five minute Friday

Five-Minute Friday: Middle.

I’d never choose to be in the middle of anything
preferring a window for the scenery and a place to rest my head
or even the aisle, for making a quick escape with a restless child or a restless heart.

The middle is confining-
claustrophobia sets in.
I can’t easily go forward or back
and I feel stuck.

I’d much rather just have started
                in love with a new yarn!
                loving this story so much!
                delighted with a new training plan!
or be nearly done
                only three more rows to knit!
                just a page and a half to go!
                finish line in sight!
               
But life is teaching me that the middle has its advantages.
Hugs and snuggles from both sides,
a better view of the pictures in the storybook,
plenty of popcorn still in the bowl when it passes by,
sofa cushions perfectly broken in but with years of life left.

So I’m sitting in the middle more often these days,
cultivating an appreciation of the here and now
noticing what’s right in front of me
resisting the temptation to hurry ahead or linger, looking backward.

Sometimes the middle is messy, tear-stained, sticky, or covered in fingerprints,
  but it’s where we are right now.
If we can’t go over it, under it, or around it,
if we have to go through it anyway,
we might as well try to appreciate it.

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Heading Home.
five minute Friday

Five-Minute Friday: Five.

I’m linking up with Five-Minute Friday today, where we write for five minutes without filtering or overediting because we crave the feeling of words tumbling from our heads, out of our fingers, and onto the screen. Everyone that participates has a reason for writing this way. Mine is that I need to be more forgiving of myself and to embrace the thoughts that show up in this five minutes, even if they aren’t perfectly phrased. God is always working, even right in in the middle of the mess.

Five.

Five minutes is sometimes all I can grab.

Sometimes, even that tiny sliver of time is impossible to find.

What is it about those pre-dawn moments in the quiet that refuels my soul? Five minutes alone in silence, without anyone calling my name, with a coffee pot gurgling in the background and an empty page in front of me can make a difference between a day that’s filled with purpose and a day that careens wildly off balance from start to finish.

I used to think it was the solitude that made the difference…that what I needed was a break to be by myself, free for a few moments from the demands of caring for small children and running a home.

In truth, it’s not the solitude that matters.

It’s the noticing.

In only five minutes, I can notice what is true all the time.

The love of God fills every cracked place in my life.

It fills the five minutes.

It fills the other 1,335 minutes in every day.

God’s love overflows, refusing to be confined by the moments I allow myself to see it, overrunning every cup I set out to contain it. It streams over everything in the sink, no matter how dirty. When the sink is full, it flows over the sides and onto the floor. It fills the spaces I allow and the ones I don’t, splashing over the sides and rushing in to wash over everything, even the places I try to wall off to keep it out.

Especially those places.

God wants to fill us up.

If five minutes is what we have to start with, then He will use those five minutes to reshape the riverbeds of our lives and to make the rough places plain. Five minutes is the beginning of wholeness in the fullness of time. 

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Heading Home. 
five minute Friday, grief, writing

Five-Minute Friday: Heal.

The girls got shots this week.

Their band-aids were pink camouflage and yellow crayon, but that didn’t make them easier to remove. Lucy, who is curious about blood and bodies, peeled hers gradually, imperceptibly, during library story time and when she was supposed to be setting the table, over the course of days, and finally peeled them all the way off.

Nora, though, has a strong memory for pain. Her legs hurt already. She knew it was going to hurt more, and she refused to let anyone touch the band-aids. “They’ll come off when they’re ready,” she declared, and her fierce eyes dared anyone to disagree. Even when one band-aid end caught on her skirt and pulled away, she defied anyone to help her pull it off and left the loose end flapping as she went about her life.

I know how she feels.

Last weekend, I had the chance to sit with other women who tell the truth and take some time to reflect on writing. Over tea and talk, I processed some of why I haven’t written much here over the last year. Next month will be a year since we lost my Gramp, closely followed by Gram, and then Grandmother in the summer. The tangled feelings seemed too complicated to write, but I couldn’t write anything else, either.

Being a writer who isn’t writing is like stuffing socks into a drawer that’s already overstuffed. I keep cramming them in there, even though it’s full to bursting, even though it won’t open all the way, even though I know that more socks will make the problem harder to fix later. I can’t afford the time or the patience or the fortitude it takes to open the drawer and set it right, so I shove a few more into the front and slam it shut until later.

“Later” is not some magical moment when we suddenly have what we need.
“Later” is just when we decide to act with what we have and rely on God for the rest.

Later, for me, is now.

It won’t be easy to write my way through what feels like a mountain of unprocessed grief, but I can’t afford to wait any longer. I’m pulling off the band-aid. I need to heal.

For more five minute reflections on healing, check out Heading Home.
five minute Friday, surviving

Five-Minute Friday: Morning.

I’m confused at first, not quite sure where or when I am, limbs heavy and mind foggy in the gray pre-dawn. It’s one of those mornings when the night has bled over, spilling its burdens into the next day. Some nights, no matter how long they are, seem insufficient to contain the things that happen…the rush of feelings, the raised voices, the teething baby, the wakeful child’s nightmare, toys thrown at a wall in fury, the limp, helpless aftermath of rage.

Gripping my mug and waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, I remember. This day is new. I may have just arrived, but Jesus is already here. God is still God, over the night that has passed and over the day to come. I haven’t made any mistakes yet, and although I surely will before the sun gets too much higher in the sky, God’s mercies are new every morning.

The morning always comes.
No matter how long the night, there is eventually morning again.
Morning by morning new mercies I see.

I sip my coffee and it tastes like mercy.

#HolyLens, five minute Friday

Five-Minute Friday: FOCUS.

Even the toughest days have beautiful moments.

I collect them, carefully preserving each one the way I did with my Lisa Frank stickers in elementary school: Sam, blowing out his birthday candles on an R2-D2 cake, Felix, swinging in our backyard with a gleeful grin, Lucy and Nora, giggly and soapy with bubble-covered hair in our bathtub; the way the sun slants through the kitchen window in the late afternoons when the day first starts becoming the evening.

They’re tiny moments when things look brighter, somehow…minutes when I realize how good things really are…places where the veil is thin and I notice that God is constantly leaving His fingerprints all over my life. In these moments, the lens of a camera is the most clarifying thing I know.

When things are hard, like they are right now, I scroll through these images in my mind or look at them on my phone, and I can almost see the thread of grace that runs through them. My life is blessed- not because it’s easy, but because no matter how hard it is, I am never alone.

I can’t preserve these moments forever or freeze time when everyone is smiling…but looking at those photos helps me focus on the grace. Focusing on grace leads to gratitude. And practicing gratitude, even in hard times, is how we keep going.

This Lent, I’m offering the HolyLens Lent-stagram project again- daily photo prompts as a spiritual practice of seeing the holy in the midst of the everyday. Each week, I will post prompts on my blog drawn from the scripture readings for the day. Take a photo and share it with the hashtag #HolyLens, and we can all support each other in looking for those holy moments in our lives (and focusing on ways God is present in them) as we prepare for Easter. You can find out more about the project here or follow our page on Facebook. I hope you will join us!

For more Five-Minute Friday, head over to Kate’s blog, Heading Home.
Felix, five minute Friday, parenting

Five-Minute Friday: TIME.

Warning: self-indulgent blogging ahead.

There is a direct correlation between the number of children I have and my ability to enjoy each one. It’s a funny thing- I would have expected the total overwhelm that comes with having four small people depending on me to block out large chunks of the shining rays of joy that are supposed to accompany them. Four spilled bowls of cereal and milk does not a happy, relaxed mama make, and there’s not much joy in cleaning them up.

The surprise is that it’s just the opposite.

Felix does this thing now during diaper changes where he shoves his feet up into my face, arching his back to get them as close to my nose as possible, and shrieks, “Stinkyu! Stinkyu feet!” He begs me to smell his toes, wrinkle my nose, and declare them stinky. I do it, of course, because I do almost everything he asks me to do. Cackling with laughter, he demands it again: “More! More Stinkyu Feet!”

I cannot overstate how much fun this is.

Every parent has these games with each child, I’m sure. I know I have had them with each of mine, but I can’t recall ever being willing before to sit for an unlimited amount of time and play one, over and over and over and over until I’ve lost count of the minutes and the repetitions. I’d rather be late for library story time than refuse to play Stinkyu Feet one more time. I can’t bottle this moment or freeze it in time. I can take every chance to extend it, to allow it to expand to fill the seconds allotted to it until it passes naturally, lived as fully as possible, and takes its place in a long chain of memories that are indelibly imprinted in my mind (like a series of perfectly square photos I can scroll through when I need to remember how good things are).

This is fullness of time…not at the end of everything, but in tiny passing moments filled to bursting.

This is Felix’s gift to me.

31 days, five minute Friday, joy

Five-Minute Friday: Joy (day 23/31)

I’m seven years old, and I’ve got joy like a fountain.

At least, I’m supposed to…it’s supposed to bubble up, making me light and bright and filled with giddy thoughts about how much Jesus loves me.

I should skip and feel the rays of sunshine on my face, and I should smile all the time and be filled with All.The.Joy! of my life in Christ, because that is how Christians are supposed to be.

The trouble is, I’m not like that. I try to be- I try so hard!- but when I ask my mother, “Am I lighthearted and lively, Mom?” she kind of puts her lips together in a funny way that might mean she’s trying not to laugh at me and says, “Well, I think if you want to be lighthearted and lively, you could try to work on that.”

It’s bad when even your mom knows you don’t have joy like a fountain, isn’t it?

Maybe it’s the early loss of my dad.
Maybe it’s growing up in a family of funeral directors.
Maybe it’s just that melancholic temperament of mine.

Whatever it is, I have accepted it.

I’m thirty-six, and I’ve got joy like a fountain.

I might not ever bubble over with the joy of my salvation, y’all. My joy might not ever spill over and splash passers-by. It might not ever light up my face and brighten the dark corners of my closets. I’m probably not going to open my kitchen window and burst into song and have bluebirds come light on my arms, either.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have joy like a fountain.

Maybe my fountain is just a way down deep one, one that sits at the very core of who I am, running quietly below the surface. Maybe my joy is in the dark, hidden places inside me that run on calmly when the world up here is falling apart. Maybe my joy is the silent assurance that no matter how bad things look today, there is hope that they’re going to get better.

Maybe.

https://i2.wp.com/katemotaung.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Five-Minute-Friday-4.jpg

For more Five-Minute Friday, head over to visit Kate at Heading Home.
five minute Friday, Papal visit

Five-Minute Friday: Doubt (and getting poem-ish for Pope Francis)

http://katemotaung.com/2015/09/24/five-minute-friday-doubt/

For his seventh birthday, Sam asked for an R2D2 cake. Although I am not a great cake decorator, I agreed to try, and after looking around at some pictures, I had an idea of how to do it.

The night before his birthday, my plan literally fell apart. The cake I was baking cracked in three pieces when I was removing it from the pan. I turned to Google for help- surely someone had put together an R2D2 cake I could copy, somehow?

If you are ever planning to make an R2D2 cake, don’t Google it. The images that came back were soul-crushing for this humble baker. I could never make something that looked like those cakes…all the dowel rods and wooden bases with bolts and carved rice krispie fondant layers made me feel like my task was impossible.

After a little meltdown, I went back to the drawing board and came up with a way to modify a design that would work for the cake I had left. I resisted the temptation to try for the first time to make fondant icing when I should really be going to bed. I frosted the cake in my regular old buttercream, white and a little bit of blue. After I outlined it with a little black gel, it actually looked like R2D2.

Then, because I had almost allowed my self-doubt to overcome me, I posted a picture of the cake on Facebook- not because I needed or wanted congratulations, but because I wanted to remind myself of a truth I’d almost forgotten.

We are each enough. I am, and you are. In the age of digital photos and Instagram and Pinterest, it’s much too easy to think we have to be practically perfect in every way. It’s a lie. God made each of us with unique gifts, and all we have to do is to use those gifts in His service and in service to the vocations to which we’ve each been called. I will never be a professional cake decorator, but I can bake a cake for my son, and it will be good enough.

* * * * *

A week or so ago, a writer friend who was pulling together some work from our region on the Pope’s visit to the US asked if I would write a poem for the occasion. I quickly said “no.” I wasn’t sure I’d be able to come up with anything to say, and with all the kids’ birthdays and traveling and everything, I was afraid to commit.

Besides, I wanted to tell her, I’m not really a poet. I just write poems sometimes, and they almost never see the light of day. I like to keep them safely between the covers of my journal where no one can see them.

Then, one night, I felt inspiration hit, and I scribbled down a flurry of words that came out in a rush. I sent my friend a message and said, “Hey, guess what? I’m inspired, and I can do it.”

I’ve spent every day since then second-guessing and questioning and worrying that what I wrote wasn’t good enough for the importance of the occasion and wishing I hadn’t told her “yes” after all.

In the spirit of embracing grace in the good enough (and with the much-loved R2D2 cake fresh in my mind), I’m sharing what I wrote for Pope Francis. Although I’ll never be Mary Oliver or T.S. Eliot, I am grateful to be a writer and to be able to share my words with you.

We all have gifts. Any voice that tries to tell us otherwise is not from God. Let’s not be afraid to use what we have received to build each other up.

* * * *

I’m missing the Big Important Catholic Gathering.

Is it an excused absence?
Not really.
No Big Important Crisis prevents me-
just hundreds of little fires, all in a row,
lining the path from here to there,
waiting for me to extinguish them.

My hands are full, people say-
busy slicing grapes in half
strategically placing Band-aids
peeling the pink crayon to make it last a bit longer
busy steadying a wobbly bike
rebraiding flyaway hair
washing wiggly feet.

His hands were full, too-
busy breaking bread (somehow stretched to plenty)
busy drawing in the dirt
touching ears, heads, foreheads
busy not casting stones
grasping a hand and pulling it back to life
flipping over tables when necessary
washing reluctant feet.

I examine my hands and wish they were more like His-
less afraid to touch a stranger
more willing to reach across a fence or a language barrier
less concerned with my own comfort.

They’re full, yes, but they’re lacking.
I could always hold a little more.

Papa, you walk into our country holding out His hands to us.
They’re your open arms, but they’re His open hands.

You hold them out in the poor places, on the sidelines, in the margins.
You hold out the Host-
       The Body of Christ.

We line up to receive it
offering unceasing commentary on what you’re doing with your hands
even as we receive you as one among us.

I won’t be in your line for Eucharist.
My aching hands are full of the weight of small things.
How your hands must ache- do they?- with the weight of the cup you’ve accepted!

Perhaps we aren’t so different.                                                                                       

Each of us touches Christ’s face, His body, His feet.
We each hold the Christ-light for someone, for many someones.
And if I were in your line?
Or if I had a minute to place my hand in yours,
to lean my head on your shoulder and tell you my life?

I expect you’d tell me I’m right where I ought to be,                                                                      
among the least of these,
and that Jesus is right here, too.

For more reports and reflections on the Pope’s visit from members of the Mid-Atlantic Conference of the Catholic Women Bloggers Network (CWBN), please visit “A Walk In Words With Pope Francis.”
 

dance, five minute Friday, Lucy

Five-Minute Friday: Celebrate

There is still a pile of laundry on the couch, half-folded, and more in the basket waiting by the piano.

There are toys stacked in the hallway that need to be put away.

An empty suitcase stands ready to pack, eager to hold the not-yet-folded clothes that will carry us through our weekend trip to celebrate three birthdays. Our September clump of children all have wanderlust. They’d rather travel than party at home. To be fair, they inherited it from us. They’re seasoned travelers- we’ve always taken them everywhere. They love to see and experience the world outside our little valley, and I love to do it with them.

I don’t always love all the steps that come before we climb into the van, buckle everyone in, and back out of the driveway.

There’s so much to do, and I’m the one to do it today…listmaking, list checking, packlisting, and packing. Stacking, cleaning, sorting, piling, loading and arranging. All of it aggravates my Type A tendencies and makes me likely to grouch at anyone who approaches too closely. None of it feels like much fun on a sunny afternoon when I’d rather be outside with a book on the porch or working in the garden.

Sighing, I contemplate the piles, temporarily paralyzed by the number of tasks before me.

Suddenly, there’s a pull on the leg of my jeans. Lucy’s eyes are dancing up at me…and so, I realize, is the background music. A rousing fiddle tune is floating from the iPod dock through the living room, and her toes are tapping time.

“Dance, Mama!” she shrieks, and begins spinning madly through my piles.

I could grab her and stop her, or holler at her that she’s ruining my plan. I could gasp and rescue the clean clothes before they’re stepped on by her muddy purple sneakers. I could send her outside, or to the playroom, or sit her down at the table with some paper and crayons for a more appropriate “inside activity.”

Today, I don’t do any of those things. I grin at her, shake my head, grab her hands, and join her dance.

For more Five-Minute Friday and to join the celebration, head over to Kate’s blog, heading home.

Five Minute Friday - 4

five minute Friday

Five-Minute Friday: FIND

On the kind of day when the not-quite-as-hot summer sun almost seems like it’s ready to yield to fall, there’s nothing better than piling a bunch of grouchy children into a van and driving to a completely new place to pick some peaches with cousins. End of summer bliss, those peaches…juicy, fresh, with just the right amount of fuzz, glowing rosy-cheeked yellow against the blue sky. I could eat a hundred and let the juice run down my chin, down my wrists…and the more I told my kids about it, the more excited I was.

This made it all the worse when the GPS left me stranded in the middle of a residential area on a dead-end street, miles from any orchard but surrounded by streets with different kinds of apples for names. “Destination is on your left.” Um, no. It’s not. Completely unhelpful. Completely frustrated. With the children growing louder and more restless by the second and my phone battery running lower by the minute, I fought to squash the rising fear.

We’ll never find it.

Pulled over on the side of the road, fumbling with maps and apps and facebook pages, I eventually got us back on track. We pulled back on the road, drove a few miles, and turned into the parking lot to meet my sister-in-law only 45 minutes later than we’d planned.

Luckily for me, she’s a gracious woman…and as the children tumbled out of the van and I tried to get my feet under me, there were nothing but smiling faces there to greet us. The cousins embraced. We outfitted ourselves with bags and headed out into the row upon row of green arched branches in search of fruit- off to find the perfect peach.

To find out more about Five-Minute Friday, head over to Kate’s blog, Heading Home.

http://katemotaung.com/2015/08/20/five-minute-friday-find/