April 7, 2012

My First Publishing Success...

Hi Friends,

First, thanks so much for reading my blog and for your generous words of encouragement.  You have no idea what it means to me!  As a fledgling writer and blogger, I wanted to share with you some exciting news.  The Burnside Writers Collective, which is a subversive-ish online magazine for Christian writers of all kinds, recently decided to publish my poem, A Handful of Quietness, that I originally posted on this blog!  Although I haven't graduated to getting published in print...yet, it is gratifying to be selected by the editors.  Please keep cajoling me to write!

With gratitude,

Melissa

March 31, 2012

When the Muse Takes a Long Vacation

This could be my new ritual.  Sipping a fresh macchiato courtesy of our home espresso machine that we haven’t touched since we bought it with the credit from returned wedding gifts over three years ago.  I forgot how pleasantly bitter and robust espresso tastes.  Takes me back to my solo tour of Italy in 2002.  I couldn’t resist the Illy stands at every turn.  Best coffee in the world, bar none!  The Italians know how to capture the essence of the sweet acidity of the bean.  Any addition of sugar or milk is merely a flourish. 

I’m listening to Miles Davis circa 1958 and the brass whines clear and soulful over the beat of the snare drum.  Thinking of my 27th birthday at The Green Mill in Chicago.  It felt like a dream, like coming home to the big city and big band and big life.  How come I feel I’ve lived three lifetimes since then when it was only five years ago? 

In this moment I bask in the quiet of the house while baby girl sleeps just behind the door and husband works 14 hours straight.  It is decidedly not the carefree life of the late-bloomer I was in my late 20s when I was busy finding myself and losing myself and finding myself again.  Now I fear I know myself all too well and yet, why has it been so hard to recapture this part of myself? Life changes, shifts like sand in an earthquake and I can’t seem to adapt quickly enough.  When the aftershocks of a major life change have ceased, I am left with a fragmented sense of self.  I left my jazz music in Chicago, my espresso and adventurous spirit in Italy, and my imagination in a thrift-store decorated studio apartment some place along the way.  I know that this part of me lies hidden in the recesses of my soul, packed away in a box somewhere with memories of living in London, first loves, dusty journals, and tentative attempts at painting.  But it takes time and patience to plumb the depths and draw out the artistic passion, and these days all I seem to have time for is doing the dishes and reading aloud to a 17 month old with a voracious appetite for books.  Not that this daily routine isn’t rewarding on some level. My love and passion have been turned toward a sweet face with pouty lips, chubby cheeks, and deep blue eyes…but I am sensing a void.

I find myself wanting the floodgates of creativity to open for me at will when I finally scrape together an hour and sit down to write.  But when day after day I strain to hear myself think above the shouting demands of motherhood, the muse seems like she’s taken a long vacation.  I know some people can turn the artistic flow on and off again like a faucet.  But my metaphor as a writer is a slow cooker.  It takes a while for my writing muscle to get warmed up.  Once I get going, it feels good, but inevitably I’ll hear the cry of a waking baby the moment I am finding my stride and about to get that kind of runner’s high creative flow.

So I’ve asked myself the question a thousands times, what do I do?  I could keep pondering and pontificating on the degeneration of my creativity and wishing I had the old days of singleness and independence back.  Or, I could do what all real writers do, keep plugging away at it no matter what.  Write when writer’s block has set in, when it’s been a frustrating day, when I can’t even think straight enough to write a complete sentence.  This is what I must do.  It will be painful.  Yes, it will be frustrating and exasperating and it won’t feel anything like listening to jazz and dreaming the day away.  But maybe the work will pay off in unexpected ways.  Maybe I’ll feel like a whole person again.  Maybe I’ll get a glimpse of the unhindered passion of the naive, gutsy girl in flare-legged jeans and embroidered hippie top who was temporarily obsessed with The Beatles and wished she had been in college in the 60s instead of the new millennium so she could be a part of something that “mattered”.  That girl who always thought more than she spoke and found writing to be a pathway to hearing the voice of God inside her, a chance to speak her mind in a way she never felt she could with her mouth.  Maybe that girl will come alive and walk out the lessons learned over the past decade.  The ones that she should have been logging in her journal as she did then but gradually fell out of the habit somewhere along the way. 

What if what seems like the product of inspiration or magic or artistic genius is merely a slow and deliberate gathering and recording of the moments and days of ordinary life in black and white?  Am I ready and willing to accept this?  If so, I am without excuse. 

So going back to the opening of this meandering monologue, I have decided that I need to keep a writing ritual.  Early morning, late afternoon, espresso sipping, jazz to set the mood, whatever it takes.  This is my time.  Now who’s going to hold me to it?  Oh wait, the baby is crying…

March 23, 2012

Every Mother's Dilemma


Note/Revision (March 31, 2012): If you want to read a funny, insightful perspective from another mother on the trials and tribulations of motherhood, check out the Momastery blog.  I especially enjoyed this post.


As a stay-at-home mom, sometimes my days seem to overlap, sloshing together like waves crashing on the shore so that I can’t distinguish one day from the next.  Changing poopy diapers and sweeping toddler-tossed food from the kitchen floor can seem like a futile existence, mainly because these mundane parenting tasks never seem to end and no one ever gives you a pat on the back or says “Good job!” for doing the most important job in the world.

When faced with the crucial dilemma of whether or not I wanted to quit my job and stay at home full time, I was forced to come to terms with one of the greatest lessons I've learned: Life is a series of choices that involves deciding what is most important and ordering one's priorities accordingly.  I could decide that I’ve had enough of the “stay-at-home mom” lifestyle and get a job that gets me out of the house.  But then, I’d miss out on the peals of uncontrollable giggles when I tickle my baby girl and the excitement of witnessing her learning a new word.  Maybe these wouldn’t be the particular things I might miss out on, but something would be lost for sure.  The lie that a woman can “be it all, do it all, and have it all” is deceptively attractive, but ultimately impossible.  Why?  Because we are human beings with limitations and time constraints.  There are only 24 hours in a day!  Stress, fatigue, and insanity will eventually set in when the pressure to be superwoman begins to overwhelm.

So, what is it that I really want?  I want the gift of time with my children, unencumbered by the pressures of an outside job.  I want to treasure this brief season because it will surely be over in the blink of an eye in the grand arch of life’s journey.

But what do I do on those days when I feel emotionally and physically spent with not an ounce of patience or attention left to give my children?  I will call out to my heavenly Father who loves me perfectly and gives strength to the weary.  I will pray for the Spirit of God the Father to love my children through me.  To keep going when I feel like giving up.  To serve cheerfully when I feel like complaining.  To listen when I feel like ignoring.  To hug and kiss and show affection when I feel empty.  This is my high calling today.  This is the high calling of mothers everywhere; especially those who have surrendered their lives to the Father who gave the life of His only Son for their sake. 

So to all the mothers who make daily personal sacrifices for the sake of their children: for the mothers who work hard at an outside job because they are the sole providers for their families, for the ones who have found the energy and discipline to work while at home or work part-time and juggle so many things, and for the ones who have decided to stay at home, I thank you for fulfilling the noble call to motherhood.  Let's support and pray for each other!

January 26, 2012

Felt like a little poem today



A Handful of Quietness

Time drives toil.
Toil hastens time.
Life’s syncopated rhythm
Is hard to dance to.

Work determines worth.
Position yields power.
So we
Keep up to get by,
Chase fleeting passions,
Give a grand performance,
Desperate for the inner critic’s acclaim.

Sleep is fitful.
Night is short,
The day long.
Must not fall behind.
Just one more thing to do.

But,
For the one who trusts,
Peace abides.
           Surrendered souls fly free.           
A handful of quietness[1]
Is what we need.
For He gives to His beloved
In sleep[2].



[1] Ecclesiastes 4:6
[2] Psalm 27:2



January 18, 2012

In the Valley

Don't be too quick to run up to the mountain.  Stay in the valley and sit by the waters.  Drink from the living water that flows in the low places and swishes amid the rocks and crags. Cup your hands and take big gulps.  Let it refresh you.

Don't rush or wish away this time.  Abide in the river.  Let it wash you clean.  Bask in the coolness of the waters and let them flow over you.  Be baptized in my grace!  Grace abounding and all-sufficient.

Vision is found in the valley[1].  In quietness and rest is your strength[2].  Don't be quick to escape.  This is your resting place: in the crook of my arm, in the warmth of my chest.  


I sing beneath the shadow of your wings[3] and it echoes through the canyon.  Deep calls to deep[4].  Whispers reverberate across the great expanse, and he calls my name.  Speak, Lord, your servant is listening[5]... 



[1] Ezekiel 8:4
[2] Isaiah 30:15
[3] Psalm 63:7
[4] Psalm 42:7
[5] I Samuel 3:10

January 15, 2012

Man does not live by bread alone

It happened nearly two weeks ago today.  I had spent the better part of 20 minutes going through the ritual of readying myself and my 14-month-old daughter to run errands, just to get out of the house.  I don’t even remember where to; that part seemed insignificant.  It was a particularly cold day for the mild Alabama winter we were having and I was feeling restless because it was too cold to go for a walk and I was getting “stay-at-home mom” stir crazy!  I had put on my coat and bundled Amelia up with an adorable new toboggan squeezed down over her tiny ears, when I heard someone on the other side of the door.  For a moment I was confused, not expecting my husband home from work until the evening, then half worried that an unwelcome stranger might be on the other side of the front door.  Before I could process these thoughts, I saw my husband’s face peek out from around the door wearing a pained, chagrined expression.  “I lost my job,” he said as his eyes met mine.  We hugged and I cried, but somehow I believed we would be okay.

Amelia looking adorable just before the bad news hit!  

With that single statement our lives have once again been shaken.  My husband and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary on January 10th and I must say that these few years have been filled with the unexpected: both joyful and painful.  I’ve learned that nothing is certain and nothing should be taken for granted, but our circumstances keep changing nonetheless so God must have something more to teach us.

The day Jeremy lost his job, the ground beneath my feet shifted and the only thing left to stand on was Jesus Christ himself, the only one who never changes.  I needed to DO SOMETHING in my helplessness.  So I decided it was the perfect time to try my hand at baking homemade bread.  There is something about taking a few simple ingredients and turning them into something warm, delicious, and life-sustaining that is quite satisfying.  And who doesn’t love the smell of fresh-baked bread?  I must admit that have always been intimidated by the idea of bread making.  I love baking in general, but bread made with yeast seemed out of my league.  But desperate times call for bold acts of baking!

For my first attempt, I used Jamie Oliver’s basic bread recipe (see page 236 of “Happy Days with the Naked Chef”) with a few tips from Alton Brown thrown in for good measure…and accuracy.  Jamie likes to use words like “bashing” and “squashing” and recommends tapping the bottom of the bread to tell if it’s done, while Alton recommends using a stand mixer with a hook attachment (which I don’t have) to knead the dough, cooking the bread on a terracotta bowl from the bottom of a planter (don’t have that either), and determines doneness using a thermometer (my meat thermometer didn’t really work).  I decided to take these juxtaposed methods and find my own happy medium; so I used my hands, basically went by appearance and tapping for doneness, and baked the bread on a pizza stone.  (Tip: definitely spray the bowl with some non-stick spray before you let the dough rise or the dough will stick to the bowl).

Before Rise
Ready? Drum roll…........ta da!          


After Baking
My results were less than aesthetically stellar, but very tasty!  I think my bread was a bit underdone, but that just made it moist and chewy, not bad at all.  After a few days, I took a few pieces and made an indulgent French toast breakfast for myself.



Over the past two weeks, God has been reminding me of his faithfulness and that He alone is my provider.  I have been meditating on Deuteronomy 8, which I highly recommend if you need to be reminded of God’s loving faithfulness to his children in times of trial.  The next time I bake bread (and there will be a next time) I’ll think back on the way the Lord comforted me and gave me peace as my hands worked the dough and how he met all of my needs during these days of uncertainty.

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.  (Deuteronomy 8: 2-3)

 

January 8, 2012

Give Thanks

Oh Lord!  I thank you for my life and for the thousands of ways you show your goodness!  This is my song of praise to you, in the midnight hour when nothing seems quite right and everything off-balance.  I praise you because I can see your hidden smile as you watch me live and breathe and wrestle with the enormity of this life and all I can’t control.  Your hand on me is firm and gentle, never forceful, never weak.  I feel an amazing sense of peace.  The unexpected kind that comes like the silence after a storm---a long exhale.  Though I quake in the tenuousness of my humanity, you remind me that you are the God of the universe, my Savior, and my Father who loves me and suddenly, the Truth is so much bigger than my fear!  If God is for us, who can be against us?  What can separate us from the love of Christ?  For we are more than conquerors (see Romans 8:31-39)…and truly, what more do I need?  The Lord is my strength and my portion forever, and he will take care of me. 

Here is another truth I have come to know more deeply.  Many times I have failed to put it into practice and it rings true more now than ever!  Thanksgiving calls for an act of giving, not merely prayers of gratitude.  Prayers are good, but there is a greater principle to be learned here.  Give and it shall be given unto you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you (Luke 6:38).

Those who sow generously will reap generously (2 Cor. 9:6).  Not a “give so the Lord will give to me” attitude but give as an act of worship and thanksgiving.  Give because others have greater needs than myself.  Give because of all that the Lord has given me.  Give in faith that the LORD, Yahweh, He is my Provider and the Giver of All Good Things. 

Like Paul, I want to say that I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in.  I have learned to be in plenty and in want.  In wealth and in poverty.  In gladness and in despair.  In joy and in pain.  In strength and in weakness.  In success and in failure.  In admiration and in humiliation.  For I can do all things through Him who gives me strength (see Phil. 4:11-13).

This is the gift of God.  True contentment.  Thank you, Father, for wanting to teach me this.  Please help me to live it out by your grace.  To give generously and with a joyful heart.  To give thanks in all circumstance, for this is your will for me in Christ Jesus.