{Site currently under construction. Grace for my mess?}

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Anatomy of a Fight

It's hard to be a good wife.

Especially when you don't always know what that means. When you practice selflessness and not being a nag and you try and remember to rub his feet more often than you'd like to, and you work on first and foremost being aware of his needs, and their needs, and the needs of what seems like the whole entire world so many days.

And then you have an argument about who should drive which car and you feel for a while like you've been had, like you're the only one on the whole planet looking out for you, for them, for what seems like the entire world, and it's. all. up. to. you. to do it all.

So you get fired up and it rises within you because somewhere inside you're afraid that what it really means to be a good wife is to always be pleasing and agreeable, even when he's wrong, even when he's dead wrong, because that concept makes your ears ring like they did another lifetime ago when your head was being smacked into walls by a different husband. And even though the memories are distant, the gripping anger rises up inside when you get afraid, because your value as a woman is attached somewhere in the folds of these words about gas mileage and seatbelts and who ought to make the decisions here, and you think, fists clenched, I just have to put my foot down. If no one else is going to look out for me, I'll have to look out for myself.

You're not afraid because he made you that way but because it's scary how fights can always seem like the end of things to a girl too used to getting left…how the brain can flesh out the disastrous destruction of this whole big life anytime the paint gets scratched, when the fading color starts to show.

And you stew and you steam and when it's time for bed, you stay awake awhile because you're still fuming mad, because nothing was resolved, because he's snoring with the Olympics on full volume and you hate the Olympics and you hate snoring and you aren't even sure how to verbalize what this is all really about, whenever you decide to speak to each other again.  

So you breathe a lot and you think about perspective and grace and the benefit of the doubt. You remember that you're on the same team, even when it doesn't feel like it. You do what it takes to stop having the same conversation over and over again in your head, the one where you tell him off, where you really let him have it, where your words are so enlightening that he suddenly just gets it and agrees with you and everything is happy and wonderful again.

Instead you study the state of your heart, you figure out where all this is coming from. You remember that he was up before the sun today to take a side job for extra money because the family needed it, and he's sleeping because he's dead tired from lifting bags of concrete all day, on his day off. You remember how your legs looked all tangled together while you chit-chatted only yesterday and recalled together all the wonderful things about life these days. You remember the babies you made together and how he kisses them on the forehead and nicknames them and sees straight into them the same way you do. You remember how happy your whole wide life is this season and how a few short hours ago, you were praising God for this marriage, for this man.

And you see from behind your fear that this really is just about gas mileage and surface semantics and not about control or power or upper hands. You remember that this is the man who has sat in hospitals and held your hand, not the one who put you in there. You realize that respect can sometimes just look like taking a different vantage point, stepping over the divide and into their court, even when his logic isn't clear to you.

So you sit in the dark for a few minutes and listen to the clock on the wall, how it reminds you of this fleeting life, of all that's not worth hanging on to. You graze all the sleeping babies' sweaty foreheads with your chapped lips and smell their hair and whisper goodnight. You tiptoe to the bedroom and wriggle the throw pillows out from under his arms, the ones he's all wrapped up on, the ones you made for your marriage bed that say "Mr." and "Mrs." on them.

And even though he won't hear you through his slumber, you whisper I'm Sorry and I Love You and you trace his wedding ring round and round because rings are so very fitting an icon for what marriage is really…round and round, swirl and roll and circle 'round each other. And sometimes it's a whirlpool of turmoil, but sometimes it's a band of strength or a halo of sacredness or a wreath of celebration or sometimes a belt, round and round, just holding this all together. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Once Upon a Time, Amen.

A lot of people around the blogosphere (and gah, how I hate that word) talk about "a new normal" as they learn to embrace this or that, an unexpected hand dealt them. I tried to think of a less cliché way to check in with y'all today than under the pretense of "learning to deal with our new normal" but I come up empty, so please, forgive the triteness here, as you also forgive (I hope) my absence lately.

We are learning to deal with our new normal with the foster babies and the book project, learning to morph what started out as survival-mode chaos into functional, adapted, thriving life. I am learning how this thing works and how to roll with the punches around here in the interest of not-just-getting-by.

I know now how to do dishes and take a shower every once in awhile without my house being burnt to the ground, and this alone is progress. I know that shooing them out the door after breakfast to play before the air gets thick and hot is the key to getting my daily bearings, that a bunch of stickers and safety scissors and washable markers will get little feet off the carpet just long enough to vacuum. I know which one gets diarrhea if they drink apple juice, which ones have seasonal allergies, which ones hit when no one is looking, and which items around my home are shockingly edible. 

I know that (surprise!) the 2-year-old can dress herself completely and climb up into the car seat all by herself if I can exercise the patience to let her do so. I'm working on it, and my back is grateful. I don't (apparently) know how to find time to blog or write (yet), but I'm working on that too. 

I know that teeth-brushing time is a highlight of the evening for them and for me. For them, the splash and giggle and spit business is just too fun to suppress a squeal and for me, it signals bedtime, which signals breath and Husband and I have even found time to giggle and watch a movie or two. That feels a lot like my old normal, and I'm grateful for a few small anchors like that while this ship spins and swirls, even while we're learning to "Wheeeeee!" about it all the while.  

I know, too, that the little one will say, as I close every storybook's final page, "Amen" instead of "The End" and that I won't correct her because there are days where this alone keeps me from unraveling, the tiny, squeaky reminder that every one of these stories is just a prayer out loud, just living this out loud… Once Upon a Time… Amen. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

And Now...For Something Different. A WhimsySmitten Home Tour

When I started this blog a few years ago, I did so as a place to document and share my crafty/decorative projects. We were living on a 300-acre ranch back then, last updated in 1974, and a great deal of my creative energy was being spent in making avocado shag carpet and harvest gold countertops look like we wanted them there, while working with a budget of basically nothing. I was also making a little cash by repurposing old furniture and hosting a booth at a crafty retail store.

As my circumstances changed, I let this place morph along with them and began to unfold the work of my heart into these posts, and not just the work of my hands. It became a refuge for words and thoughts as I worked out in print all the things God was doing, and this it still is and still shall be.

Every once in awhile, though, I get the itch to return to my roots, so to speak. We moved into a new place this past December and in January declared 2012 my year of Home. That has turned out to mean something entirely different than I had imagined when I embarked on that journey, but we're rolling with the punches. Despite the total chaos of the recent days, what with the two new babies, friends in from out of state, getting a new (to me) car, and signing a book contract, my house is sorta clean every so often, and I have to capture those moments for prosperity.

Without further ado, here's a taste of something different -- a WhimsySmitten home tour, Instagram style.



Dining Room

Living Room 1

Living Room 2

Living Room 3

Girls' Room

Boys' Room 1

Boys' Room 2

Master Bedroom


It's not the well-crafted home tour with great photography that I'd intended, but it's the quick and easy way to show you my home in the midst of mi vida loca. Hope you enjoyed it! Now, when you comin' over for a visit?  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Inglorious Things

I feel the need to apologize for my last post. The one where I ranted a bit and complained a lot about what is really a privilege – the daily drudge of life with so many little people, the rundown of love when it gets hard…

And it does get hard.

There are days like those.

There are also other kinds of days, like ones with giggles and 2-hour naps. There are beautiful treasures like the number of times a day they all hug each other and say, "I love you," and pray in unison with miniature whisper voices. There are enough peanut butter sandwiches to go around and when he thinks I can't hear him, my boy tells Little M that she looks beautiful today. There are days like today where my broken car gets fixed by someone willing to give up their evening to help us out, where a phone conference brings our adoption one big step closer, where we hear the quiet voice of our boy in Texas on the other line and have hope that we may hold him close within 60 short days. 

If this practice has shown me anything about myself, it's the depth of selfishness I'm still learning to let go of. It's that I sometimes think I have a right to complain about the hard things just because it makes me feel better when I do. I want to tell the truth and tell it whole, and the rest of the story is that there is always, always redemption at the other side of those tearful moments. He is always only working out the kinks in my selfish heart the way a baker kneads air bubbles out of the dough.  

I can gripe and wax poetic about inglorious things, but then I am brought back to earth, where God humbles me in a visit center lobby, where a mixed-up mama with a Tattoo Jesus wraps her arm around me and tells me thank you for loving her babies, for caring for them so well, when I'd thought judgy thoughts about her moments before. A woman I'd withheld forgiveness from reaches across the divide and reminds me what love looks like and I recall what it is I'm trying to do here… just. love. And that means loving her, too, and the Texas caseworkers I've been so angry at for making the adoption harder, and my husband when he doesn't respond the way I'd like him to.

Because Love loves anyway, and not just in words.

This week, I've been stressed. I've been busy and sore and broken down on the side of the road in 102 degree weather with four babies that had to pee. I've been short with my husband and annoyed by life, and I've chosen sin out loud and over and over, knowing full well what I was doing. I appreciate your words and kindnesses, but I am not a saint. I am impatient and often irresponsible and I secretly believe I should have control over my world. He knew I would do this Christ-like-loving thing poorly some days, and He gives me an extra measure again and again so I will see how.

If the woman with the Tattoo Jesus can love like He does, maybe there's hope for me. These babies are a right step in learning, I know. And our boy in Texas, too. And the freckle-faced children of my womb, my very beating heart in three little blonde bodies. And you. And her. And them.

This is the fruit of these days that pass slow and too quickly all at once. Seeing the bruises and worms I carry and peeling them away, dissecting my heart like the carving away of soft spots on a peach to make it sweet and  imperfect…nourishing…delicious…and redeemed.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Trials and Tattoo Jesus

They fight all the time.

ALL. The. Time.

He took this! She hit me! He said no! She broke that!

They are forever not each other's best friends, anymore.

The big one lies and talks constantly about prison and drug references. My own little guy shrieks and gasps in hypersensitive freak-out mode over everything they touch or say or do. The little one, at two, outweighs my 4-year-old and then some and my back screams from sloughing her around in my arms. She eats everything.


Paper. Books. Photographs. Pine cones. Food wrappers. Styrofoam. Batteries. Napkins. Dirt. Rocks.


My husband is gone again, 10 more days this time. I am cranky and tired and I miss him, and my head pounds while I struggle to admit that today, I don't want to do this. I don't want to wrestle with three car seats when it's 102 degrees and the car has no air conditioner. I don't want to jostle children between time-out and a too-hot backyard, give three baths while the other two wait for showers, slather on another round of Band-Aids and hair gel and toothpaste, wash another load of miniature underwear, sort train tracks from toy cars again.

I don't want to hear the ABC's out of tune again today, or explain for the hundredth time why it's not okay to talk about prison in front of the baby. I don't want to imagine the pre-placement life of a child who doesn't know his last name but likes to pretend-arrest the other children and recites the Miranda rights with sickening accuracy.

I will load up the whole crew in my overheating rig again this afternoon and take these babies to see their mother, praying they won't ask to call me Mom (again) in front of the lady who birthed them both. She will fill them with junk food between meal times and give them things I won't let them have when we get back home. While they're at the visit center, I will hold my own babies longer than they'd like to let me, since my time for this is scarcer now than it used to be, and we will eat ice cream in a restaurant and pretend like life is normal.

After an hour, I will go back to the visit center and the babies will run to me, and Birth Mom will cry and tell me to be careful again and again and I will fight the urge to roll my eyes, since careful hasn't really been on her agenda before now, because I'm the one treating her babies with tender hands and doing the things she ought to be doing. Because I know she has a big screen TV and wears designer jeans when I'm buying thrift store duds so I can afford to feed her babies. I will feel a mix of anger and compassion at the mixed-up woman whose kids are in my care, and she will whisper things to them in Spanish so I won't understand her.

As she passes little M back to my arms, whose bottom lip is stuck out into a pout because she doesn't understand the Mom who hands her over every time, I will see the enormous Tattoo Jesus looking back at me from her arm, shoulder to elbow, in sandaled feet with faded background glory, like the one on the candle jars at the grocery store.

I will carry the sniffling baby back to the stifling car and ask Tattoo Jesus if he ever didn't want to love, if the smell of sickness or the filth of life annoyed him as bad as it all annoys me, today. I will wonder how to be like him when my house smells like another family now, that my own babies now know about cocaine and prison and their bedrooms are inspected by ladies with clipboards and they can't have a kiddie pool in the yard anymore because the clipboard says so, because we're all just trying to love when we sometimes don't want to.

He will tell me, as he always does, that love doesn't have anything to do with wanting to, and that love doesn't come from me anyway so I'd better make more room in this equation for him to do the work. He will kiss the baby on the cheek with a breeze and wrap himself all back up across the arm of the mixed-up woman who needs him, too, to cling to her in tattoo ink on the days she can't cling to him for the power of addiction and poverty.

I will roll down the windows and we will drive away in the overheating rig and sweat off Band-Aids and hair gel, and sing our ABCs all out-of-tune, again. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Secret Sound of Solitude

It's an odd thing, learning to be someone you haven't been before, like substitute mama to little folks with different customs and lifestyles than yours. It's a wave-like rhythm here. Laugh, hold, feed, yawn, grump, cry, smile, love, sleep.

I don't have enough hands, enough time. I don't have enough skills to know the answer to questions like, "When will my dad get out of prison?" or "How come you have a bathroom in your house and my grandma doesn't?" Then perplexed at little folks who don't know their own last names but without prompting, fold hands and squeeze eyes tight and pray in unison, an unintelligible sort of chanting to the rest of us, at the dinner table over what sounds like poo'd (food).

I don't have enough love either, and this is a new learning…drawing it straight from the Spirit around me, pulling love out of thin air, the love poured down all around and over me, and spilling it onto them. I'm a pipe of sorts these days, a filter. God love pouring through me and spraying all over these little folks, love I don't have within me any other way.

Still, I'm the sort of woman who tries in my own strength just about all the time, tries to be understanding and patient, tries to be compassionate and selfless, and the more I hit my knees before him and plead for strength, the more I realize how I've been doing it all wrong all this time, how the coming before him in desperation needs to be first and not last ditch.

I have escaped to the front deck for a breath and a quick go at my keyboard. There is an inflatable swimming pool beside me, the kind you get for ten bucks at the superstore that lasts a few uses before deflating, and the water inside is still and even, crystal clear and at peace. I breathe the image in for a bit and practice making myself calm and cool, still and unrippled, a refreshing drink for the thirsty babes collecting at my feet. It is a practice only of channeling Love, not the love we can create in gesture and batting eyelash, but the Love that saves us when we cannot save ourselves…the love that is, the love that does.  

Soon the pool will be full of babies, splashing and pouring, smacking and drinking and the water will be an explosion of sound and movement, clear liquid fireworks, and the stillness will be gone. Soon, too, my respite on the porch will be finished and I will jump back into the fray, the seven-ring circus that makes me laugh and cry and sometimes curse when they're out of earshot. 

I got up early this morning just to hear the sound of silence for a bit, to remember what the air is like when not interrupted by toddler voices. It sounded like bird song and eager Saturday lawn-mowers, the refrigerator drip-drip-dripping into the ice maker and the house settling upon itself, inch by inch… my heart settling upon itself too, inch by inch. I am not a morning person but I am a woman who needs her solitude and, as it turns out, there is much to be said about hanging out in the silence early in the morning, before the crunch of cereal and plunk-plunk-plunk of the coffee pot, before giggles and whines, before flushing toilets and crashing plastic toys.

For me, the voice of God comes most clearly in that sort of noisy silence, the quiet that allows you to hear the sounds that are always there, just normally muffled under the din of daily life. It always feels like a breeze upon my neck and earlobes, a whisper that says many things but always, always says, "I love you, child." 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

When Does Love Come?

It's the kind of love that makes me say, "I don't want to get out of bed" when it's cold outside and we're all tucked like sardines into a jumbo tent, and the kids start wriggling, but I do it anyway. I wonder when I'll grow into a person whose first instinct isn't always the selfish one, when pulling covers tighter to my chin isn't what I'd rather do than dress a chilly child for a hike to the bathroom, when I won't silently wish I could eat a meal when I'm hungry before serving six other gaping mouths like baby birds.

When does love come naturally?

My fingers are so swollen I have to retype the words over and over. Camping and cold and hours of loading and unloading boxes and children and duffel bags has angered my friend Fibromyalgia, who lingered quietly in recent months until today, when she roars and thrashes and my whole self aches under her influence. There are bananas on the table but all I can really think about is coffee, even while reading Corinthians.

Even Scripture doesn't cure my selfishness today and I don't pray that He overcome it either because I know deep that this is the sort of prayer that is answered through opportunity to practice and that annoys me at the moment. I have enough opportunities to practice. They are all here snoozing in rhythmic breath on inflatable mattresses, tucked in tight and clean after bathing all five assembly line style in the cold camp shower and making our way back in the dark. They yawn and stretch and bed head prevails, and all today's quiet moments have already been spent, but all I want is coffee still.

I'd keep them asleep a day long if I could, to ponder the lake and whisper to God, counting ripples in the water like the way these moments matter, these daily choices to wrap up littles in love when I'd rather be alone, when I'm tired and sore and wishing for peace.

When does love come naturally?