Birthing Days

The last week of January brings two different birthday cakes to our table. At 20 and 12, my oldest and youngest sons have now both officially made silent wishes, blown out their candles, and started a "new year" of life. While they look ahead, I look back. I usually carve out a moment to pause on the days that mark the first breaths of birth.

So, in honor of two birthing days and the labor of motherhood, today I am re-posting some thoughts from this same time last year.


First, Last, and Always

They are first and last in the order of sons. Last week, we had two birthdays in our family -- Andrew, the oldest brother, and Lucas, the youngest brother. Their birthdays are January 28th and 30th respectively. A friend of mine asked if perhaps Lucas was a birthday present for Andrew. And, I suppose the answer is yes. In a sense, all 4 brothers are birthday presents to each other. And each year, the last week of January makes me pause. It is a month to remember the labor of births, first and last.

As first, Andrew has always been on the pioneering edge of experience for himself, and for his parents. When he was born, Steve and I were only 3 years older than his current age. I gasp at the baby pictures. We were practically kids when he was an infant.

The day of his birth sent us into a new and unknown life. The house was quiet. His clothes were new. His toys were new. His parents were new. And now, he is in India on his way to his next foreign land, and once again his birthday brings us into uncharted parenting territory. First upon first, his life has demanded of him a pioneering spirit of the new and undiscovered.

As last, Lucas is fated to walk a well-worn path. When he was born, Steve and I were on our fourth time around. Lucas was immediately part of a pack. The house was loud. His clothes were worn-in. His toys were worn-down. His parents were worn-out. And now, as he trails along in his own way, his journey often causes me retrospection.

His life contains all of our 'last' times at so many things; Last high chair, last training wheels ... last week Steve and I took our son's birthday cupcakes to an Elementary school for the last time of our lives. Next year he'll move on to Middle School. He'll walk from our house through the doors of a new school, and it is a path that was unknown, until Andrew forged it. Last upon last, his life has demanded of him a willingness to follow, yet find his own way.

Large and small bodies. It's so strange to think about the labor of birthing them into their current journeys. They are so large it seems impossible that they ever -- at any point -- would have been contained in my belly.

The night before Andrew was born, my body went through a whole series of unrecognizable but seemingly practiced or innately known motions. I experienced deep aches and muscle movements that I had no idea were programmed into my frame. Something took over. Steve was as clueless as me about what to do, or where to be. But he stood by in his blue hospital cap and booties. And he was helplessly supportive. My body wasn't under my control. It had a purpose. And after a deep muscular duty was done, my first baby appeared. He took his first breath, and came into a new life of his own.

The muscular rhythm was recognizable by the time Lucas was due to be born. I knew the labor of it and embraced the onset. Steve knew what to do for me and moved in with quiet confidence. There is something so different, centering, empowering, about following a worn path, rather than blazing a new trail. The pulses and cues were like a learned language. The process was no less painful, but the path was known.

When my last baby took his first breath, he came into a new life of his own. With that, Steve and I permanently stepped out of the delivery room, into a different season of labors and births. Now the celebration of a birthing day requires the embrace and release of many new and unexpected firsts and lasts.

First, last, and always ...
happy birth days, boys.

Grace's Weight

A Heavy Metaphor

My good friend Grace is extremely thin.

"How thin is she?"

She's so thin that you can't see her if she turns sideways.

Seriously, I love Grace's qualities. Sometimes she's hard to find in a crowd because she's unassuming, like a shadow or a wallflower. Because she's quiet, sometimes I forget she's around and I feel bad about that. But I've never seen her be judgmental, bitter, or unforgiving. She's always the opposite. I'm not exaggerating. When we spend time together somehow I become a better version of myself. Her presence in my life is an unmerited gift.

What's strangest about Grace is her weight. She appears grossly thin by human standards, but in reality she's freakishly heavy -- like a rock from Jupiter. When skinny Grace steps naked on a scale, logic would tell you the needle isn't going to move much. But she spins the needle. Standard weights and measures go flying. Under the surface Grace is actually a giant -- weighty in a way that defies natural law, gravity and reason.

Judging from a distance, you'd think Grace is weak, fragile. But once you get up close and personal, once you honestly receive Grace and see the world through her eyes, an otherworldly paradox becomes apparent.

The tiniest grace has the power to tip the largest scales.

Weak by human standards.



Defying natural law.

Heavy enough to tip

the justice

of an unbiased scale.

An unmerited gift.



That's grace's weight.


Looking for more?

Better and deeper descriptions of "Grace" can be found in The Bible.

The book of Romans, chapter 3

or the book of Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 1-9.

Green Beans

This is the first in a weekly series entitled, Green Beans. "Part One" begins this true story of a homeless woman who unexpectedly came to our house for Christmas. It was a day to remember with lessons that I'm still trying to absorb. Watch for installments over the next couple of weeks or until the story ends ...

Green Beans
Part I: Mrs. Claus

Presents were under the tree. Fat knit stockings were stuffed with gifts and dangling from the log mantle like a long line of overweight squirrels about to fall off a branch. The smell of roasting turkey wafted into the family room and mixed with pine smoke from the fireplace. My husband and sons were laughing together. And, my In-Laws were due to arrive for Christmas dinner.

The unwrapping began. Stockings were purged, deflated and hung back on the mantle above a mound of rumpled gift wrap that looked like a lawn-pile of autumn leaves. Steve called to check on his parents' progress. That's when we learned about the change of plans. Ellen was coming. We didn't know Ellen. 20 minutes and a stranger was about to become our guest.

My husband spent his childhood in pews and fellowship halls while his parents did a pastor's work. On Wisconsin farmland, in St. Paul suburbs and Colorado mountain towns, Pastor Don has quietly led communities of Jesus faith. All the while, he has walked faithfully next to his wife as she battles with Multiple Sclerosis. Over the years he has purchased canes, pushed her in wheelchairs, revved up her electric scooters, and sooped up his Handicap van to accommodate Judy's needs. He has something to teach us all about love and commitment. But, he's more prone to live it than preach it. Wherever he lands, Don is known for his serving heart. Desperate people tuck his phone number in their pockets. Which is why, the week before Christmas, he got a call from the police. Ellen had Don's phone number in her purse. It was the only number she had left to call.

In an unexpected-last-minute-guest-scramble, I ran into my bedroom and grabbed some random items as quick gifts. I hastily stuffed a pair of warm socks, a water bottle, and some chocolates into a used gift bag. Back in the living room, I quickly picked up the leaf mound of wrapping paper and stuffed it into a black plastic garbage bag.

The officers had called Don from a hotel room. They were ready to load several black plastic bags full of Ellen's possessions. The bags, and Ellen, were on their way out to the street. It wouldn't be the first time. Ellen is homeless. In her 60+ years, she has become adept at eating out of dumpsters, and knows where to go to stay warm. She is a round woman with the heavy labored steps of extra weight, stiff knees, and ill health. Her short grey hair has one long mullet braid, which runs down her back like an 80's rock star. She has a mouthful of missing teeth, and a disarming smile. Round, grey and smiling, our unexpected visitor looked and acted like Santa's wife. But her life has not been your typical Christmas story.

She pulled herself up the steps, shuffled through front door, thumped the snow off her shoes, and a whole new kind of holiday began.


"Green Beans Part II: The Healing in a Smile," Next Week.



Sunday Thought

"The only value of our life is that it is a gift of God."

"No Man is an Island"
Thomas Merton






(Pictured: A cold front moving in on Pikes Peak.
This morning, 8 am.)



A short clip of my son Isaac in a video teaser meant to inspire people to 'Regift.'

Find more videos like this on Woodland Park Community Church

Designed by the Worship Arts Creative Team, at Woodland Park Community Church, this little snippet is one part of a larger Christmas campaign which was targeted to inspire people to 'Regift' their resources, talents, time to people in need. Isaac doubled as the elderly man shoveling snow in the background. Clearly, Isaac in the foreground is not offering much help to his older neighbor. He's a napping example of a missed chance to regift.

'Regifted anything, lately?

What to Say.

Struggling for what to say ...
My last post was a nod to the earthquake's aftermath. Since then, I've been conflicted about how to re-engage with my blog. How do you restart conversation after devastation? A shared catastrophe like Haiti makes everyday life feel trite in comparison.

Consider This:
Hundreds of thousands of people are dead and dying in historic human tragedy, and, next on The Spill "The Perils of My Bad Haircut."

See what I mean?
The day after the earthquake, I sat down to read one of my favorite blog authors. She was talking about taking the big risk to go without make-up and do a "Real Me" video post. Her blog week continued without mention of the thousands who were in process of dying, buried in rubble. Not to be too hard on a young-mom blogger. I know from personal experience that tiny kids can make us moms myopic. She probably has her posts automatically scheduled to run regardless of what's happening in the world. There's probably a good reason. She gets my benefit of a doubt.

My point is the stark contrasts that emerge in crisis. Going without makeup? Finding a new arm chair? How much weight we gained over the holiday? Really? This matters? Maybe these comfortable crises did matter before the earthquake. But now ...

Have you felt it, too?
A healthy hyper-awareness comes with crisis. A big internal scale comes out of nowhere and begins measuring what really matters in day.

So, before The Spill can continue, my internal scale needs to speak:

Malfunctioning appliances: Don't Matter.
My children's well-being: Matters.
Peace that only God can give: Matters.
The way that person just flipped me off in traffic: Doesn't Matter.
My marriage: Matters.
A new coat of exterior paint for my house: Doesn't Matter.
Clean water flowing out of my faucet: Matters.
Food to share: Matters.
My bad haircut: Doesn't matter ... at all.
Hope for our shared & fragile human condition: Matters ... most.

'That said, we proceed.

Next on The Spill, what I learned from a visiting homeless woman ... and green beans.
As always, thanks for choosing to be here.


Speak for the those who can't speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed.
Proverbs 31:8

[We] R/ Haiti.

We are
made of the same clay.
We love and grieve
the same way.
We are shaken up.
We are
We are taken down.
We are

We cry
the world's fall
under the rubble of walls
our desperate gaze
to our creator's holy face.
No us.
No them.




Port au Prince, Haiti -- 1.13.10
A mother sits in the makeshift field hospital awaiting aid for her injured baby.
AP newsire/ Getty image.

Letter to the Repair Man

Dear Mr. Repair Man,

During a year of much appliance repair you have offered me a lot of unasked-for advice, and now, I want to return the favor.

You must become very frustrated with your customers. I'll bet you often have easy answers to a simple problems. No doubt you get impatient with clients who arrange an appointment -- only for you to arrive and push the “On” switch and have something run just fine. I feel your pain. Sometimes things aren’t really broken. You just have to show up to prove it. I know this. I am a Mom.

Perhaps your frustration leads you to believe that you should give a lot of advice. However, in my strongest words, I want you to hear something that would benefit both of us. Three words: “Don’t say it.” To further my point, I provide the following practical suggestions:

  • Do not look down the tube of my vacuum and then hold it up for my inspection as though the sticky goo stuck down there is a crime. It isn't.
  • Do not suggest how it would have been better for my carpets had I not let the red fruit punch leave the kitchen, or if my family stopped walking around barefoot in the house. These comments are neither helpful, nor constructive.
  • You do not need to ask if I’ve tried ‘unloading the dishwasher.’ Really. Let’s just assume the best.
  • Do not suggest which appliances are/ are not necessary. It is not helpful to tell me that I should “just use the microwave/convection oven” instead of fixing my large oven. I actually use my oven. Similarly, it’s not worthwhile to suggest that a trash compactor is "not necessary." Again, not helpful or constructive.
  • I don’t want to hear how I am supposed to retract the upper 1/3 of my vacuum tube after every use. I won't. This is tantamount to asking a cat to take up lap-swimming.
  • At no point is it beneficial to ask me, “Well, do you know how to start the dishwasher?” This only tempts me to ask you if you know how to use a wrench.
  • I don’t want to you to comment about the dry spaghetti, dead things, or legos under my stove. Similarly, there is no need to roll your eyes or mention how many socks, guitar picks, or gum wrappers you found under my washer and dryer. You can just think those things silently to yourself.
  • Yes, I do know where that stain came from.
  • No, I don't regularly remove the string from the roller in the vacuum head.
  • And, let’s just agree, the lint which is in my lint catcher right now is not proof that I never clean out my lint trap. It only means that I haven't yet cleaned it out today. If you do not believe this, it's best for you to just think it silently to yourself, and not speak it out loud.

Mr. Repair Man, maybe I’m overly sensitive. Maybe I’m prone to shame. I don’t know. But I can’t be the only one who feels this way. So, it'll be better for frazzled moms everywhere all if you just do what you do best, minus the advice. And we'll keep doing the same.

Until the next machine stops ...

Fondest Regards,

Your Loyal Customer

The Business of Repair

Last year we had a spill of appliance repair and replacement. Over the course of 12 months the oven, stove, dishwasher, trash compactor, vacuum, garbage disposal, refrigerator, washer, dryer all had to either be repaired or replaced. Here in a small mountain town, the competition for appliance repair isn’t very aggressive. So, you take what you get.

What did I get? Repaired appliances and a lot of advice from men who have no idea what it means to run a household full of boys. I received appliance operations advice from well-meaning mechanics who probably cook frozen meals in the microwave and do one load of laundry every other week. For them, an appliance is a convenience. For me, they are the operational guts of my house system. When one goes down, the factory grinds to a halt. So, when the dishes are piles on the counter or laundry is mounding up due to a malfunction, I’m not the least bit receptive to hearing how I could be doing things more effectively. I just want my machines fixed; household advice, not so much.

So, based upon actual comments I have received from various repair men last year, tomorrow I will be posting

"Letter to the Repair Man."

Watch for it ...


Got any funny repair stories? Go ahead. Leave a comment.

A Year Later.

A word of thanks from the blog author ...


Here we stand at the turn of a new decade in a young century. Between what has passed away and unknowable tomorrows I find myself pondering, "What lasts?"

The foundational element of my faith demands that I love God and love people, so the following quote is a relevant answer to my question. Here describes a lasting and worthy pursuit.

For 2010 and beyond ... love.


"Suppose I speak in the languages of human beings and of angels. If I don't have love, I am only a loud gong or a noisy cymbal.

Suppose I have the gift of prophecy.

Suppose I can understand all the secret things of God and know everything about him.

And suppose I have enough faith to move mountains. If I don't have love, I am nothing at all.

Suppose I give everything I have to poor people. And suppose I give my body to be burned. If I don't have love, I have nothing at all.

Love is patient.

Love is kind.

It does not want what belongs to others. It does not brag. It is not proud. It is not rude. It does not look out for its own interests. It does not easily become angry. It does not keep track of other people's wrongs.

Love is not happy with evil. But it is full of joy when the truth is spoken. It always protects. It always trusts. It always hopes. It never gives up.

Love never fails.

Prophecy will pass away. Speaking in languages that had not been known before will end. And knowledge will pass away.

What we know now is not complete. What we prophesy now is not perfect. But when what is perfect comes, the things that are not perfect will pass away.

When I was a child, I talked like a child. I thought like a child. I had the understanding of a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

Now we see only a dim likeness of things. It is as if we were seeing them through glass, darkly. But someday we will see clearly. We will see face to face. What I know now is not complete. But someday I will know completely, just as God knows me completely.

The three most important things to have are faith, hope, and love.

But the greatest of these is love."


The Bible, 1 Corinthians chapter 13 (spacing added)

New International Reader's Version. All Rights Reserved.