Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Women & Their Work

Me in the earrings that started it all.
I wasn't looking for another job last month when I learned about the Entoto Project and Tesfanish. I wasn't thinking about Ethiopia very much, and I didn't even know there were women who could spin sorrow into hope, devastation into genuine beauty. I went to a good friend's home for a Noonday trunk show in May, and all I wanted was a pair of gold earrings. I got so much more that night.
As the Noonday ambassador, Cynthia, spoke on behalf of the company and its' artisans, she lifted up ropes of gorgeous metal jewelry and said that it was made up upcycled artillery from past wars in Ethiopia. Who knew you could take a weapon of war and burn it into a glistening bead? And then string that bead and a thousand others onto a line and feel the weight of artillery redeemed, death used for life, and display it on your neck as an emblem of hope? I didn't.
As Cynthia and I talked that night and I held the Bethe Rope and beaded bracelets in my hands, I knew one thing to be true. Here was beauty out of ashes. Here was redemption, tangible and weighty, shining in the palm of my hand. My heart leapt, friends! I know about beauty from ashes. How God can take a smoldering wick and fan it into a flame that could set an entire life ablaze.
Because I know that not having access to dignified and fair work can crush a person, I wanted to become an ambassador for Noonday, which means that I will stand up and tell the artisans' stories of hope and transformation and talent to other women and sell their jewelry in a market that will pay a fair and ethical wage to these artisans. I am thrilled to point you to the impact section of the Noonday website, where you can hear Tesfanish's bold and beautiful story. I plan on writing more about the Noonday Collection and what I'm learning about modern slavery and the way threads of redemption can be found in the darkest of places.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday. Isaiah 58:10

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Unfading Beauty

Some beauty in our home.
I have a beautiful neighbor who is about 80. She is petite and agile and she is not above crawling under our dining table to chase my toddler, if he chooses to hide from her when she comes to visit. She comes every early afternoon, right around 2. Sometimes, I am waiting for her, brewing a fresh pot of coffee and attempting to clear a path through the Legos and Hot Wheels and Cheerios scattered across our wood floors. Sometimes I am rushed and busy, and I hesitate to answer the door when I hear her distinctive knock, but I always answer. My beautiful neighbor has dementia, and though she is well-loved and lives with her attentive family, she has managed, in the fog of a fading reality, to carve a new pathway in her schedule, and it leads straight to our front door.

Every day, she points to William's shoes that sit on our front porch (and that's where they stay because MUD) and lays her hand on her chest. "Oh! What I would give to go back to these days with my boys." If the boys aren't napping, she will pick up a book and they come running. William sits on the arm of the chair and leans against her and Joshua lifts his arms to her and says, "Hold!" She points to the pictures on the pages and they spend long minutes discussing the characteristics of Thomas and Percy and Edward and who is nice and who is a naughty train, and then she hugs them and promises to come back tomorrow. She tells me daily to sit still and love my mess because before I know it, they'll be gone.

My neighbor also raised two sons, one of whom died of MS several years ago. She talks about them often.  It seems mothering grows a strong and mighty oak in your reality, and though age and disease may break some of the boughs and prune the blooms from the highest branches, even the unforgiving hooks of dementia can't loosen its' roots from your memory. I don't know if I am much like her, but I do know she and I have something that has grounded our friendship. We both understand the value of recognizing the beauty that's around us.

And I do love my mess. And my wild and woolly boys. I haven't blogged in over a year. I've been having coffee with my neighbor, and raising my boys, and working with a group of women to talk about the Bible and God's glory and His character and what it means for us, and a whole slew of other things. But I have the desire to write about beauty and talk about it and hold onto it and I plan on writing about that here again, at least once a week. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some Legos to put away.

Some more beauty in our home, though this one is not as refined.

Friday, January 25, 2013

On the Power of Words & Being Vulnerable

William and Me, 2010, at the very beginning of this journey of intentional mothering, when a careless word from another mom could send me over the deep end of self-doubt and uncertainty.
My mom and I have spent long hours over the phone this week discussing and trying to figure out why people see things and say things the way they do. Do they know the effect they will have? Can't they see how the careless misuse of one word can have the power to change all the words said after it? I opened a letter from her today and what she wrote me made me catch my breath:

"But I say to you:
Every time you meet another human being, you have an opportunity. It's a chance at holiness. For you will do one of two things, then. 
Either you will build her up, or you will tear her down.
Either you will acknowledge that she is, or you will make her sorry that she is -- sorry, at least, that she in then in front of you!
You will create or you will destroy and the things you dignify are God's own property. They are made, each one of them, in His own image.
And I say to you: There are no useless, minor meetings..."
-Walter Wangerin, Jr.

I find myself needing some extra encouragement right now, and I have found so much wisdom and goodness and encouragement and wit and just fun in two online places that I so want to share with you, in case you don't know about them already:

These are women who know how to build up. Not with empty flattery or untrue tolerance, but with godly understanding and teaching from the heart. They are helping me change the ways I carry out my day, and I think you will love what they have to share with you.

This reaching out that we do as mothers (and friends, and bloggers, and sisters, etc.) is more about being vulnerable in the sharing of our own struggles and growth than it is about advising others on perfection.

Joshua and Me, Christmas 2012, with a bit more mothering experience under my belt and standing on surer, grace-covered ground.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Growing Pains

He is only 2, but he is almost grown.

I know this because of all the older mothers who tell me it's so. But I know it, too, because I can sense it happening.

In his chubby hands that grow larger each day, edged with peanut butter and bread crumbs. In his shrinking sleeves that bear the smudges of his colors and "marks", as he calls them.

Here in the middle of our day, right in the middle of him playing with his trucks and police cars and Legos, sometimes right in the middle of lunch, or breakfast, or story time, I tell him:

William, I need...

And before I can finish he looks up and puts his arms around my neck. "A biiiiiiig hug," he says, the words coming out in his clear and ringing voice. He has a slight southern drawl that still catches me by surprise.

When he hugs me, I close my eyes. I wrap him up as close as can be and I breathe in deep his toddler graces, his baby shampoo and windblown curls and strawberry breath. He is always lugging a toy, a book, a tractor, a balloon. He is never empty handed.

And then he is off.

He is so fleeting, and I can't get him to stay still. Or to stop growing. He keeps on getting bigger and taller and smarter and funnier and leaner and, even though he is only 2, he is practically 17.

He is racing me. This is why I pour into him. Because he is growing and needs filling and teaching and I am the one charged with this task. I am the one who teaches him daily, who shows him and models for him about demonstrating love to others, who teaches about beauty, and grace, and how we turn to God in all times and all things, from the way we greet our grandparents at the door to the way we speak to strangers. And it is hard work that I do for him, but I do it because I love him and I love Him and even though I know I fail daily, I am sticking with it.

It is no small thing, this raising up of a child. Especially the part about "in the ways that he should go." But I am doing it, and already I see in him a light that is growing.

My sweet bundle of energy and happy laughter, I am doing my best for you. Even when it's hard, especially when it's mundane. I am doing this for you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Change of Seasons

Fall is here, subtle and transient, dropping temperatures on a whim for one or two days before vanishing altogether for weeks on end, and the afternoon sun climbs high and makes everyone sweat and wish we lived somewhere cooler. But I see the beauty in our prolonged summer, the strange bursts of color from shrubs and bushes that are blooming again in the same season, since the weather has allowed it.

Last week I took my little boys to Town Lake to show them evidence of the changing seasons. The foliage along the water's edge seems to change with greater intensity and vibrancy than what we see further inland. William collected handfuls of yellow leaves and fallen acorns, proof of fall's arrival.

I have always loved fall, but as a child I met the season with a bit of disappointment and longing. Our Texas autumn didn't look right to me; it wasn't like the fall I saw in story books, where trees looked as though they'd been set ablaze with color and frosty mornings led to Christmases draped in snow and icicles. I would stand underneath our old oak trees, close my eyes, and pray for snow that never came.

Now, as a grown woman, a mother who understands why it can't snow in November in Austin, I meet the changing season with anticipation and, still, longing. October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. It is also the month that we lost Jordan, and this November would have been Violet's first birthday. Last year marked a season of loss for my household, but as we settle into our new routine with our infant boy and our two year old, I sense the end of that season. The days are not marked with sadness or tears anymore, but with the bustle of a young family with two tiny ones. This season of our lives doesn't look like something I would have seen in a storybook, but it's beautiful in its own way.

Memorial to Unborn Children, image found here
In the quiet early hours before the sun rises, as I slip quietly from our bed to nourish my crying 10 week old Joshua, I feel the cool wood floors and breathe the smell of a fall morning coming in from the open windows. I sense the subtle shift; it is fall in Texas. I cradle Joshua, my own harbinger of a new season, in my arms, and I know that happiness is here once again. I rock him and nurse him, grateful for the few minutes of quiet, and I think of the best way to express this, but I can never settle on the perfect words. Instead, I will just say it the best way I know how: I feel true happiness and I feel true peace, and I believe with all of my heart that God does what is best for me. But my heart cries out, on peaceful quiet mornings, for Violet and Jordan. I think it's safe to say that I will always long, in some way, to hold them and to hear their baby coos and cries, to know what they would have looked like as toddlers and teenagers, to know if they would have had blue eyes like both of my other boys, like their father. I just wanted to share this to honor those other women (and men) who know this type of hurt and longing. There is beauty in every season.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

On Carving Out Spaces

I have been putting off writing a new post because, since this newest little chubby child has emerged from the womb (safe and sound!) and come to live in our home*, I have felt protective and unsure of throwing my words and pictures around online. Not because I worry about cyber-crime (feels funny to type that) or privacy issues, but because I care if my words are encouraging. I want to make sure they aren't hollow or misleading or, worse yet, discouraging to any one, especially another mother.

Funny how the protective hands of a mama can extend well past the reach of her children.

Along those lines, I will say that I have felt in my heart a strong, deeply rooted desire to carve out space  lately -- space for my husband to be encouraged, space for my toddler son to grow and play creatively and have quiet time, space for the four of us to be still as a family, space for Joshua to be nurtured, and space for me to feel peace and to create calm and order in an otherwise chaotic world. I plan on focusing a little more on these things over the next few weeks and hope to write more about them.

Ellen at Sweet Water is writing a 31 day series on home, and her words have been so encouraging and strengthening to me lately. You should read what she's writing about because I bet it hits home with you, too.

* I know I skipped a whole chapter and never posted about Joshua's birth or first days here, but I am still thinking about those very special days and what can be said about them. He is, as you can see, totally healthy, weighing 7 pounds and 3 ounces at birth, and is precious as can be.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Joshua's Nursery

It's finished! Finally. Ten days before his scheduled arrival. Walking past his nursery and catching a glimpse of his stenciled book ledges from the living room makes me feel so happy. I can't believe the journey this pregnancy has been, but I am so grateful to be ten days from my due date with a healthy and developed baby incubating.

Upon entering the nursery. His room is part of a jack and jill suite that shares a bathroom with our guest bedroom. One day I will decorate it for both boys to share, but for now it is still just for guests. 
 This room is fairly small, but has plenty of room for what we need. Those black french doors lead to the guest room.
This room is blindingly bright for portions of the day, and the crib really glows like that in the early afternoon. I love it, but we'll definitely be closing the blinds for Joshua's naps.
 Ledge bookshelves built by Don's dad, who is such a talented carpenter. I painted them white and stenciled little owls and woodland creatures on one end of each shelf.
 I love this little changing table from Walmart. I bought it because it was cheap and the perfect size, but once it was assembled (thank you, Dad!), it was a little lackluster. I painted the knobs with blue acrylic paint and added white polkadots before sealing them with a very thin coat of polyurethane, made covered storage bins to hold diapers, wipes, and swaddlers, and added a hand painted woodland scene.
My father-in-law cut a 1/8 inch piece of scrap wood to fit the ledge around the top of the changing table, and I added layers of turquoise and blue paint before stenciling and sketching owls, trees, mushrooms, and a couple of love birds and squirrels onto the wood. Once everything dried, I dipped a wadded up paper towel into brown acrylic paint and dragged and dabbed it over the painting, wiping it every few seconds with a wet rag. This made it look distressed and gave it a bit more dimension. 
 I sewed a little pillow for William to snuggle up with and read. The books on the bottom two shelves are all of his favorites and we read in Joshua's room at least twice a day now.
 I bought a $5 frame from Goodwill, removed the glass (and the scary Dubuque poster circa 1982 from it), and made a new background from craft paper. I glued lengths of twine, anchored with whatchamacallits (wow, I'm too lazy to look the name up even though I'm already online...sad), and used tiny white clothespins to display sweet notes from friends and family written for Joshua as part of his baby blessing. 
 Nothing in his nursery is fancy, but everything was made with love. Just some pom pom trim to edge the lamp shade.
 His crib, the same crib my sisters and I slept in as babies 30 years ago. See those storage boxes to the right of his crib? I bought a ton on clearance at Joann's and they house clothes that Joshua won't need for months. The boxes look so sweet stacked in a tower, but since William's favorite game is dumping things out of boxes and reorganizing them, I had to move the rest of the boxes into the closet.
 His verse, pinned inside a handmade frame I bought when Ginger's was closing down. 
 These bunny slippers were the very first thing I bought for William before he was born, but he was such a whopper of a baby that his feet were never small enough to wear these sweet little booties. I wanted to display them in Joshua's room because this room really is a space for me to cherish both boys.
More framed prints from Ginger's that I purchased when they closed down. And the middle frame is my all-time favorite photo of my mom, older sister, and me.
 I ruffled teal ribbon and glued it to a white frame.
 I really love the old-fashioned alphabet cross stitch samplers. 
Now all we need is Joshua. His new Moses basket awaits.