Thursday, August 18, 2016

Burning Down the House

“Ma’am, what you’re doing is illegal. It’s arson.”

At once it became clear that we, my husband and I, had done something wrong.

All activity in my mind stopped as I looked at the flames starting to lick at the second story of our home. This was the place we had watched being built, the one we raised our children in, whose walls contained the whispers of every memory we had ever made as a family. It was our landing place, witness of milestones yet recent frustrations as every inch needed attention, from walls patched and painted, lighting fixtures, cabinets and countertops replaced, to leaks located and cracks repaired.

We just wanted to build another house, I had explained to the police officer. We aren’t running away – we’re going to build a new one, right here. The cop looked at us like we were crazy.

Burning our house down to start fresh seemed like the best option for us, but now, police car lights flashed behind us and neighbors peered out their windows to gape at our biggest mistake to date. All justifications and reasoning for what we did dried up and blew away like smoke. My stomach sank into the deepest part of me as reality dawned.

We, my husband and I, committed an irrevocable crime. Our life together, the one that we had built and nurtured and stumbled through to this point, was gone. The future was struggle, brokenness, shame for what we did. It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

It hit me that we had overlooked emptying the house of valuable possessions like photos and electronics and jewelry, as well as the everyday stuff of life: kitchen utensils and bath towels and the clothes that we wore every day. Relief slowly washed over me that we were caught, that this could be stopped; maybe if the fire department gets here in time the children will be able to salvage something to hang onto except memories…

“You both have to come with me, now. Let’s go.”

* * *

My eyes snapped open, welcomed by the hum of air conditioning and the darkness of three a.m. lit only by the moon. It was just a dream, I said to myself. A nightmare, my body confirmed, by the heaviness of my limbs and the deep pit in which my stomach still resided.

It had been a long time since I had a nightmare. Why now, why this one? When am I going to be too old for bad dreams?

There’s no doubt that I am imperfect, have burned a bridge or two in my lifetime. But a whole house? Our whole life, up in flames? Years of perusing my mom’s old dream book as a kid still held onto my psyche.

I had this dream recently, just three weeks ago. It was as clear as if it actually happened. It still gives me chills to remember. Likely it will stay with me as so many other dreams – bad and good – have.

What does it mean?


This post inspired by:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #5: Share a memorable dream.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Only Boring People Are Bored

“We’re not doing that much this summer,” my daughter said on Day One, Week Two of summer break. “Everybody I know is on vacation or going on vacation or doing something fun every day. We’re not. We’re going to have a boring summer.”

Kids, man. They think they require constant stimulation to have a good time. I struggled against the urge to explode into a million pieces of indignation.

“Instagram and Snapchat are not accurate representations of people’s real lives in summer,” I replied. People don’t post pictures of the naps they take or the hotdogs they eat for dinner or the sitting around watching cartoons, because that stuff is boring.

“Besides,” I added, “we’re doing plenty this summer. We may not have jumped off the summer with a vacation, but we are going to the shore later, and you have a mission trip and camp and there’s the pool and sleepovers and all the other stuff you do when there’s no school.”

And, before I could help myself:

“By the way, you bored at home? Make some plans of your own and stop whining about it! I can give you stuff to do if you’re bored!” Sometimes the Mom volume cranks up and you can’t even help it.

It works, though – she quickly and a little fearfully agreed that maybe we aren’t as lame as she thought.

I used to gape in confusion at parents who lamented that summer was too short, because with small children at home, I counted the precious minutes that I had to myself as the best part of the day. School was cool, and figuring out how to entertain children all day for ten weeks made every day a real drag.

Then as they grew and the school year turned into a frantic juggling act with every day double-and triple-booked no matter how you slice it, summer became a welcome respite. Now in the summer I hear more “I’m heading out – be back in two hours” than “What are we doing today, Mom?” My own time is wide open. Plus, there’s not much else to distract us from each other, which becomes important as kids get older and each summer is one more year closer to a new life for them and a new era for all of us. I find myself counting down the school days until summer and hang onto those few hot months with all of my sun-kissed might.

This part of the year, when the most difficult decision during a day might only be which new TV series to start watching on Netflix: this is the good part, even if there’s not much else to do.

Boring? Never. Bored? Nope. I’ll take it.

There's always someone with her mouth open in every picture

Monday, August 8, 2016

Take A Step Back

The closer we are to a situation, the less clear it looks. – Wally Lamb, We Are Water

I read this sentence the other day and it hit me right between the eyes.

The eyes that for the last few years have been failing, giving reason to purchase and stash several pairs of cheap magnifiers in drawers and containers all over the house, a behavior that I previously only heard about middle-aged women doing. An army of middle-aged women walking around in curlers, slippers, and housecoats, cigarettes dangling from their pinched lips as they haphazardly ironed their husband’s threadbare work shirts to within an inch of their lives, leaving behind scorch stains on collars and guileless entrapment in the air.

There I was, reading and re-reading and writing down these words so that I could remember, squinting at my handwriting because where are my glasses? I held the page at arm’s length and the words became clearer.

The closer I am, the less I see – it’s a simple truth, often said in different ways.

We hurt the ones we love the most – they are nearer to our waves of shame and embarrassment, leading to defense and blame. They see our mistakes and aren’t afraid to tell us we’re wrong. We let down our guard with them, are safe with them – their love won’t dry up just because we lash out now and then. But we have to be careful; over time, even the closest relationships crumble when we defend too much. When we trust we won’t lose their love, we forget that the wounds we inflict run deep.

We lose perspective when we see only one part of a situation. The one puzzle piece we examine closely loses its meaning when on its own. Fit into the larger picture, it occupies a meaningful position. Held in hand, eyed thoughtfully and thoroughly, it’s one-dimensional. It might be interesting to us, but everywhere else it’s nothing. Our own experiences are infinitely interesting to us, but when we bring them up to others out of context, we seem insensitive, foolish, self-centered, boring.

There is a back-and-forth to life, a careful assessment of personal experience coupled with an overview of where that life fits into the world. This dance, when unbalanced, looks like selfishness at one extreme and loss of self at the other.

If we don’t pay attention, we miss what’s going on around us. If we pay too much attention, we miss what’s happening within us.

Whatever we’re closest to loses its meaning in the big picture if we don’t step back once in a while and take it all in.

I wish there was a formula for achieving the perfect balance, always seeing the clear picture. I am a list-maker, like to follow a set of rules. Simplifying the execution is the name of my favorite game; if I do the work up front, the rest of the job is easy. Checking boxes is my favorite sport.

So is missing the forest for the trees.

There’s a world of people to learn from, to hold us accountable, to share life with. We can do our part by looking up and out and then down and in, transforming into the best version of ourselves. We can cultivate our unique talents and gifts and then give them away, to make life better for all.

The closer we are to something, the less clear it seems.

It’s worth it to step back and see where we are.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

Summer Camp

Last week I went to church camp for the first time.

I volunteered to be a camp counselor for our church’s youth group during senior high week.

We’ve gone to the same church for fifteen years, and I always knew that the teens there went to church camp each summer, but it wasn’t until my kids were old enough for youth group (and I had been roped in signed up to be a youth leader) that I realized HEY! I can go, too!

As you know, I’m not much of a camper. My top ten dislikes involve everything that camping stands for:

  1. Camping
  2. Campfires
  3. Camp chairs
  4. Cooking over a fire
  5. Bugs and other wild animals
  6. Sweating
  7. Being dirty
  8. The woods
  9. Outdoors
  10. Being outside

My top ten likes? Oh, very well:

  1. Climate control
  2. Not being sweaty
  3. Feeling clean
  4. Real beds
  5. Non-folding furniture
  6. Walking around, knowing that you won’t step in poop, or on something that’s already dead, or squish something that is living
  7. Babies
  8. Red Vines
  9. Indoors
  10. Being inside

Because of this very established set of dislikes that was set pretty early in life, I haven’t camped very much. As a kid I went to sleep away camp for a night or two here and there, but not a whole week.

Anyway, the time was right and I offered to go based on my qualifications of 1) being an adult, 2) having the required clearances to work with students, and 3) already being a youth leader anyway to join the ranks of camp counselors for our church, but only if they needed me. I didn’t want to take the place of someone who was chomping at the bit to go along to camp. And guess what?

They needed me.

To tell the truth I was sort of excited about going to camp because although I’m not much of a risk taker, I was curious about this whole camp thing. After all, the literal dozens of people who love camping can’t all be insane. Plus, I knew this camp included things like “hotel” and “beach”, so it wasn’t really a stretch to envision myself staying there for a week. I packed my bags and beach chair, and away we went.

And it was pretty amazing. Awesome, even. Like, on the last day I found myself thinking, eh, I wouldn’t hate it if we had to stay another couple days.

Did it help that there were other adult friends around to talk to and share with? Yes. Did it help that the kids who surrounded us were awesome and fun and funny and friendly and open and generally great people? Yes. Did it help that we slept in a hotel-like building with air conditioning and that we ate hot meals at a table each day with real silverware and there was indoor plumbing and hello, the beach, too?


There were so many other reasons why this particular week at camp was so great, such as watching relationships among teens I know and love bond and gain strength, laughing so hard I nearly peed in my pants while avoiding getting beaned in the head during a seriously aggressive dodgeball tournament, and hearing speakers talk about God and faith and love, and even listening to some pretty great Christian music (even though I’m not much of a fan in general).

And this, nearly every night:

It only took thirty years, but I finally made it to summer camp.

It was worth the wait.


This post inspired by:

Mama Kat's Writing Workshop

Prompt #2: Show us a summer sunset!

Monday, August 1, 2016

When You Don’t Have Anything To Write About

I haven’t written anything in a while, and I’d like to get back into a routine of writing and reading and doing something other than playing catch-up with life.

And it’s hard. There’s no one looking over my shoulder, no deadlines, no have to or need to or I’ve got to get this done before

I have no excuses – making the time to write and read while catching up is hard for me. I’m terrible at multi-tasking. It’s totally my fault that I fell off the wagon in the first place, but I’d like to practice the discipline of writing and reading again.

I like having a schedule, meeting a deadline, working towards a goal. When you’re playing catch-up, it’s less orderly, a constant scramble. Schedules, deadlines, and personal goals have to find their place amid all other responsibilities, as usual. It’s not a new story.

They fall down the list under household chores and management, meals and shopping, driving. Oh, the driving. And it’s summer. There are days and weeks away from home for vacation and camp, away from writing and reading, the work that I’m missing, the work that used to occupy more of my time.

Life is busy for most people – I’m not special. And I’m also not always great at doing what I think I should do. There are other things that distract me from what I profess as important. Name one, any one.

Just write, they say. Just sit down with a notebook and a pencil and write. Form a new habit. Carve out some time to read. Fill your brain with words. Don’t let the ordinariness of life eat your inspiration.

I learn about prolific writers, their solitude, a way of life that hovers the line between insanity and genius. I envy their focus, but don’t wish for that level of eccentricity. My life is different than that. I’m more common, more conservative, not enough of a free spirit. I wonder if this is why I’m so distracted, that despite my love of solitude I’m not much of a writer. More elements are needed for the perfect storm of writerly genius and productivity than liking to be left alone.

Like time. And discipline. And focus. And ideas. And a notebook and pen or computer or typewriter or something on which to write.

Just write, they say.

Easier said than done.