Bumps and Wonders (they never cease)

It’s only 9:15am on Monday, and this day has already had it’s fair share of bumps, lumps and wonders.  I’m sure yours has, too.

Bump #1.  7:15am: #4 child wakes with a fever for the third straight day.  Today is the first-grade Halloween parade and she will have to miss. If you have ever been six, you will understand to what depths of woe we both travelled before breakfast.

Wonder #1.  7:45am: The same child (still in her tear-stained Halloween outfit) and I drink tea with milk and stare silently out the kitchen window. We watch, enraptured, as the flock of plump orioles hop and flit in the frosty back-yard.

Lump #2.  8:30am: Child #3 cannot find his jacket. Or his sweatshirt. Or anything with sleeves. The thermometer reads 32 degrees, and he is standing before me in a sleeveless tee-shirt and lacrosse shorts with bananas on them. After a futile “…I hope I don’t have to walk up there…” threat, I trudge upstairs and find all three items instantly.

“Mom, it’s kind of your fault for putting them where I couldn’t really see them”. If you have ever seen a bull snorting and pawing the dirt before charging the red flag, you will understand the way that whole conversation went down.

Wonder #2.  8:55am: I am still aggravated with Child #3 and am pouring all grievances and hurts of the last week on his slumped ten-year-old shoulders. I am feeling miserable for ushering him off to school in this bitter fashion, but I soldier on, because this time I know my harsh-toned, critical and accusing lecture will surely soften his heart and change his ways.

“I love you, mom”.  He says simply, and kindly, as he gathers up his bag.

If your soul has ever been pierced by unmerited grace, you can understand my quiet ride home.

Surely, it is only grace that moves us, changes us, softens us.

Why can’t I remember this?

How can I navigate these daily bumps with more grace?  I surely must be the most forgetful person ever created….

#1.  I forget that there will always be rough bumps, ditches and obstacles in my road. I am not exempt from the narrow, rocky way that the rest of humanity, including my children, must walk.

Why do I think my road should be smooth and paved, obstacle free?

#2.  I forget that people are not the bumps in the road.  People are sacred and set apart as the most prized of all creation. They are walking the same road as I am.  Why do I think that they are my problem?

#3.  I forget that I have the ability to freely dispense grace. Grace need not be rationed.  Grace doesn’t take grand detours around thorny issues (as I like to do with adults).  Neither does she always confront every obstacle head-on with a sledgehammer and a bulldozer (as I like to do with my children).

What I want to remember (note to self…)

Grace, as I’ve been lucky to observe and experience, is creative and agile. She has eyes that see the person as a sacred soul, even in the midst of a true, ugly obstacle. Grace is child-like in her ability to forgive; quick and sincere.

Grace doesn’t just float over obstacles like a fairy in la-la-land.  This is real life, doggone it!  Rather, grace is the first to stretch out her hand, to both steady and strengthen the other struggling soul as they walk with her over, under, or through the fray.

Wonders never cease.

chinese water torture

Recently I was trapped in a thirty four thousand seat arena for over three hours.

How’s that?  You say.

My unfortunate and unlikely predicament stemmed from the location of our seats at the Navy football game in Annapolis, MD.  Almost immediately, we realized we were sitting in the alumni section, directly in front of three graduates who were back in town for their twenty-year homecoming reunion.

Cool, right?

Um, no.

We discovered all this information in a matter of minutes, because the trio behind us never stopped talking.  No touchdown, penalty or rousing band number would dissuade these men from saying whatever trivial thought entered their head at any moment.

Have you ever been trying to sleep and there is that one mosquito buzzing in your ear?

I had three.  For over three hours.  Would that I had a giant fly-swatter.

The afternoon wore on like Chinese water-torture.  Toxic conversation spilled over my shoulders, rubbing my sensibilities raw.   The men’s banter was not overtly abusive or loud.  Rather, it was pervasively petty and shallow.  I started to wonder who in their right mind would want to marry these guys?

No subject or person was exempt from sarcasm or demeaning observations, all delivered in a bored and superior tone.  And the depth of subject matter for the entire afternoon?  A thimble would certainly hold more.

Throughout the game, I became privy to barbed bits about their wives, children, jobs and even churches.  Sadly, I now know their most awkward co-workers, hated neighbors and former girlfriends.  How can I forget their snide descriptions about the physical attributes of each member of the women’s lacrosse team as they took the field to be recognized?

Did I mention I was trapped for three hours?

I kept thinking “Is there anything these men won’t belittle or reduce for a quick laugh?  Are they really this shallow?”

It would be unsettling in any arena, but in this patriotic, historic and heroic place, it was particularly so.  I wanted to reach over and cover my three boys’ ears.

“These guys are common”, my husband whispered after an hour, noting my distress.  Common is one of his favorite descriptive terms gleaned from his grandfather who was a coal-miner in the mountains of West Virginia.

According to Paw Paw, who completed high school before entering the mines for the rest of his life, being “common” meant displaying a notable lack of graciousness, a person without inner character.

Despite his lack of formal education, Paw Paw was not common.

Ah, the irony.

These men had graduated from one of the most character forming institutions in the land, and yet twenty years later were showing no obvious character of note.  They pounced on every flaw, had nothing uplifting to say at all, and seemed totally and physically incapable of any verbal restraint whatsoever.

It was disappointing.

Aloof and obviously well-educated, I am sure the men had plenty of valuable connections available at their fingertips.  They were articulate and not unattractive (if you didn’t have to listen to them) and likely would make a very good first impression in an interview, especially with their Naval Academy pedigree paving the way.

So, why did I want to protect my kids?

Because the air was foul with the smell of weakness.  It reeked of real human potential gone bad.  Laziness and cowardice hiding behind pathetic punch-lines.  Paw Paw’s famous “common” on display.

This is not how fathers, husbands and leaders should speak.  Men should exhibit more depth in their interaction, as even a coal miner could tell you.  Individuals blessed with so many opportunities should not have to persistently lessen others for a laugh.  They should, at the very least, have more interesting things to say!

Character, that inner self that values doing the right thing at all times, is not bestowed automatically to those able to enjoy higher education and training.  Leadership, or the ability to build others up, also doesn’t just happen.

Both leadership, and the lack thereof, takes years of training one way or another.

Maturity and substance become evident when I show restraint and care with my words, whether on the job or not.  However, a practiced and ready habit of noting failure and flaws at every turn gives me away for the commoner that I am.  When I routinely cannot find and the beauty or the gifts of others, I have no substance myself.

What verbal habits am I cultivating in my “down time” when I am not working and I think no one is listening? 

If you are lucky enough to be around a true leader (and many graduate from the Naval Academy!), you will notice that you genuinely enjoy the conversation and the company.  You won’t feel belittled, nor are you uncomfortable because someone else is being skewered.  There is an easy hospitality present.

You feel safe.

Good leaders are are remarkable and rare because they don’t need to reduce others as the rest of the world does.  Rather, they are always adding worth and weight, and even warmth to the people and the conversations around them.  When you are with them, you are safe.

Do my words build or reduce?  What do my words give away?  Who is edified when I speak?  Do others feel safe?

My words matter.  Your words have weight.  They can build teams up or erode relationships down.  Words do not go on vacation when I feel like letting my hair down with friends for the afternoon.

Words point directly to the condition of the soul who utters them.  Words also indicate what I think about the sacred souls who’ve been gathered around me.

May your eyes and words notice the good in others, today.

Grace and peace to you from the farm!

Everything you might never want to know (about gnats)

“How big is your infestation?”

Are these not some of the scariest words you might ever hear?

“It could have qualified as an eleventh plague, “I reply into the phone, “There is a cloud of biblical proportions everywhere I go.”

Then Mike, the chatty bug expert, walks me through the entire life cycle of this particular species of gnat, commonly known as a fruit fly. Being early fall, you might be well acquainted with them, too?

Mike brightly details everything I would never-ever-really-want-to-know about gnats. I listen raptly, stunned really, because he obviously delights in this amazing work of understanding what motivates all manner of insects. The phone call lasts 50 minutes.

After a slew of investigative questions such as “Do any of your oranges have green fuzz on them?” and “Do you happen to have an apple orchard outside your kitchen window?” as well as plenty of unrelated personal stories, he unearths my problem.

Compost gone wrong.

Much to my family’s olfactory chagrin, I have had good intentions about starting a compost pile for a long time. This means, I’ve been non-stop talking about, researching, and even collecting the daily peels and grounds. All good, except I haven’t actually dug the “official” compost hole to hold the bounty.

See where this is going?

Not wanting to waste even the teensiest bit of precious organic matter, (“What’s that you hold there, child? A sesame seed? Half a raisin found on the floor? Into the compost!”)  I’ve been hoarding piles of organic rot outside the back door, because I was eventually going to produce the most glorious compost matter known to man.

This latest endeavor to deal thoughtfully with our earth has been a dud with the smaller farm hands.

“This is really gross, mom.”

Can I blame them for not embracing the ideal of composting when they must currently pass through the overwhelming stench several times each day to put on their shoes?

But I try…

“Oh, hey kiddos!  Let’s lug this garbage way out back there. See that hole in the far field that mom dug all by herself?  No, past that field…the next one over. Just you wait and see how cool this will be! You’ll help me dump all this stinky trash in, and then it’s going to get all hot and then rot! Then, you can assist me in turning it all over with a shovel once in a while and THEN you can help me spread it all over the vegetable garden! Organic broccoli and Brussel sprouts! Isn’t that great?!”

I must say their gag reflexes work beautifully.

So it was a solitary effort on a Sunday afternoon that I took my shovel to a sunny spot behind the car port to dig, and to think happy thoughts.

One day, I realize anew, I will return to the earth.

While somewhat sobering, and something I don’t usually bring up at parties, this is the most powerful anti-venom I have found to ungratefulness, pride and depression.  When I remember that I will one day return to the earth, a strong heart and mind response is in order.

Each hour I am given today has been granted by my Maker. Not only that, but those given hours are pressing me on toward real life, or death.

Death = lots of minutes, hours, days strung together without thought of our loving Maker and lots of anxious thoughts that I can make or break myself and plan my future.

Life = even one second (imagine an hour, a day, a life?) where I remember I have a loving Maker who shapes and makes me, and carries me along in his good and perfect will.

I choose life.

My last given breath will be an adios to decay and a leap into a vivid, growing life where nothing need die in order that something fruitful may live. Until then, I want to remember more often that I have been made for something, thanks be to God.

Gnats, I now know thanks to my new best friend, Mike, are attracted to decaying things.

I wonder at the troubles, the worries, the distractions that hover around me in an irksome, awful cloud some days. What decay have they found? Where are they breeding? What can I do to be rid of them?

The real and spiritual tell-tale gnats pester me quietly until I can take it no more. They point to the death outside my door and in my inner spaces and it is enough to move me to action.

Dig and remember. Remember and give thanks.

I may have to work some more on the kids:)

Chicken Quartet?

The time is precisely 4:10am.

“This is terrible.” I hear David mutter and I think he’s talking in his sleep.  He gets out of bed, paces around a little.

Before he shuts the creaky farm windows,  I am privileged to hear it, too.

A rooster is crowing.  The sound is not unlike an enthusiastic, sixth-grade trumpet player who’s just been given permission to blow into his instrument for the first time.

The very, very bad brass solo is coming from our hen-house.

To bring you up to speed, during the last eight weeks, we have been the novice caretakers of two-dozen or so baby girl chicks.

Or so we thought.

David has led the charge of making the haunted hen-house and chicken yard secure.  He and the boys have spent endless weekend hours shoring up windows and doors, fixing fences and posts, in addition to constructing warm nests and elevated roosts for the girls.

During the coop overhaul, we’ve (me mostly) shed some tears over the loss of three chicks to date, possibly due to the following:

#1. A hawk

#2. A fox (this was the worst, a fox isn’t doesn’t usually hunt chickens for food.  It will just kill the chicken for fun by removing it’s head and leaving the body for you to find.  I won’t include a picture.)

#3 A bad internal chicken GPS (poor gal might still be wandering the eastern shore, who knows?).

But we did not expect to lose a hen due to her being a rooster!

Like I said, we are bumbling along.

I have no idea what we will do, now.  We are gladly take all suggestions.  Especially since there are three other “hens” with similar…er….masculine characteristics.  Let’s hope they prefer another chicken outlet (quiet interpretive dance?  poetry? laying eggs?) to the raucous, pre-dawn, cock-a-doodle-dooing we were privy to this morning.

Because, if I know my very special agent at all, much as he loves his fowl, he is not going to sit by while four young roosters form a cocky, pre-dawn brass band.

Pray for us.

 

It just slipped out…

It just slipped out.

“…Well…you know…I’m a Texas girl”.  I shrugged meekly, as if that explained everything.

Wow.  That was a weird answer to “So, how do you like it here?” posed by a kind stranger standing at my elbow in the check-out line.

I think it had to do with the wind today.  Blowing from the west, it whipped our red, blue and lone white star banner, and I sat in the welcome morning sun and watched it with mixed emotions.

The very first thing to happen when we arrived at our farm, overwhelmed with fatigue, emotions and fast-food grime after our three-day trek from Austin, was to hang that darn flag.

Of his own accord, my brother-in-law assembled the rusty hardware on the front porch, knowing intuitively that it was really important to get that done.

Pronto.

Before someone, whose name rhymes with Lim,  melted down into a puddle and decided to drive three days back home.

Did I ever say thank you, Bill?

If I am honest, this yearning for another home is ever-present in me and always has been.

Today, I hunger for Texas.  But there have been countless times while living in that fair state that I’ve dreamed of another country, city, or culture where I could make my home and be more fulfilled.

If money or other obligations were no consideration, where would you go to call home?

Why?

Would you go back to a beloved place, or would you venture forth into the new-slate unknown?

This is the weird thing.  We’ve both lived long enough to know that if and when we would arrive there, it would not be the home we’ve quite imagined or remembered.

Nothing in this life can possibly be.

There will always something that rudely mars the beauty, disturbs the peace, scuffs up the dream.  Children grow, people leave, spouses disappoint, relationships cool, and our acquired stuff and obligations weigh heavy in the too few hours each day.

Even on the best of days, when contentment and rest sit quietly nearby, I stay nostalgic for a home that can’t be attained fully, or recreated completely.

What is the root of this yearning to find true home, to cultivate and live in real beauty?  And is it useful or even right to seek these things when so many sit in squalor, displaced, homeless?

These are good questions for me these days.  They slow my thinking, sharpen my senses and quicken my heart’s interest in giving thanks.

This soul-searching naturally ends in thoughts about heaven, my eventual home.

If I take a thoughtful minute, I know this place (and I do believe it will be an actual, physical, tangible place) is what I really seek in my bones…

I’ll write about that next.

Blessings to you and yours, and peace in your home this day,

Kim

Waiting Underground

Monday’s index cards read: “Clean Coop”, “Compost?” and “Plant bulbs”.

Easy choice.  Out to the flower beds I go!

Yep, these are some of the same beds that were crawling with poison ivy and mocking weeds just a few months ago when we arrived at the farm.  The weeds aren’t so haughty now, I must say.

It’s a strange thing to wait half a year for something to arrive, isn’t it?  

I consider this while stamping my boot down firmly over a deep hole that now entombed a solitary tulip bulb.  It’s disconcerting to my modern senses, this waiting around idly for twenty-six-or-so weeks; nothing more for me to do but wonder and hope.

During those wintry hours of me waiting by the fire, however, the buried bulbs are hardly idle.  They will suffer the frigid winter, groan underground, crack through crinkled skin, and finally burst open in the dark, cold dirt sometime in April.

As if that’s not enough, five or six months from now, their roots will also have to fight, tooth and nail, to race their poison ivy neighbors up towards the sunny surface…where I’ll most certainly be waiting to greet one and murder the other.

These will be need to be some very tough and feisty tulips.

Through those months of short days and long, cold nights, the bulb’s ultimate task will be to die.  If she doesn’t crack, her roots won’t grow and the tulips won’t show.

Pretty sobering, I must say.

Isn’t it nature’s way to point us to simple truth?

Occasionally, we are buried deep in some solitary dirt and covered over for a season.  No one can predict when these occasions will arrive, or how long they’ll remain.  Maybe you are there, now?

That time has certainly arrived for me!  It doesn’t take much investigative soul-searching to realize.

My gentle Gardener has stamped his boot down firmly on the loam of my life, pressed me squarely into the earth and told me to be still and wait awhile.

“Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him”

Scary thing is that I know I need to crack, to shed, a part of me to die, even.

Sweet thing is that through this dying, there is promised an eventual and timely beauty. When the moment is right and the Gardener is ready for some crazy, wild farm flowers in this corner of his garden, I’ll be ready.

My daily breaths, whether I am waving happily in the sun or buried deep underground,  are given not for my own pleasure and benefit.

Each new breath is given lovingly by the Gardener so that there might be a stunning, fragrant, vibrant Garden of Heaven here on earth.

Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!

“In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:10)

What would it look like?

Welcome, friends.

If you are jumping over from the All About Athlete blog, thanks for making the leap.  I’m sorry you’ve had to traipse the cyber-world with me, but I do hope it will be worth it for us both in the long run.

Given Breath was created for a variety of reasons; the primary one being that upon moving from Austin, and landing unceremoniously at the farm this summer, I’ve found myself writing on topics that aren’t always exactly pertinent to the All About Athlete client.  I pity the poor soul that pops onto the AAA blog expecting a helpful fitness tip and is hit with musings about  South Africa tipping tractors, raising chickens, loneliness, and even poetry, for crying out loud!

Can’t you just picture the dear Nike-clad athlete staring shell-shocked at her computer while reading about tick infestations and feeling very, very confused?

So, here’s a blog that allows more liberty to write about whatever is right here in front of me this day, waiting to be written.  All About Life, you could say.

I will still post to the All About Athlete site, but not as often.  Those articles will be within the limited scope of  being an athlete while the more regular writing here will be about being a human.  So please join me, and keep me company with your thoughts and comments and prayers.

This blog is super easy to followand I encourage you to do so now.  For real.  Go right now and press “subscribe” at the top-right of the page and you’ll see how easy it actually is.  You don’t need to give up any private info and I promise not to sell your email addresses to anyone too very scary.

What would your day look like if you remembered more often that each breath was given?  I am not a betting woman, but I have a feeling this habit would be a game changer.

All the best to you and yours,

Kim