• Ebenezer,  facing grief

    So do all who live in such times…

    (A recent doodle of mine, completely unfinished and rough around the edges. Seemed fitting.)

    I, like many others, I imagine, am emerging from some strange cocoon rendered by the pandemic years. It’s been ages and ages since I’ve written; nearly a year, in fact. In the intervening time I have passed that most ancient of hills and crested, turned forty. And yet in some ways I still feel fourteen.

    I feel like I am repeating myself to state, unequivocally, that the past few months have been some of the most difficult months I have endured. How many times I have written some variation of that since the children took sick nearly a decade ago is probably near uncountable at this point, but that does not change the truth of the statement. It has been very hard, harder still, dark in ways that just couldn’t even seem possible and yet were, deeper and darker than any road I’ve walked previously. I could never have imagined where my feet have carried me as of late; to be brutally honest, it doesn’t feel like my feet have been walking. It has felt nigh on crawling, clawing, finger tip by finger tip, dragging forward on the roughest of ground.

    It has left me wounded, bleeding, and quite heart-sore.

    Lest it be misinterpreted, it is not at the hands of others that these wounds have come.

    It has been simply, the many and myriad situations we have found ourselves in, quite against our wills, beyond our control. One of my children suddenly developed a rather rare seizure disorder in the fall that they have yet to discover the root cause of. Not soon after, my dearest beloved was diagnosed, after a long battle post-Covid-Sars-Cov2-Delta infection last March, with a rare and degenerative autoimmune disease, requiring extensive and expensive IV transfusions. My husband’s father spent over a month and a half in the hospital during the winter months, landing in the ICU multiple times, and has finally come home only recently. Both he and my husband’s mother caught Covid during that hospital stay, which frankly triggered quite a bit of PTSD for both my husband and I, though thankfully, their infections were much milder than my husband experienced. There were so many other challenges, some more normal that all families tend to face, and some more rare, unique to our situation, but by God, it has been hard. And exhausting. And so very difficult.

    My younger children and I have been listening to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings lately, read by Andy Serkis. We happened on this quest quite without planning- some random conversation in the car or at the dinner table raised the awareness that my younger children had not ever heard the story of Bilbo and Frodo (though my oldest two children had)- and we set about to amend that immediately. I think, like so many things I have observed over the last decade or so- the Holy Spirit guides our hands and hearts, even when we are not aware. It was time for us to listen and to learn, and while it may have seemed a random choice, I cannot help but see that Someone much wiser had ordained for it to be so.

    There’s a quote, oft repeated, that comes out of the Fellowship.

    “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

    – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

    Context is key here.

    Frodo has just come to the keen and horrific realization that he is putting every one he loves in danger by staying in the Shire. He’s paralyzed by the enormity of what he must do, and Gandalf has no clear answers as to how the journey will end- only that it will be deadly perilous. Frodo is already under the influence of the Ring, but doesn’t realize it yet. As the Ring desires self-preservation, it is doing all in its power to convince Frodo to delay.

    Frodo, bless his stout hobbit heart, is overwhelmed and delaying and procrastinating when he says this to Gandalf. It’s somewhat understandable that he is balking at this heavy burden. The fact remains that he is the only that can bear it; it is too dangerous for anyone else.

    Starting to sound familiar? Don’t know about you, but that sounds like the journey of suffering to me. Gandalf, in his compassion, tells Frodo that he does understand- but in the end, we only have to focus on what is given to us. We cannot fix the whole world, nor can we even fix or protect our own Hobbiton or the Shire working on our own power, but we can take the first step, and then another, on the path set out for us. In so doing, in that sacrifice, we join in the redemption of the world.

    It is a timely reminder when the very foundations of the earth seem to be trembling and we are at a loss as to what to do or where to begin.

    Find some trusted friends. Sing some songs as you walk, especially in the dark. One step and then another.

    It’s been a sermon I’ve been preaching to my heart often of late.

    I was sweeping off our newly built kitchen deck, thanks to the generosity of my father. A project long delayed, finally completed. The sun was warm on my shoulders, and I was suddenly struck by the simple ordinariness of sweeping the deck off. It was the most normal and most quotidian of things to be doing in that moment- a simple chore that you or I have probably completed many times without thought, but this time felt amplified, each moment standing out like a string of golden glass.

    I haven’t had a lot of normal for a very long time.

    Many times, even, I have had to look on forlornly at un-swept porches full of leaves, gardens gone to seed, weeds growing everywhere, dust and grime caking the bottom of showers and in the corners, cars so full of fast food wrappers and cast off jackets and mysterious goo, laundry grown truly mountainous, an empty refrigerator and pantry, having to choose again something fast or at least on the way home for my husband to stop at the grocery store, literally drowning under the weight of our family’s needs and the requirements of its care. The normal quotidian rhythms of simple home care have been elusive more often than not, buried under the medical needs of our family. We won’t even delve into the regular maintenance required to keep up a house one owns- the lawns mowed, batteries in fire alarms, that odd leak repaired…let alone major renovations, even when they are desperately needed. (Looking at you rotting, decrepit deck that had to be torn off the house for safety reasons, and then left at fiddlesticks for almost four years because it was so far down the priority list, even though we couldn’t walk out of half of our house and it wasn’t technically safe, especially in case of fire).

    You don’t realize how the simple and the quotidian ground you until you don’t get to enter into them very often. Sweeping the deck, simple as it was, gave me such a moment to breathe, and appreciate the fact that I was actually in a place to do such a task- such an elusive, elusive thing. Weight rolled off my shoulders that I didn’t even realize had settled there.

    It has amazed me lately how often I have taken the simple for granted.

    I won’t lie though: even as that golden moment sweeping the deck happened, a dark storm cloud seeped into my mind. How long will it be until this is beyond me again? Will this ever stop? Will we ever find our way? I am so very tired. I feel very bewildered, Lord. My heart is so heavy. Please help.

    In that same moment, I could hear Samwise Gamgee whispering in Frodo’s ear, and it brought back strength and hope to my mind. My back straightened and I could feel the sun again. Such is the power of a story and a simple task. I am so weighed down by what I face, but I can feel Gandalf’s gentle compassion, speaking to me too, procrastinating and heart sore as I may be: choose this time. Choose that first step out of the gate. Sing a song in the dark if I can.

    Some recent articles that have ministered to me:

    Why We’re Required to Find Beauty by Tsh Oxenreider

    The Fruit of Obedience (on Hobbit-like faith) by To the Shire

    The Mystery of Being Human in a Dehumanizing World by Joshua Heavin

  • Art,  daybook

    Cultivating margin…

    I wrote on Instagram the other day:

    I find myself strongly questioning the path I’m on at the moment. Our summer was one of healing, rest, and restoration in many ways, especially for those of us in the family who have chronic illnesses. Less than three weeks into what one might call a ‘normal’ fall/school schedule (such as it can be in the strange times we find ourselves in)—and I am completely and utterly depleted. My fellow Spoonies in the house are also showing the strain. Needless to say, we’re calling a time out and recalibrating. I’m not even sure what ‘normal’ can or will look like for us anymore, but running on fumes ain’t it. Now what?

    It’s been roughly a week since I wrote that, and I feel no closer to an answer. I feel like ‘butter scraped over too much bread’, and well, where does one get more butter and less bread? How do I serve the needs of my children, physically, emotionally, spiritually- serve my husband and myself similarly- when there just isn’t enough of us to go around? While for the first time in our family’s history we are not struggling financially- Glory be to God- everything else feels short. My husband and I both fell ill with you-know-what in March. While my case was milder, my husband suffered severely and required oxygen support for nearly three weeks. He has since suffered many long haul symptoms, and it feels like we just can’t quite get his ‘gas tank’ back to full. He will get a bit of rest, a bit of healing, and then something comes flying at us and it drains him to fumes again. We keep walking back and walking back from commitments, saying no far more than he would like, and still, there’s just not enough margin for him. I feel like a decision is before us that is going to greatly disappoint some people, cause some hurt and discomfort, but it’s a decision that has to be made, and soon.

    I could say similarly for myself in the gas-tank department. While I’ve gotten better and better at managing my symptoms and diet, there are still days, physically, where my illness just says, yea, nope. And it drains me so badly, those days- and it seems to take longer and longer each time to recover from them. And then regular life throws a curve ball, and what little gas I might have in the tank takes a nose dive.

    Both of my medically fragile kids seem to be transitioning too- one has improved a lot meaning less interventions, and the other (who has been pretty healthy for awhile) has suddenly downshifted and we’re having to recalibrate and recalculate there. The mental load of that is pretty exhausting, which I don’t think I was willing to acknowledge to myself back in the day but I do readily acknowledge now.

    I keep praying for wisdom and margin.

    A few reads that have encouraged me lately in this department:

    Finding Ground by Jordan Durbin

    Lord of the Sabbath by Leslie Bustard

  • Books

    Thoughts to think.

    As you know, I share quotes and book stacks over on IG on a bi-weekly basis. These were the quotes and stacks for August. The quotes are done in situ the week that they are shared. I don’t plan ahead, and the quote is chosen by what I most need that week or what’s really hitting me hard and I want to remember. It’s always interesting to see how they resonate with others that week.

    This will surprise absolutely no one I know in real life, but recently, my bedside bookshelf literally collapsed under the weight of all the books stacked on it, two and three deep. Granted, it was almost twenty years old, but still. I may have a problem, and no, I don’t want to admit it, nor do I want to get help. Ha! The first stack of August of course was all of my homeschooling re-reads. Teaching from Rest by Sarah MacKenzie was missing out of the stack because I had loaned it out.

    The next book stack week was a particularly dark week in the world; a week that kind of makes you question who are, what you’re doing, what you stand for. I think as an artist and a writer it can really shake you to your bones, almost making you forget that the exact times when things get so dark is also the exact moment artists, writers, and poets need to get to work! So the book pull that week was dedicated to that thinking of, and approach to, craft.

    The last stack of books was all the poetry books I found tucked here and there in the bookshelf collapse. I didn’t realize how many I had actually collected over the years- this doesn’t even include the Norton Anthologies of American and British poets I saved from college stored elsewhere. I have distinct memories of reading through The Prayers of a Young Poet (Rilke) the year both of my children fell so sick and were hospitalized. It went with me through many doctors appointments and hospital stays- each page seared on my brain. It was a good companion.

  • Art,  WIP Fridays


    So August just kinda ran past me. Good gracious. I had a pretty consistent, relaxed rhythm for the summer (which is nothing short of amazing in and of itself, seriously!)- and then August happened. It came, it saw, it conquered. Slowly finding our feet in the fall/school/ballet/teen work schedule rhythm now, adjusting of course for the ever changing realities of pandemic life.

    For all that, still had some time to play. The first one is digital, done in Procreate. The other two are gouche and ink in my sketchbook (which I think is a mixed media cold press).

    I adore how the girl turned out! For some reason I kept thinking of Maraly Weaver from the Wingfeather Saga stories, who always struck me as this feisty, scrappy redhead when we were listening to the audiobooks. I guessed I missed the little detail that her hair was black, which actually makes sense as a Strander. Red hair would have stuck out like sore thumb and made her a target. Maybe, though! She streaked it with mud or something and by the end of the stories she’s more herself. Who knows! That’s what I love about reading.

    The middle one of the girl in the leaves was an old sketch in ink in the sketchbook that I abandoned for some reason. Colored it in and really liked it. Have no clue why it had been abandoned? Maybe I ran out of time and forgot it was there.

    The last one was the first time using gouche in hmmm, at least a year or so? Maybe more. Again, I had forgotten how much I liked working with it and the coverage. It actually started as a car doodle while waiting for a kid to finish a physical therapy appointment. Could not find a pencil anywhere. Ink makes you commit in a way you don’t with an eraser at hand- I think I need to stretch a bit. Hilariously after working digitally in Procreate all summer, the learning curve to ease back in traditional media was…interesting. I definitely want to keep working in both, but I totally see why I often default to digital when I’m short on time! It ‘dries’ faster, hahahaha!

  • collecting stories

    Do not be afraid…

    Preaching to myself. Have you been following the story of Nightbirde? This quote immediately floated into my brain after watching her stunning golden buzzer performance on AGT. I’ve never really watched that show, but a friend sent a link over. I’m so glad they did.