Torn Between The Seasons — New Vlog

What Happens One Hour Before Putting Kids To Bed

Last night was a doozie.

The kind of night where my husband and I came downstairs and just looked at each other with wide eyes and then grinned, as if shocked that we’d somehow made it through the Apocalypse (otherwise known as bedtime), alive.

So I sat down on the couch, not sure if 1. I wanted to eat chocolate-chip zucchini bread (the only chocolate left in the house), 2. watch Netflix, or 3. write to process my angst, thinking that surely we’re not the only parents in the world who experience a level of madness unparalleled in parenting history, night after night, for the last sixty minutes before bedtime.

And, thus, my parody on “What Happens One Hour After Drinking a Can of Coke” was born:

Click to read.

Click to read before reading blog post.

What Happens One Hour Before Putting Kids To Bed

Fifty Minutes Before Bedtime:

10 quarts of adrenaline pump into your bloodstream as you take in the dirty floor, dirty dishes, and dirty children that all need to be respectively swept and/or washed and/or dried before bed.

You don’t immediately vomit from this overwhelming task because you know that if you can get through the next fifty minutes, you will be able to come downstairs to a quiet house and sit on the couch work out while watching whatever brain-fluff is being offered by Netflix.

Forty Minutes Before Bedtime:

Your blood sugar dips as you clean as fast as your body (and/or baby strapped to your back and/or toddler strapped to your ankles) will allow. You weren’t able to consume enough calories during supper because all your children wanted whatever tiny morsel you managed to sneak on your plate (except for green beans; they let you have those).

You combat this sugar dip by scrounging into a Tupperware container of emergency brownies you stash in the freezer, telling your three-year-old (who catches you, brownie-in-hand) she will break her teeth if she eats one.

(Marathon running and/or Paleo diet and/or DIY body wraps start tomorrow.)

Thirty Minutes Before Bedtime:

Spazz mode is complete. Your pupils dilate, blood pressure rises, in response your children run through the dirt pile you swept in the kitchen, screaming like banshees, because they get a great kick (pun!) out of seeing you mad. The calming receptors in your brain are now blocked, causing your voice to shatter glass grow shrill.

Twenty Minutes Before Bedtime:

Your body ups your dopamine level, effectively stimulating the this-is-your-spawn mode in your brain, because otherwise you might send the whole troupe packing with little sticks and checked handkerchiefs, carrying all their worldly goods, à la Huckleberry Finn.

This is how coffee works in the morning, by the way.

Ten Minutes Before Bedtime:

The sugar in the brownies binds with the organic, free-range chicken nugget you had for supper, providing a further boost in metabolism that helps you have the energy to scrub your children down with the efficiency of a pit crew.

Five Minutes Before Bedtime:

A heady mix of post-clean euphoria and I-love-my-spawn dopamine crashes together, meaning that—rather than just dumping your kids in their respective beds and slamming the door—you find yourself slowing down and breathing, brushing damp hair back from shining foreheads and reading another book . . . or two.

One Minute After Bedtime:

As the hormonal, maternal rave inside you dies down, you’ll start to have an exhaustion crash. You may become irritable and/or sluggish and/or catatonic. You’ve also now, literally, used up every ounce of strength you had left on getting your children in bed, which you were planning on using to write a screenplay and/or paint the guest room with teal and gray stripes (curse you, Pinterest!).

But, as you collapse on the couch (and then pull from beneath your backside a yard sale’s worth of stuffed animals), you realize that one day you can sit in your spotless house, watch all the Gilmore Girls reruns until your heart’s content, while your children are wearing themselves out like a freezer brownie-fueled bedtime pit-crew, just trying to put your grandchildren to bed, and—as crazy as it sounds—you will miss it.

At least for a minute or two. Pass the coffee and/or brownies.

How ’bout you? Have you ever survived the bedtime Apocalypse? 😉

The Ones Who Make It Home

14245473056_704c2f4db3_oLast night, I was sitting in the field beside our house. The hay had just been cut and rolled into bales. The clouds were dark and rippling behind the tree tops; fireflies floated above the shorn grass.

My dog was beside me, wagging her tail. I could see my cat’s panther-black body slinking down the path. My hair in a ponytail, still wearing my gardening gloves and galoshes, I drew my knees up to my chest and looked around, feeling as carefree and euphoric as someone half my age.

That is when I realized that fourteen years ago this summer, exactly half my lifetime ago, my family and I were moving away from the camp where I’d lived for eight years. The night before we left, I sat on a flat, white rock in the middle of a hayfield, my legs drawn up to my chest, and wept over that property like I was mourning the death of a friend.

I couldn’t believe I would love a piece of land like I loved that land. I couldn’t believe that life would be good again. That my family would be all right again.

In many ways, that fourteen-year-old summer was my first heartache. But for the first time last night, I saw my life divided into two sections: those first fourteen years, the majority of which I spent on the camp, and the fourteen years that have passed.

I have experienced my share of loss and heartache in these latter fourteen years, but the majority of what I remember is joy. In college, writing and reading in Boswell Park on a faux mink blanket, traveling and absorbing new cultures, marrying my husband, building our home, giving birth to our girls, moving somewhere new, and building life—and love—all over again after my husband’s craniotomy, which served as our wake-up call to embrace every day with eyes and arms and hearts wide open.

And that’s when I understood that a lifespan is not defined by what patches of ground are beneath our feet while we live it; it’s defined by the ones who live that life with us. The ones who are working the ground side by side with us, through both drought and harvest, winter and spring.

The ones who claim our hearts are the ones who make it home.

As a child, were you ever attached to a piece of land or home?

Photo credit: Malcolm Carlow

Just As You Are

4346024348_dda6963301_oIn the car, I read from the Bible, merely because I felt like I needed some biblical refreshment before I duct-taped my husband to the driver’s seat.

Ten minutes later, I breathed deep, looked over, and said, “It would have all been diffused this morning if you’d said, ‘Honey, don’t you look nice!’ instead of saying, ‘Can you walk in those things?’”

He refuted, “But I’m a practical guy! I don’t ‘get’ high heels! What if had a pair of those? Wouldn’t you wonder if I could walk in those things?”

I tried not to laugh at the image. “You would never wear high heels.”

He said, “How about a pink wool sweater, then. If I came out in a pink sweater, wouldn’t you worry that I’d be uncomfortable?”

I quipped, “No doubt.”

A horse and buggy paused at the intersection, and we drove past. My husband nodded at the driver, wearing a straw hat with a black band, a plain black suit with a blue-green dress shirt beneath. Behind him, and beside him, was his family, all decked out in cape dresses and kapps.

My husband said, “Bet they don’t fight about high heels.”

I slapped the Bible closed. “Now you want me to wear a cape dress! You’d be perfectly delighted if I wore a prairie skirt with hair down to my waist and no makeup!”

“You’ve got to stop putting words in my mouth!” he said. “All I’m saying is that I think you’re pretty without that stuff.”

“What ‘stuff’?” I fumed.

“Makeup and jewelry and heels.”

“You sure didn’t mind all that ‘stuff’ when you first met me at church!”

He looked over, jaw tight, hazel eyes gleaming. “I wouldn’t have cared a lick if you were wearing a cape dress when I met you. I wasn’t attracted to your makeup or your jewelry. I was attracted to who you were.”

Just like that, I started crying. I flipped the air conditioner vent toward my face and fanned my cheeks, but I couldn’t stop. Tears streamed.

My husband reached for my hand. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I should try harder to build you up.”

“I should try harder to build you up, too.”

“You do a fine job of that,” he said. “I don’t feel like I need it.”

But then why do I feel like I do?

This unspoken question wasn’t answered in the car, as we were pulling into the parking lot of the church and I was desperately trying to hide any hint of crying, lest someone should perceive that I was hiding behind my got-it-all-together façade.

This question wasn’t answered that day, or the next, and yet I continued to contemplate it throughout the week, and then slowly but surely the answer came:

All adornment and abuse of the flesh stems from our souls’ desperation for love.

No one on this earth is spawned from a perfect union; therefore, at some point in our lives, man is going to fail us. I am not an exception. And neither are you. Neither are my children.

It hurts my heart to type that, but it’s true.

The only true perfection comes from the only One who is perfect, who is without sin, and loves us perfectly. When we don’t press in to Him, the failure of man becomes obvious to us. Our failures, but – far more obviously – the failures of our spouses, our parents, our children.

We no longer see our loved ones as souls but as flesh. And flesh stinks.

That was evident that morning as I preened, waiting for my husband to patch a longing in my heart that only God could fill.

That was evident when I told my husband that I wasn’t going to church because I wanted to punish him for not loving me perfectly.

That was evident when my heart cracked open and tears poured down my face when my husband reassured me that, yes, I was loved; yes, I was wanted; yes, I was treasured for who I am.

How humiliating. How beautiful. How true of all of us.

I began crying—not only because my husband reassured me of all those things, but because I felt that God was using my other half to reveal to me His face.

I am loved. I am wanted. I am treasured for who I am.

I do not have to adorn my flesh to come before Him, imperfect and desperate for fill, for He loves me perfectly. I do not have to parade before Him in my best thrift store finds, for He sees beyond this imperfect, earthen shell to my soul.

I am not giving up my high heels, my jewelry, my makeup, and my perfume, but I know that my husband does not love me for these adornments.

He loves me for my soul, as I love him for his.

And therefore, I will also come before my Maker even if I have no adornment—if I haven’t prayed or pressed in for days or weeks and am at war with my own stinking flesh.

For He loves me for me. Just as He loves you for you.

He will fill up our broken places if we come, just as we are.

Have you ever felt God fill up your broken places?

Photo credit: “Heart” by USW-UniLife

What God Taught Me Through a Chicken Coop

5513731600_f97ce5c8d6_bI still do not entirely comprehend how our souls will one day pass from life to death and life again.

But I do know that this life I love—with its exquisite everyday occurrences: cuddling my daughters in bed in the morning, eating peanut butter ice-cream under the hot July sun, harvesting a bounty of vegetables while my family sleeps—is only a dim little coop compared to the splendor of heaven that exists beyond it….

Read more on Southern Belle View Daily.

An Attitude of Gratitude

3845163122_a5a5687505_oLast night, after a romantic date consisting of pizza, groceries, and a car wash—all of which we had two kids along for the ride—we tucked said kids in bed and my husband and I sat down in the living room.

I picked up a book on the coffee table and looked at the date it was published. 1998 didn’t seem like that long ago, until my right brain-self stumbled through the math.

I held up the book. “This was published almost twenty years ago!” My husband looked at me, patiently waiting for the punchline. I declared, “We’re getting old!”

He shrugged. “That’s okay.”

I tossed the book back on the coffee table. “But I want to drink the marrow from the years!”

Accustomed to my dramatic turns of phrase, my husband just smiled. “We are. There’s nothing I would change.”

Those words an example of his effortless balance of me that just slays my heart. I got up from the chair and smothered him on the couch. I touched his brown hair and said, “What should I blog about this week? The skunks or the chicken coop as a metaphor for heaven?”

He paused. “Well, I was going to say definitely not the first one, but now . . . I’m not so sure.”

“Maybe I should study more about heaven before I compare it to a coop.”

“Maybe so.”

I sighed and looked around. “I like our little house. It’s perfect for our family.”

“I like the floor,” he said. “I bet we’d be shocked if we saw the old one.”

“Crazy how I sweep it without seeing it, and when you first put it down, I couldn’t get over how pretty it was.”

That’s when I knew what I would blog about this week.

After my husband’s brain surgery, I promised God that, if He would just grant my husband his health, then I would never get dissatisfied with anything again.

That I would delight in finding my husband’s damp towel tangled up in the drawer of the bathroom cabinet, where it would begin to mold until I happened upon it while looking for toilet paper.

That I would never become impatient when something like a bathroom remodel took second fiddle to building a chicken-killing station in the barnyard.

That wasn’t the case.

Soon after the Mayo neurosurgeon told my husband his MRI and CAT scans were clear, I began to go back to my old normal. I forgot to hug him so tightly each morning that I could feel his once-sizable space bubble pop.

I forgot what it was like to stand in front of the window, watching my husband walking carefully around in the snow, terrified he would fall but more terrified of stripping him of his independence by making him come inside.

I forgot what it was like to stand in the kitchen—my knife poised on the chopping board—and hear him chopping wood for the first time after surgery, a staccato lullaby.

Instead, I began offering suggestions when my husband sipped his coffee in the morning and asked the question, which I pretended wasn’t rhetorical, “What should I tackle today?”

Time had passed—the danger had passed—and I forgot to cherish the miracle of my husband’s life. I forgot and began tromping across the new floor of our marriage without remembering how the old one had looked before emergency surgery gutted us down to our foundational bricks.

Then I happened upon a social media post asking for prayer for a beautiful woman, who was preparing for an incredible battle that our battle this winter could barely touch.

I felt physically ill. I almost wept while hanging clothes on the line, praying for this stranger without words—my spirit humming inside me like an electrical current.

How could I go back so quickly? How could I take my husband for granted, when I could be a widow right now? When my daughters could be fatherless?

I prayed for that couple—for that wife, her husband, and their precious, special needs child—and I thanked God for listening to my prayer and giving me back my husband. I then hung a towel on the line and recognized it as the one I had pulled, musty and damp, from the bathroom drawer two days ago.

I pressed the scratchy cotton to my face and declared in my heart that I would not forget to be grateful. To be satisfied with this simple, beautiful life. That I would drink the proverbial marrow from the year’s bones, even if that meant something as simple as snuggling my husband on the couch while our children sleep. Even if that meant being content when his to-do list does not coincide with mine.

For life is not a to-do list to be conquered but an imperfect journey to be shared, hand in hand.

How do you maintain an ‘attitude of gratitude’?

Photo credit: Roger S. Hart

Finding Creativity On Prince Edward Island

11054790_699214423002_3522311086766529078_nOur third day on Prince Edward Island, when I spilled water in our rental car, my husband mopped it up with a napkin and asked, “Your creative juices overflowing again?”

I’d spent the last few hours, as we drove along the coast, running my next plot synopsis by him at break-neck speed.
Everywhere, it seemed, was a source of inspiration: tired lighthouses with paint-chipped facades, an uncut clover field being grazed by Clydesdales, bouquets of pink and purple lupine bordering jagged, red stone cliffs.

Later, as I walked the deserted beach at Dalvay by the Sea while my husband napped (our compromise for a happy marriage), I mulled over my main character’s motivation, who was inspired by a young woman I encountered during our plane ride from Halifax to Charlottetown and was only spending one day on the island. (How could she only spend one day? Why was she alone? Why did she look so solemn as she stared out the window at the rain-streaked clouds?)

Her motivation hit me like a piano from the sky, and I cried out with joy. Lest you think I am always slightly eccentric (okay, I am always slightly eccentric), you should also know that it was unbelievably refreshing to feel my synapses firing as the pieces of this unique plot structure slid into place.

1467357_699255610462_8810573242642446671_nWe returned to the beautiful Inn at Dalvay by the Sea for dessert (my cargo pants wet from ocean water and my sandals trailing granules of sand throughout the lobby). My quiet husband, bless him, again listened while I babbled my way through the story and developed the plot hook.

Back in the rental car, I kicked my shoes off and grabbed a pad and pencil I’d swiped from our inn and began jotting down notes. During our flight from Charlottetown to Toronto, I powered on my laptop and turned these notes into a synopsis, so I wouldn’t forget the story once I returned to the real world, where my creative juices are oftentimes negated by everyday life.

10156088_699726601592_7818265690621570322_nWe are experiencing everyday life right this moment, as our minivan’s silver nose points North. I have just returned to the passenger side after feeding our youngest puffies and our oldest lentil chips.

While I was back there, trying to keep our girls happy, my husband looked at me in the rearview mirror. “How’s your creative juice flowing now?”

I rolled my eyes but smiled as I popped another puffy into our nine-month-old’s mouth. “Pretty dried up.”

“But then they’ll grow up, and it’ll flow again.” He paused. “Not only that: then they’ll be your friends.”

10348535_699401932232_1795282034488265931_nAnd that was the truth of it: I might not have hours and hours to myself, walking beaches and constructing plot points as my synapses fire as if from a tommy gun.

Instead, I spend these hours pouring my creative energy into two little people, who are oblivious to the fact that I might not want to read a book about a mischievous monkey and a man in a yellow suit.

However, these little people are also making me a better writer and a better human being.

It might be a few years until I am able to apply what I have learned to the page, but it will be worth the sacrifice when I reach the end . . . of both my life and my story.

How do you keep your creative juices flowing during everyday life?

Viewing Beauty Deep

3209851720_342f67b95d_o“The more often we see the things around us – even the beautiful and wonderful things – the more they become invisible to us. That is why we often take for granted the beauty of this world: the flowers, the trees, the birds, the clouds – even those we love. Because we see things so often, we see them less and less.” ~Joseph B. Wirthlin

The night before my husband’s day of scans, I went outside and clipped some fragrant, tissue-paper-pink blossoms. With the solemnity of a religious ritual, I took my time arranging the peonies in a vase, and then stood back in my moonlit Wisconsin kitchen and admired the bouquet.

Viewing such beauty put my mind and heart at ease. The next morning, however, I barely noticed these blossoms, as my husband and I scrambled to get out the door by five. Two hours later, we parked and dashed through the rain into Mayo Clinic. It was our second time at the facility, but I never got over its thoughtful display of grandeur and art:

Glittering sidewalks, marble halls, Babel-high ceilings; an ancient, elaborately painted, armoire from Sweden; a mammoth blown-glass egg, the color of spring grass, from Bohemia; a collection of jewelry from Morocco; clay tablets, from Papa New Guinea, once used in ritualistic dancing.

I stared at a collection of jewel-toned paintings, featuring exotic birds and flora, as I waited for my husband to return from his MRI, and then I lowered my gaze back to my laptop screen and continued typing, finding as much security in the composition of sentences as a painter finds in his brush.

Forty-five minutes later, my husband returned, and we decided to take advantage of the gap between appointments to go across the street for lunch. We heard the piano and the singing as soon as the elevator doors ushered us into the lobby.

The performers were women—beautiful women, representing a variety of shapes, sizes, and backgrounds—harmonizing an upbeat chorus as they attempted a loose-limbed, shuffle, ball change.

Viewing and listening to this beauty was transformative. Tears filled my eyes as I watched cancer patients tap their feet and weary caregivers—standing sentry behind wheelchairs—smile. I saw a woman in a burka stop and stare, her kohl-rimmed eyes the only portion of her visible.

For the first time, we strangers—from Addis Ababa to Kentucky—were bound together by a moment of beauty, rather than the fact that each of us were seeking healing, and answers.

The mediocre performance would have been castigated on stage, but there—where even the centuries-old artwork, encased behind glass, felt so fleeting—our feet tapped and our souls stood still.

In that harmonious collision of song and dance, I understood that pain itself does not become a vortex, annihilating beauty and joy. Conversely, not knowing if you have tomorrow clears your vision of the busyness of everyday.

For you then stop and savor the range of your child’s laughter; the image of your husband’s hands as he rinses earth from lettuce in a deep red bowl; the thrill of a sentence knitting together in your mind, melodious and sharp, as if it’s already been committed to paper; in the way a string of ants festoons a peony bud, chewing away the wax, causing the closed bloom to open, offering beauty to all who are aware of the fleeting nature of life, to breathe deep and be still.

On Thursday, the Mayo neurosurgeon informed us that she believes what we thought was tumor is, in fact, scar tissue. We are beyond grateful, for both this news and for this journey. Thank you for your prayers.

Garden Therapy

imagesThe couple who previously owned our farm—she was a weaver, he was a musician and accordion repairman—were very artistic in the layout of their flower beds, so now it’s nearly impossible for me to distinguish perennials from weeds.

This, combined with the fact that the majority of the plants in Wisconsin in no way resemble the ones I nurtured in Tennessee, makes gardening a convoluted process.

Regardless, I love my time in the dirt. Whenever my girls are in bed, and daytime hasn’t fully transitioned to dusk, I traipse outside in my mud-caked sandals and kid-sized gardening gloves and poke around in the rich, black mulch nestled around the plants—studying each stem carefully, trying to determine if one should stay or be plucked.

I am not sure why I am so addicted to pulling weeds. At first, when I attempted to make sense of the mishmash of dried foliage heaped in the beds, I was still recovering from the stress surrounding my husband’s surgery, and I envisioned each dandelion as the remnant of his hemangioblastoma.

I hacked and I chopped until my clothes and hair were splattered and I was breathing hard through my nose. Now, after a solid month of carbon dioxide therapy, I do not approach gardening with such headlong violence.

Instead, I envision each weed and flower as my daughters’ various character traits, and as I tiptoe around each plant, I think over the day—the tone I used to convey my displeasure (though I’m not sure there’s a gentle way to say, “Don’t run over your sister with the bus!”), the time I didn’t spend cuddling but swept the floor instead—and vow in my heart to nurture my daughters better in the morning, when the sediment of yesterday has been softened with sleep.

And yet, it’s difficult to comprehend how I am supposed to nurture two very different little girls—fair-skinned, dark, extroverted, introverted, live-wire, cuddle-bug—into two productive women.

How am I supposed to know what character traits are the “weeds” that need eradicated and what are going to become beauty-giving flowers, when a headstrong will may look like weakness but will one day give my daughter the strength to persevere through adversity?

Each child requires a different nurturing hand, and often a different method of discipline, and yet just as the strands of their DNA were woven together in my womb, I have DNA strands of my own that often don’t . . . mesh with those belonging to my offspring as well as they should.

Out in my weed-filled flower garden, this is when I begin praying for wisdom—my thoughts jumbled in a pattern of bugs, kids, and dirt that would get me committed if I said them out loud. This is when I surrender to the fact that I am incapable of raising two productive women from babyhood, and that God must lead and direct me during each stage of their blessed, blooming lives, so that one day I will be able to step back from my flower beds and bask in the beauty of what—despite my own weed-filled failings—my daughters have become.

Do you find gardening therapeutic as well?

Though We See Through A Glass, Darkly

th397JH4JX“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

I stood at the sink, washing dishes. Wind and sunlight swept through the open windows. Outside, a pileated woodpecker tipped the bird feeder as he ferociously dug for seeds.

My youngest daughter was in her high chair; my oldest was in the booster, eating lunch. Both mirrored the contentment I felt. My husband came inside from the barn and began prepping his second bowl-sized cup of coffee.

He came to stand beside me and looked out the window. He touched my shoulder and said, “We’re blessed.”

I reared back from his words. My heart clenched. I immediately thought, “Don’t say that; we’re too close to your scans.”

The foundation of my faith better resembled superstition. To admit that we were blessed felt, in my mind, to entice just the opposite.

To cause God to stop and pause—to look down through the screen of clouds at our idyllic family—and say, as if a new version Job, “Have you considered my servant, Jolina?”

I continued washing dishes. I wiped down the countertop and swept the floor. All the while, I pondered why I didn’t believe God wanted good things for our family. Why I didn’t—and couldn’t—trust.

Like a father who delves out punishment, and a mother who delves out gifts, God and Jesus each had their roles, and I could not comprehend that they loved me the same.

I had no trouble believing Jesus wanted good things for our family. I had no trouble believing Jesus was one I could trust. However, the same did not go for his father.

Father God was not the one who nurtured my spirit when times got tough; instead, he was one who orchestrated the tough times as recompense for all the bad things I did.

Last night, three days after I began analyzing my unhealthy viewpoint of God, my husband and I had another young couple over for supper.

The four of us sat on the front porch after our girls were in bed. We ate peach pie for dessert and talked about our spiritual journeys as the birds returned to their nests and the windmill creaked in the dark.

Though talkative to a fault, I hesitantly told them about my own journey: about growing up on a Christian camp, my parents’ ardent faith slowly becoming my own, my dear friend’s death, my best friend’s cancer, and my husband’s emergency craniotomy eight weeks after we moved away from our families.

That is when I understood: every time I’ve walked through a hardship, I’ve also walked closer to God.

He doesn’t give me hardships out of punishment. He gives me hardships out of love, because he knows that unless I walk through hardships on this earth, I will never be ready to meet him face to face.

The revelation unclenched my heart. I knew that I could trust my father God, just as I could trust his son. And that, regardless of the outcome of my husband’s brain scans and tests, God and Jesus will walk with me every step of the journey, and one day – though I now peer through the glass darkly – I will clearly see the perfect trinity’s heart and plan.

Have you ever walked through a hardship and then later saw how God turned it for good?