In contrast, some people have all their thoughts connected and are always thinking about lots of different things. That’s me. I’m always writing a blog post in my head, thinking about any approaching deadlines, and wondering when I’ll find time to get together with that friend I’ve been wanting to see. My internal monologue can be loud and annoying. But I do try to allow myself to clear my mind and think about nothing while I’m doing something that doesn’t require concentration, like washing dishes or going for a jog.

This is not to say that all men fit into one category and all women fit into the other. Today I came across a Science article about a 2015 study showing that male and female brains don’t fit neatly into categories. (I’d love to hear from you in the comments below about where you see yourself on that spectrum of interconnected vs. more focused thinking.)

Another point of difference between myself and my husband came up when I read an article about how we experience time. I realized that I’m very focused on the future and Spencer is much more focused on the present. I’m also very scheduled and Spencer is less so.

This can be a point of conflict, but it also means we complement each other well. It’s helpful to have a planner (like me) around who is proactive, gets things done before the deadline, and has a strong vision for the future. But I can also have a hard time being spontaneous and being present in the moment.

We need to plan and prepare for the future, but the present is where we live.

My husband and my kids are good at helping me be more present in the moment. They also help lower my stress level…sometimes.

Spencer and I have other differences too — he’s really good at putting together Ikea furniture, and the visual directions leave me completely confused. I’d rather express my feelings in writing; he’d much rather talk. He likes football; I prefer ballet.

We have some important things in common – we like ethnic food, hiking, and the color blue. We like taking our kids to church every Sunday at 9 am, and we’re committed to staying out of debt. We listen to NPR, and Jim Gaffigan is our favorite comedian.

So are we really opposites? Yes and no. We can embrace our similarities while also valuing the balance that our differences bring to our life together.

How about you? Are all your thoughts connected or are you mostly focused on one thought at a time? And are you more focused on the future or the present? Scheduled or spontaneous? If you’re married, do you feel like you and your spouse are opposites? How so?