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I was one of those who drank the Tiny House kool-aide. Do you know what I’m talking about? Those websites and links with words like off-grid and financial freedom and eco-friendly and how to build a house out of a shipping container for $2000. I drank a tiny glass of all that tiny wonderful-ness and I imagined an amazing tiny life and I thought:

How cute. How adorable are those tiny sinks and tiny toilets. How wonderful to pare your home down to such a basic level. What freedom! What an awesome way to disconnect from consumerism and materialism.  How lovely to miniaturize everything. How easy it would be to clean and organize.

Then, without really planning for it, tiny living happened to me, and it looks like two bedrooms, a bathroom, and an itty-bitty multi-purpose space in the basement of our friend’s home. (He is so sweet. He could not be sweeter.) We share his upstairs area (kitchen and living room) while trying to give him the space he needs for his own busy life. We’re paying him a tiny amount of rent and in return we have the gift of time. A year or so to settle in and live in this town and figure out what *it* will look like for us.

Reality is often less adorable than the dream, isn’t it? Reality right now is an ugly second-hand couch (ugly couches are my lot in life, it seems) and a lot of close-quarters navigating. Reality is tolerance and accommodating each other and sharing. Reality is crowded.

It’s kind of a fun challenge. It’s not the tiny home of my dreams, maybe, but life is not a dream. Life is real and complicated and requires grace and flexibility, and if you embrace all of that, it can be a tiny bit wonderful.

May we live all kinds of tiny graces today, friends, no matter the sizes of our homes or the expanses of our lives. May we find polite ways to share our spaces, whether at home or in the grocery store queue or online. May we use our words in healing, supporting ways. May we share coffees and cookies and rub elbows instead of throwing them. May our close quarters invite intimacy, friendship, and cooperation.

May we experience all the unexpected crowded blessings life offers.

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I watch her roll the ball from her hands. She pushes it with all her tiny strength and it leisurely makes its way down the lane, slowly slowly slowly, and my eyes follow the journey.

I understand goodbyes. I understand watching as the vehicle drives away or the casket is lowered. I’ve blown kisses to their backs as they’ve turned and walked away from me. There’s no getting around goodbyes. No shortcut, really.

I find myself watching her now with memorizing eyes. She’s leaving soon and there’s a part of me that is jealous of all her time in other places or with other people. I scramble to hold the hours even as they slip from my hands.

Then my mom gets sick and I have to go, of course.

I’m gone for a week and my husband sends me texts with pictures of them all, and her. Pictures of normal family stuff and he sends updates of their days and I realize it’s good for them to have their time, too. Time without me as the defining cornerstone in their relationships.

She’s different when you aren’t here, he says. And I’m glad they’ve had their chance to hold and spend their own hours, without me.

I’m learning to share the goodbyes.

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I have a little girl who lives with me. She’s three and she knows I’m not her mom. She calls me Gubba. I pick her up from daycare on Mondays and Wednesdays at 5:00, and we drive home. Every trip, we have the same conversation.

Home, Gubba?

Yes.

Your home?

Yes.

My home?

Yes.

I’m not sure what internal stuff she is processing as we repeat this ritual, but I know home is an important place.

I think its significant that after God created the world, the first thing he did was make a home. And not just any old home. A beautiful home, filled with love and possibility and friendship and Him. And, because every good story needs it, the tiniest potential for things to go wrong.

This is the thing about homes. As beautiful and comfortable and safe as we make them – and let’s make them as beautiful and as comfortable and as safe as we can – things go wrong. Always.

People fight or pets die or jobs are lost or children walk away. Just ask the prodigal son’s dad about children leaving nice homes. Stuff happens in homes, no matter the furnishings or the landscaping or even the love.

This is the other thing about homes, though. As much as things go wrong in them, homes are meant to be places of beauty. Sometimes, beauty is tears in the night or puppy poo on the living room floor or children sharing fears. Sometimes, beauty is hanging in there when it’s tough. Sometimes, the most beautiful thing is the hardest or the most challenging or the messiest.

Homes are meant to be beautiful and clean and safe. I wonder, though, if that means beauty over time, instead of beauty every time. I hope so.

My home isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. I can’t seem to keep up with the dusting and the furniture is ancient and the living room needs repainting and once in a while I lose my patience with the people I love and, to be honest, I’m not the best cook in the world. I can focus on any or all of those things, in the moment.

Over time, though, my hope is that people who spend time here will find some beauty in spite of it all.

If they do, it will be because of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

He made a beautiful home, way back then, and He says he’s making us another one, so I think beautiful homes must be important.

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Faith is living without all the answers to the why questions.

That’s what the preacher said, the other Sunday, and I wrote it down so I could remember to think on it a bit.

I do have questions. I want to know why Jian Ghomeshi?, and why Ferguson?, and why slavery?, and why ebola? It’s hard to put those things together on the same shelf as God loves and Jesus saves, you know?

I wish the world was better. I wish we lived better in the world. I wish the horror and sadness and evil would stop. Just stop.

If I’m honest, my faith is pretty wobbly, most of the time. It’s there, and I’m thankful for it. But it’s tinier than the tiniest mustard seed most days, and I haven’t moved many mountains.

But when the why’s begin to overwhelm and the questions shout, I try to remember these things:

Why such aching beauty?

Why so many selfless people?

Why children’s smiles and goodnight hugs and clean kitchens?

Why Christmas and music and art and homemade cookies?

Why parents and heritage and the seasons’ changing glories?

Why grace?

These why’s haunt me, almost more than the tragedies out there in the world. I have been gifted with all of these good things, but I forget so often the wonderfulness of them. I let them slip through my hands like they are sand instead of diamonds, and I miss the treasure.

Why have I been so adorned?

This is my faith as much as anything. To accept the good gifts and to be thankful, even as the world groans around me.

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Life is a journey of beautiful contradiction and fortunate misstep. I am not where I set out to be, all those years ago, thank God.

Life is hard and sad, by times, but would you read a story that never posed a problem to solve or a tragedy to overcome? I’m learning there is a beautiful grace in hard and sad and while I don’t wish for the tough times ahead, I know they will find me.

This morning my foster son reads aloud these words from the book of Proverbs, from a little plaque that sits on the desk in my office space. We’re the only two awake in the house on this holiday Monday, and we’re cozy in our space while cool rain falls on the greening world outside our window.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, he reads.

The Lord is Jesus, he says thoughtfully, and he looks over at me and nods confidently. I nod back, serious as is he, and I think it’s not something I’ve taught him. I don’t think I’ve ever said to him, Jesus is Lord, and you should believe in Him.

My foster son is learning how to pray. He’s not done it before, and all this church stuff and believing stuff is new to him. He’s learning that Jesus might be more than a swear word.

The first time he asks to pray is at dinner and we bow heads with him and wait, and he says, I forget how to start.

Dear God, I prompt, and he’s off, thankful for the day and the food and the kittens and the toys, but it’s the ending that sticks my heart, when he asks for God to watch over the Ross family and his mom. I didn’t teach him to pray or tell him he should, but he lives here and we do it, and he’s been watching, of course.

I didn’t become his foster mom to turn him into a Christian. Or maybe I did. I think Jesus makes life better, so, maybe I did. I have no idea where he will go in his life or what he will believe. I certainly don’t want to give him tiresome religion, but I’m pretty sure he’ll face lots of hard and sad stuff of his own, and I’d love him to discover life-sustaining faith.

I know he’s watching, and I suppose I want him to see me watching, too.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11: 28-30 (the message)

This scripture is working on me. I’ve been thinking about the unforced rhythms of grace. I’m trying to watch how He does it. I’m trying to walk with Him and work with Him. I want to get away with Him and recover my life. And who doesn’t want to live freely and lightly?

I’ll probably write about it some, in the days ahead.

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We are one of those families who like to fling words around like bullets. Honestly, at the end of a meal together, I can be exhausted from the conversational olympics that have taken place. Mostly, I’m happy about that. Mostly, it’s fun.

We like to talk. We like to discuss stuff and share stuff and argue about stuff.

It can get out of hand, though, as you might imagine.

The other day, in the midst of a discussion about something, my son said some words that hurt my feelings. I got up from the table and walked away, and I was angry and sad and moped around about it for a while.

Later, as we passed each other in the kitchen, I said, You hurt my feelings today.

And he said, I didn’t mean to.

We’re good, now.

On the Friday before Mother’s Day, might we sweeten our conversations with the grace of apology.

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I wish I could title this post the first and last time I threw shame at my son, but that would be a lie.

I can say I’ve tried. I can say I’ve worked hard to be a good mom, most of the time. I can say I’ve said sorry to my kids when I’ve done wrong. I can say I have amazing children, so there’s that.

But I remember the first time clearly, like you remember a scene in a movie.

He was little, toddling around my kitchen in that little trailer we lived in when he was born. I’m sure I was tired and maybe mad at my husband about something, or lonely because we’d moved into a community where it had been tough to make friends, or who knows? He was by the fridge, reaching for something I didn’t want him to have. I told him no and he grinned that baby grin that says I hear you but I’m doing this anyway, and then I yelled at him.

You know the expression, his face fell? I know exactly what that looks like, because his did. He looked confused and hurt and anxious, and he started to cry. And I cried, too. Because something changed that day. That day, I realized I would fail my children.

Of course I held him and kissed him and of course he loved me still, and I suppose he forgot about it.

But I haven’t. Nor have I forgotten the time I slapped a little boy’s hands at a group gathering, and heard the woman beside me gasp. Nor have I forgotten the time my little man came up to me with a mouth so full of candy he could hardly speak and I made him go make a slobbery confession and apology to my friend whose kitchen goodie drawer he’d raided.

There are other times, but these memories are enough to spit bad mommy at me when they come to mind.

Of all the things I wish I could change about raising my boys, shaming them is at the top of the list.

Shaming them was never about them. Shaming them, every single time I did it, was about me. It was always about my insecurity, my need to look like a good mom, my difficult relationship with someone else.

These have been the hardest mommy moments in which to find forgiveness. I’ve owned them. I’ve apologized for them. I’ve asked for forgiveness for them, but they linger at the edges of my memory. If I could have parenting do-overs, these would be the ones.

I don’t know how you get through the parenting years without mistakes. I guess you can’t.

I do know my kids have a shining example of an imperfect mom who, in spite of all her mistakes and mess, loves them to heaven and back.

Thank goodness for grace.

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Really, don’t. And if that’s what you are doing, then just do the thing you carved up instead.

I have a friend, a good friend, who is a very busy person (who isn’t?). We would try to get together from time to time, back when the kids were smaller, and she would tell me she had an hour here or there she could give me, or a bit of time on the following afternoon she could offer. It always made me feel a little little, if you know what I mean.

Like the time I showed up at another friend’s house for a Christmas gift exchange we’d planned among three of us and our toddlers. I’d been so excited to have finally met some other women in this new little community I’d moved into, and I walked up to the house hauling my little sled with my little Tyson and our little gifts, and knocked on the door. And knocked again but there was no answer so I peeked my head in and called out we’re here, and walked in a couple of steps to hear two women sharing their unkind opinions about me and my family and my parenting and all the tender fears I’d spoken into the new friendships with them in those visits we’d had.

I put up some pretty strong cautious-about-friendship walls after that.

Maybe you’ve put up some walls, too. Because Sister, friendship can be a minefield of misstep and misunderstanding. Why is that, I wonder?

Why do I have to compare and compete and judge, even when I don’t want to. Why do I measure my parenting against your parenting, or my shape against your shape, or my faith walk against your faith walk?

It’s exhausting, isn’t it. I’ve been working on it for years. On being who I am and accepting who you are and experiencing the beauty of honest and true relationships. It’s one of the reasons I write what I write and try to be transparent and all that.

So really, don’t feel like you have to carve out time for me, because that’s more about you than it is about me.

If you don’t have time, you don’t have time and I’m fine with that.

If you have a little bit of time, enjoy the little bit of time without making me feel like I’m a sacrifice you are making.

And if you don’t really want to be friends, don’t pretend you do and then talk about me when you think I’m not listening.

And for the record, I’ll do the same with you.

Except when I mess up (and I probably will) and I do something to make you feel like you are a burden or a challenge or, heaven forbid, a project.

I don’t want to carve out time for you. If you are my friend then I want you to know I’m all in. I want to embrace and enjoy and luxuriate in the time I am fortunate enough to spend with you.

We are strong women. Let’s be women who care and are fierce about our love and who can trust each other with our hearts. Let’s work together and be happy for each other and be honest with each other. Let’s support and challenge and encourage each other. Let’s cheer our victories and mourn our losses and put aside our differences.

Let’s forgive.

Let’s be friends.

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The burden of abstinence. That’s how he said it in the beautiful piece he wrote about being an addict who hadn’t used in ten years.

The burden of abstinence, and the words are stuck in my head.

I’ve only dabbled in the substances, so to speak. A little drink and some grass smoked secondhand, back in the day. Honestly it scared me more than it tempted me and I said no to the magic mushrooms that time they were offered and I watched while they got high and I drove my boyfriend home from the parties when he’d had too much.

I was the good girl in the room and to tell you the truth it was a real drag.

Mostly just wading in up to my knees, and it’s not enough to swim and it’s not enough to stay dry and the waves swirling around are pushing and pulling and getting the hem of my dress wet.

Soggy is no fun, not when everyone else is either skinny dipping in the ocean or singing worship songs around a campfire on the beach.

But I’d been raised the way I’d been raised and there was no way I could get those sermons out of my head.

I’d been raised on the gospel of abstinence and maybe that was what kept me safe during those years. Safe enough, anyway. Let’s just say I wasn’t a saint. Not even close. And the gospel of don’t-do-this can only get you so far and there’s a lot of guilt that goes along with it when you aren’t a saint, like I wasn’t.

But what he was referring to in those words he wrote about his own addiction and his ten years free was that curious nostalgia that creeps in sometimes in the looking back. I was never an addict, not in the way he’s talking. But by times I’d let the waves pull me in, and the swimming was crazy and fun and free.

Some of my friends found their loves early and married them quick, and they look back on those years differently than do I.

I didn’t marry my first love. I didn’t spend my twenties with a childhood sweetheart or a college romance. I traveled and tried my hand at Doing Things For The Lord and dated a guy or two and lost my way for a while. You could say I went swimming more than I praised God on the beach, or at least as often, although mostly I waded wet in the shallows.

Now, I’m a sold out praise-the-Lord-er, yes I am. And maybe that’s because of the abstinence thing, or maybe Jesus found me in the ocean, or maybe I remembered he was there – ocean or sand or wherever I was – all along.

The burden of abstinence is still a thing. I won’t pretend it isn’t, only now I call it grace.

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When the leaves started flopping over he thought they needed help, so he fixed them. Because floppy is wrong and tall is right, right?

It only took a day or two, though, before the leaves burst the tape apart by their growing and becoming. They meant to be floppy, and nothing he did could change it.

Not everything has to grow tall to be beautiful, thank goodness.