Child’s Pose

I stretch face down, my nose
pressed into the pile
of the carpet, lungs dusted
with the remnants of early
summer wind storms; no matter
the amount of sweeping, the aroma
is dry and dust. A rust-clay
stain and the places the two-year
old has expressed his newfound
skill at directing his pee,
the marker ink tracking
race car lanes in a loose s-curve,
the crumb of pizza crust, dried
tomato sauce like so much pollen
fringing the edge, the almost
ivory llama color of this rug we chose
from the clearance rack, because of course
it wouldn’t last, and the grape-juice
purple and chocolate-ice-cream-colored
ones were not on discount. The lines
from where a butter knife gouged
miniature troughs, a curled-up bandage
from a make-believe scrape, bits
of crayon-label paper littering the corner,
scattered scraps and snatches, a fleeting
testament to the collected order
in this chaos, the fullness
of my days.

Mango

The flavor of San Francisco,
honeymooning in juice
bars and smoothie shops.
Butter luscious, smooth, and ripe
with a pepper bite, sweet
and spice kissing like

chutney. The taste
of Las Vegas, the saffron
color sorbet crowned
with blackberries, the craving
for fresh fruit flaming
from my six-months swollen

stomach. Season of waiting, baby
in me ripe and almost ready, when
I found mangoes at a discount and greedy
filled my bags, only to break
out angry in rash round
my eyes, lips, and hands.

My two sons feast on the fresh
fruit as I carefully slice a slip
from the stone, pass it to a small
palm and summer wafts
warm in my nostrils. This
is the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

Marriage Letters: How We Co-Labor

My response to this month’s Marriage Letters prompt at Amber Haines’ blog.

We swayed for an hour, shower spraying hot on my back and my head glued to your chest. The midwife was on her way from another state, the apprentice gone to get her supplies, having realized this baby was coming along quicker than most first babies tend to. We leaned into each other like two walls of a pyramid, and time ceased to mean anything, the two of us passing through this transition unawares. Your arms held me up when my body needed to pull south; I hung, pressing my forehead into the strength of your chest, and in between surges we rocked and you spoke blessings into my damp hair. This labor, this bringing forth new life, was a joint effort, and for all your exclamations and others bandying about words like “rock star,” I knew we had done it together, as a team.

The pastor who counseled us before marriage told us only ten percent of couples could handle working together, a challenge that raised my hackles. At the time, we thought of my joining you in your career, and when it didn’t work out, I wondered if the pastor was right and we fell into the other ninety percent. Turns out, I just had no passion for real estate, or administration. Plus, I hate making phone calls. But working together? That’s what we do every day.

It looks pretty conventional in this season; many days I am padding barefoot in the kitchen when you leave, suited and tied, for the marketplace. I’ve always enjoyed cooking for you, and you are the planter-of-trees and keeper-of-the-cars.

I’m zoomed-in close-up of a caterpillar, and you’re big-frame picture window with a view of the mountains. I love polishing your words; you help me make connections. I am focused concentration and you are all passionate, spontaneous energy. I’m spend-an-hour-on-line-edits, and you are Big Ideas and Get-It-Done.

Many times I have wailed, But what am I doing? I feel lost in these carousel days of diapers, sippy cups and sleeplessness. Days stretch like an ocean around me and I’m floating with no landmarks in sight. This season of small-child parenting is challenging, demanding, just plain hard. My frustration has at times led me to unfairly accuse you of making your work more important than mine. Yet you encourage me on a daily basis that I am doing good work and well, this nurturing of small ones, and you reassure me that there will indeed be more time for other dreams and projects, for different work.

You are my greatest champion. You, wisely, have always known this adventure we’re on will look different at every stage, and cheer me on in the small victories: the phone call placed, the poem finished, the books read, the meal prepared, the song performed. Sometimes one will bear a little more of the weight of supporting than the other at times. Sometimes support looks a lot like you leaving for work each day so I can follow my heart in mothering this way.

This work of ours is ordering Creation together: each dish washed, every diaper changed, each presentation made, every weed pulled, each line written, each client helped, each chord played is nurturing the soil of our family, chipping away at dysfunction and disorganization, making room for new things to grow, living the art we make every day.

In my macro lens mind, I can’t see where it’s going, how it will all add up, what the purpose is.  But this I know: We are birthing something new here, each day and season a series of expanding and contracting, of gestating and of bringing to light.
“And we’re doing it together,” as you so often tell me.

Thank you for eight years this month of creating together, Love.

On Taking Up Space

“…I think [a woman] should have the right, on occasion, to move in extravagant clouds of her own making. The right to sail forth with all flags flying while the rest of us tumble about in her wake. The right, when she wants it, to take up some space.”
-Alyssa Harad, Coming to My Senses

This is what I want from this dance thing, I think, as I watch our instructor execute a jumping turn, knees bent behind her, toes pointed and arm like a streamer over and around her head. Her gracefulness defies the simplicity of the jump. Simplicity notwithstanding, I am still self-conscious to attempt it. Memories of a wood floor rushing up to crash into me during my very brief ballet experience, as well as multiple falls ice skating, seem to have written it in my bones: awkward, clumsy. But this, this freedom in breaking contact with the floor, the lightness and whirl and flowing arms, all bound in certain beauty, this is the desire that sparked in me when this instructor invited me to join her folk dance class.

I wanted to feel beautiful in my bones–beauty in the movement and graceful in taking up these spaces. More than just taking up space.   I want to inhabit, to grace the space. The stage is a three dimensional canvas, and we are taking the paint to all the corners, leaping, turning, running this chain of bodies from curtain to edge.  We are striving to cover the ground, and risk results more approximating a game of crack-the-whip than a daisy chain.

There is beauty in all the styles we’ve learned tried. I loved the loose, bouncing Turkish dance mimicking fishing nets and undulating waves of the sea– its allure was in its strength, its power grounded in forceful stomps and kicks; and the energetic beauty of the Bollywood was colorful and exhilarating even without bright-hued silks adorning us. But this Israeli dance has the type of traditional beauty I’ve always felt eluded me. The steps are balletic– saute, chasse, glissade– delicate, with a strength that buoys them.

And it is worship.  Eyes lifted, arms an offering,this dance is a gathering of gratitude for providence and harvest, a dance of praise, of grace.

We grape-vine a circle, opening our bodies as much as possible.  We want to be more than we are.   I imagine the larger stage, wonder if I will be able to stretch my legs long enough to cover the ground. Our instructor smiles at an invisible audience, and I hope my sinews and muscles will learn this lightness, that I will be able to smile soon, too.

***

Dancing is such a bold act, a brazen way of taking up space. Of saying that I deserve to be here. That Someone values me, and deems me Worthwhile. My small sons know this intuitively. They fold and fling their limbs, leap the rug and laugh. The music flows from their fingers and toes. They haven’t learned inhibition yet, or the desire to blend in; they never worry about being in the way.

I delight in their dancing.

So I bring the unfamiliar combinations home, practice the toe-points and twirls, leaping in my bedroom, in front of the mirror, in front of my sons. They smile small and curious, inviting and encouraging. I laugh at my dizziness, at myself, at the fun I am having.

Motherhood–the gestation and birthing, the nurturing and nourishing, the dancing with my children– has been writing a new story in my bones: My body is good. My body is blessed.

 

 

Marriage Letters: Once Upon a Time

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I’m taking Amber Haines up on her invitation to write Marriage Letters every month. This month’s prompt was Once Upon a Time.

Dearest,

Once upon a time I dreamed of flying with you, of snugging into the window seat and watching the horizon for surprises.  Then, when that dream finally came true, you were the one who surprised me with our honeymoon location, revealed only with the airline attendant’s words as he handed us our tickets: enjoy your flight to San Francisco.  We went to that city without any plans, only hopes of discovery and adventure.

Once upon a time I jumped out of a plane with you.  Temporary insanity, apparently, since I would never do anything that risky again.  But the calm (like you were in line to buy a snowball, you said) was unlike anything I’d ever experienced; even in this crazy adventure, I knew I could trust you.  Someone wisecracked after we tied the knot: You trust this guy?  With my life, I shot back.

Once upon a time, you taught me to dance merengue, cumbia, cha-cha.  I wanted to spend my days dancing with you.  I thought the metaphor of a ballroom dance would carry us through.  I trusted you with the steps, with my very life.  I still trust you, not because I think you know all the steps, but because we are learning the steps together every day, trusting the Master Choreographer together.

Once upon a time, I thought I was patient.  I hung, perched on your words, admired the depth of your insights and watched, waiting, as your thoughts rolled past us all like a train bound for lands uncharted. Now I so often find myself ready to steam along when you are silent, impatient for your thoughts to slow to a stop so I can jump aboard, take the helm and switch tracks.  Forgive me.

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Once upon a time I thought our birth orders–firstborn girl, last born boy (with sisters, to boot)–was an omen of our success; after all, I’d read that in a book somewhere.  I thought I understood what marriage was hard work meant.  I didn’t realize marriage was like a rototiller doing the work on me, unearthing all the rocks of self-centeredness, churning up worms in all the tender places, long-guarded, that something new might grow.

Once upon a time, I hadn’t a clue about grace.  Sure, I had faith in Jesus, but it took someone who had experienced God’s extravagant grace extending it to me, day in and day out– seeing me at my most selfish and least gracious, and telling me gentle in the most broken of moments, “I love you,”–  to show me what it really means.

Thank you, Sweetie, for the dance, the adventure, the growth, and the grace.

Love,

Norissa

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More Questions than Answers: Tuning In, or Tuning Out?

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I’m thinking a lot about asking questions lately, about certainty, doubt, what I know that I know, what may stand some adjustments.  Some of this has to do with my lifelong habit of thinking in terms of What If? (This is both a blessing and a curse, a subject for another post).

So I’m trying to keep track of my questions, and one of the things I’ve been reflecting on is the nature of Self-care.

So many times, when I’m especially tired, I restlessly seek a quick fix–a scroll down Pinterest, a bowl of chocolate ice cream, magazine fodder.  Escape.

But what I really need, what actually nourishes, takes a bit more time, more intention.  It requires marginAnd it’s tuning in, rather than tuning out.  It’s taking the time to notice why I’m feeling depleted, and ask myself what I most need at this time.  So many times, though, I am like a caged animal anxiously seeking any escape possible.  Escape is not the same as self-care.  Escape is about tuning out my feelings, my circumstances, the ones who need me and only leads to further retreating, and further selfishness.

I’ve found that true self-care, though, leads to care of others.  When I choose things that are truly renewing, that refill my emotional, physical, and spiritual reserves, they contain the common element of tuning in: to myself, to others and to God.  From the simplest of activities–a walk in nature, a hot bath, reading a good book; to the most luxurious, say, a massage– silence and space are often involved.  The opportunity to inhabit my body, my emotions, my circumstances, and relationships.   Space to question, listen, and receive.  When I take the time to notice the true need beneath my restlessness and anxiety, I can better take care of myself.  And once I’ve helped myself recharge, I can tune into those around me and help take care of them.

Along these lines, for me, watching a television show, for example, is usually a way of tuning out; it leaves me more depleted than recharged, and results in my being more selfish as I grasp at anything that seems like an escape, unwilling to relinquish any more of my already dwindling energy and time.  Like getting caught in quicksand, thrashing about to get out of the discomfort as quickly as possible only results in more sinking and more panic.  But if I find the strength to slow down and relax with intention, I can slog out of the pit.

So my first line of questions when evaluating whether an activity is actually self-care or an attempt to escape:

Does this tune me into my self, to my relationships, and to Christ?  Or does this attempt to tune out those voices and needs?  What is the underlying need for me to address here?

The second question that I want to ask:

Is this what I want to teach my kids about taking care of themselves, the example I want to set for them? 

I want them to learn healthy ways to take care of themselves, to take time for being outside, for resting and exercising, for getting their cup filled so they can continue helping others.  So, in practical terms, if exercise, for instance,  becomes a way to escape my family and responsibilities–going to the gym every day by myself for hours, for example–then maybe that’s not the example I want to give them.  Getting us all out the door for a walk in the neighborhood when tensions are rising, on the other hand, is always a good choice.

And so, a question for you:  What qualifies as self-care for you?

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Changing Plans

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A few weekends ago, we headed out for a drive through the country, looking forward to open vistas, an extended conversation, a walk in the country.  We passed a small stone church on the outskirts of the county, one that seemed anomalous in our corner of the southwest.  I’d like to get a picture of that, I mused aloud, and, careful what you wish for, the next thing we drove over a jagged piece of metal that planted itself in the front tire of our van.  So we pulled off into the parking lot directly across from the little chapel where all three boys assessed the damage and proceeded to change the tire.

In his book Margin, Richard Swenson, M.D., talks about having the space and time to be interrupted, particularly by God, in our lives; that sometimes the most important thing that will happen in the day isn’t on our agenda.  This was one of those times; our outing didn’t go as we had planned, but it was quality time together, all of us learning, and I had the opportunity to record it.

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Donut grin.

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This takes serious effort.

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Questions versus Resolutions

I am finding it more helpful lately to ask questions than make resolutions.  I don’t need another list of shoulds.  Sure, I have goals.  But right now I need joy more than I need progress, and nothing is surer to suck the joy out of life than a giant list of check-boxes.

I’m always asking questions anyway; I’m just trying now to discipline my mind to make room for certain questions each day.

How can I practice self-care today?
How can I nurture my family today?
Who can I encourage?
How can I preserve peace, and foster simplicity today?

One Word for 2014: Joy

On one recent occasion when I remorsefully apologized for essentially blowing up at my four-year-old for being an annoying, over-tired, wired and immature little human boy, E. nodded and mmm-hmmmed as I listed my transgressions. Then he spoke soft prophet-words: the way to not be bad is to just relax (pronounced wuh-lax, in case you were wondering).

I’ve been turning those words over and over in my head the past couple weeks, considering them from different angles as I’ve reflected on goals and what kinds of changes I want to make. Relax wasn’t the exact word I wanted to focus on for this year, a’ la Oneword365, but it lead me to a few.  The word I keep circling back to, though, as I consider a central theme for this year is joy.

Some broad-strokes for how I want this word Joy to color 2014:

I want to not stress out so much, to relax into the joy of being with my little ones.

I want them to remember me smiling, rather than scowling, in their young years, to have a deep, abiding sense of being delighted in and loved for who they are.

I struggle with discontent; I want not only to find God’s grace in each moment but also take joy in every circumstance.

I want to clear away the extraneous, the clutter and dross–physical, mental, and emotional–that are obstacles to nurturing my relationships and doing the things I enjoy.

Taking care of myself is a challenge and sometimes, I hate to admit, a chore as a mama of littles. I want to revive some of the ways of self-care that have brought me joy in the past, as well as find new ones in this season.

Cooking and food has not involved much joy lately, a result of the combination of too much information, too many choices, and too little energy.  I want to worry less, and eat with joy.

Joy seems like a good antidote to perfectionism, and I want my goals to be process-focused as I learn, grow, and practice this year; however much or little I accomplish or produce, I will take joy in the process, knowing my Heavenly Father sings over me with joy.

Grace to Show Up: a Guest Post for A Feast of Crumbs

I wrote a guest post for my good friend Emily Luna’s wonderful blog, A Feast of Crumbs, where she chronicles her spiritual journey one breadcrumb at a time.

I feel like I keep failing the Sunday morning test. The one where I’m supposed to get myself and the two kids ready and out the door for church without yogurt smears on my skirt or sweet potatoes caked in their hair, and without going all Crazy-Mom on the four-year old when he strips his pants and underwear off to go potty and will not be wrangled back into them 20 minutes past our departure goal. The one where I’m supposed to show up on time…

Head over to her blog to read the rest, and while you’re there, check out Emily’s beautiful writing, too!