Communal living

My parents-in-law are living with us for a week: communal living at its finest. We’re remodeling our master bedroom together–‘we’ as in I’m cooking the lunches and riding along to Home Depot. And asking good questions of course. And there may be a few other things I forget, like handing a tool to someone and painting three drop ceiling tiles. It’s what I do best.


Confession: I pulled off a personal meltdown right before supper last night.

Of course I wasn’t the only one melting down. Child C had about five meltdowns simultaneously in that gray hour before dinner.  Child B was beside himself—in and out of the room, even after I said very firmly Now son. You are going to stay right here where I can see you until Mommy is done cooking supper. The convulsions of protest he went through would have put an eel to shame. I got him a book to read. He wept and lamented sore. I stayed calm and cheerful (the thin-stretched calm-and-cheerful-on-purpose variety). He was unmoved. I turned my back; he sneaked out. I fetched him hither; he came yon, dragging his tail behind him.

And meanwhile the supper would not get cooked. Despite my lovely mother-in-law right there helping me, helping my kids, helping the food. The quesadillas kept wanting to burn (probably because I left them for brief forays after errant sons), the corn was still frozen, and the eggs for the salad needed to be peeled.

Convulsions on the barstool. Exit plans being hatched in small brains. I felt them behind me, rising like vapor, heavier and more foreboding by the minute until a mushroom cloud ascended to the drop ceiling and I was uncertain whether the smell was burnt quesadilla or bad attitude.

I fielded a simple three-minute phone call and flipped a quesadilla while talking. Bad mistake. Some of the filling spilled out and began to blacken on the bottom of the dry skillet, an adhering from which there was no return. I hung up, pulled the pan over to the sink and began scraping desperately.

Child B threw something across the room and narrowly missed Grandma.

Nothing I do or say can fix this. What will happen if I just start to cry?

And suddenly I am, so hard I cannot breathe, my hand clamped over my mouth and my ears flaming.

My mom-in-law is right there with her arm around me. Oh Shari. I’m so sorry. Do you need to go take some time? I’ll finish frying the quesadillas; you go lie down a little. I cannot move, choking there at the sink. And then Ryan is there too, and takes my son and sits to read a story with him. I step out into the cold air and breathe, shuddering.

Sometimes I really think communal living is the way to go.

Our house has seen many suppertime meltdowns, but never has there been a woman to take the spatula from my hand and send me gently away.

There’s unspeakable comfort in knowing that if you really have to step out for a minute, life can go on. The errands can be run and the three massive loads of laundry folded, all at once. The children can be occupied and the major paint job move forward simultaneously. There are two good women to train the children and learn from each other, and two good men working upstairs.

Five or ten minutes later found me back in the kitchen, red-eyed and quieted, peeling those eggs.

What do you think? It takes a village to fry a quesadilla?

On gardening and imperfection

Part A

Confession: Almost I would give up writing on any issue I care about, for the way in which I am tested in that area immediately afterwards.

I wrote about seeing work as play, and immediately began taking my own so seriously I could hardly stop to breathe.

I wrote about grace, and started coming down so hard on myself and others that I wondered if I knew the meaning of the word?

I wrote about marriage, and was handed a remarkably well-timed opportunity to come alongside The Boss in something I am terrified to do.

So today I am wondering about imperfection, and glimpses of glory to which we have not attained.

Part B

Confession: This is the time of year when I ask myself “Why do I garden?” and answer back “I have no idea, dear.” I adore planting. I drink it and eat it and sleep it. And I love harvesting—the satisfaction of fresh corn, new beans, rich tomatoes. But in between—!!

I was gardening yesterday, sloughing through weeds grown tall from neglect and too many days of rain. I hate weeding. Hate the endless, careful tending while doubting all the while that any fruit will come. It seems so ludicrous, after all, to believe that small wrinkled seeds and spindly stalks will yield anything tasty.

And I hate uprooting in one area what brings me joy in another—pulling violets and goldenrod and dandelions out by the roots when I actually like violets and goldenrod and dandelions. Just not here. Simultaneously I am babying volunteer potatoes and tomatoes that came up among my rows of corn, babying them though this is not quite their niche. Volunteering is a brave act and should be encouraged.

Then I walk out to my new-planted strawberries, and heartlessly nip every bud.

My dad says that many times, a dream God gives to a person must go through several deaths before coming to fruition. Jesus called the human heart a field, and I wonder about the stuff that comes up in mine. Does He smile a little when I offer to feed Him my first-year asparagus, bravely pushing out of the ground? Look, Lord—use this!

He smiles a little and waits. Not this year, dear.

Does He wince a little when he nips my earliest strawberry blooms? I won’t use them just yet. Send your roots deeper. Don’t get discouraged, girl.

He never uses the word immature with me, and only as I look back later do I see He could have.

Sometimes I send forth a profusion of verdure, half choking some in my effort to produce all. He lets it grow side by side, the useful and the misplaced, the pretty and the nondescript. In my best patches, ugly worms turn beneath the surface—jealousy, competition, reproach, self-gratification. If I allow them at the crops, they’ll chew the garden full of holes. But if I go on quietly growing the fruit, maybe they will turn out to be earthworms only, enriching the soil.

I don’t think He asks the fruit be perfect to be useable.

Maybe it’s okay that the upside and downside never quite match. Maybe some of life is potatoes, and the rather silly and nondescript plant dying halfway through the season is an essential part of the rich brown tubers beneath. Maybe some of life is corn, and the crazy shooting into height with almost no root at all bears a crop of gold.

So today I am wondering about imperfection, and glimpses of glory to which we have not attained.

Today, a piece of cake

Today I did not feed my kids enough, I guess. They asked for food every fifteen minutes.

Mommy, can I have a snack? as I was washing up the lunch dishes…

Hmm. Thought you would be makin supper by now… at 3:30 in the afternoon.

Mom, I’m gonna DIE… at 5:00, after plenty of snacks.

Can I eat dis? pilfering raw broccoli from the cuttings for a salad…

Today the baked beans I didn’t start quite in time for Tuesday’s supper, the ones I set aside to cook longer later, the ones I slow-roasted in the crock pot since 9:00 this morning, still clinked when they hit our plates at dinner. Cooked half to mush and still stony at heart—you tell me. I flopped yesterday’s supper too. No wonder the kids are hungry.

Today I couldn’t think of anything to cook but beans and eggs, so we had eggs for breakfast and beans and eggs for lunch and beans for supper. I could tell you the menus in ways that wouldn’t sound so terrible, but the fact remains that it’s all I could cook. Only I couldn’t. Which is why they were hard.

Today the sewing projects I worked on took two and three times as long as they should’ve, and I kept poking myself with pins.

Today someone spoke to me loud and slow like I was three years old and the kids were mean to the animals and the flies buzzed fatly, moistly in all my windows and my iron was never hot when I needed it and bugs bit me when I wasn’t looking and weeds grew thickly in my flowerbeds.

I see I have only one choice left open to me.

A good old-fashioned pity party and the largest, densest, richest slab of chocolate cake in town.


I will take some home to feed the kids.

Boatloads and behinds


You know you’re running behind

When you dial the library to ask how many books


Are still overdue

After the boatload you sunk in their drop-slot this afternoon?

And there are eight,

And eight dollars and eighty cents worth of fines.


You know you’re running behind

When the kids say Mom, hide and seek?

And you say Um


Well after I

Well how about




You know you’re running behind

When you snag the broom out of the closet

Before you leave the house

And prop it against the kitchen counter

As you fly out the door

That way in case anyone stops in while you’re out

And sees the state of your floor

They’ll think you were just getting to it.


How do you know you’re behind?

An airtight box

Dear Reader,

In writing to you today I am pretending that you are one person, instead of the unwieldy and three-dimensional herd of actuality. It’s kind of hard talking personally to a herd. Condense yourself if you will. There, that’s better. You and I are sitting together over tea.

I want to talk to you about some of the feelings that led to my thirty-day vacation—peculiar feelings of rising panic.

Do you know those jokes you can only tell when there are no men around? Okay. And the stories you can’t tell your in-laws? Yeah. And the church issues touchy with your parishioners? Uh-huh. And the childhood allusions only Minnesota folks would get? And the deep stuff you want to tell your besties? And the chit-chat and old recipes you’d only share with new acquaintances?

What am I to say to you??

For you, dear Reader, are my husband and my grandmother.* You are my parishioner and my mentor. You’re the younger lady I am to teach and the older lady I am to learn from. You are a man. You are a harried mother. You are a virgin. You are old and young. You live in affluence in America and at a mission in Paraguay. You are my childhood playmate; you are my dearest friend; you are a casual passerby. You are almost entirely unconnected with my real life; you are deeply intertwined with my affairs; I will never meet you. You are profoundly conservative in lifestyle and beliefs; you have been liberated from legalism. You are in great need of rejuvenation. You want to laugh. You are crying today. You care about health. You have been hurt by the church. You are crazy about Jesus. You wish I would stop these rants already.

*I am not making this up.

What am I to say to you?

In the real world, I spend my whole life talking behind other people’s backs: not maliciously, but judiciously. Friend X would be offended by a discussion on birth control; Friend Y will spread my words to the end of the earth; Friend Z has been hurt by this issue in the past.

Jesus said “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Strong words.

I must think of you and your needs, what will make you laugh and what will hurt you. Yet the more I think of you, the less I write. Filtered through a security system that would make an airport run for cover, little is left to say.

I confess it: I cannot write when people are reading over my shoulder. My brain completely freezes. Yet you read over my shoulder each day. When I sit down to a blank Word page in an empty room, you are there, checking.

I admit still more: Blogging is of great popularity and limited usefulness. The demotivational poster from comes to mind: “Blogging–Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few.” Did you know that over 100,000 new WordPress blogs are created every day? I don’t even believe in blogging.

And I get sick of hearing Me. So I invite in these charming, talented women to talk to you, and it quickly becomes obvious that you are chary of newcomers. I feel I must give that part up, though I am quite cross with you about it.

I felt great trepidation as the month of March drew to an end—rising panic that I must write again. “Must write,” I say, though my bones ache for it and it’s one of the things I was made to do. I yearn for it and shrink from it.

All my life I have majored on keeping people happy and not saying the wrong thing. Here I am being squeezed into a place in which whatever I say will be the wrong thing to someone; a place in which it’s hard to say anything at all; a place in which I cry for a nice safe cage. But I must write! And I can’t write only what I think you want to hear. Packaged into such an airtight box, all the spark dies out.

Your expectations of me are high; you like me a lot and believe in me. I blog to practice, to play. Yet you insist on calling it a “ministry;” what does that mean about the irreverent posts and the objectionable language? You take me seriously at a time when I am most earnestly striving to do the opposite. So I cannot listen to you, cannot watch you hanging over my shoulder; but it’s hard to hear something in the background for 365 days and not be changed by it in some way.

There are still deeper layers of reluctance. Layers within layers.

You praise my honesty. I look vulnerable to you, almost unbearably so. You send me private emails to compliment and confess, because you cannot bring yourself to respond so publicly. (I love them.) Do you have any idea how many things lie beneath my words to you? How many dark secrets I would never touch? How many bright dreams? Have no doubt it is fear in my eyes.

Happiness by way of blogging is an illusion; just like happiness by marriage, happiness by money, happiness by chocolate. (No wait. Happiness by chocolate still works for me. But even so.) Happiness is only by security in the Lord Jesus Christ, and blogging is one of the least secure places I know.

We have come full circle, back to the rising panic with which I began this letter. I am comfortable keeping secrets from you, dear Reader, but not comfortable ignoring this one big secret that was growing between us, walling me into unhappiness and shutting you out: There is a gap between who I am and who I want to be, and another between who I am and who you want me to be.

I had to tell you this, though I’m not going anywhere with it. I will keep writing. You will keep reading, if you wish.

Let’s be good to one another.