Broken: Five Minute Friday

Five Minute Friday
Broken. Shattered in a million little pieces. That’s how my heart feels today. This Lent hasn’t been pretty. It’s been horrifying, really. The white-washed masks I hide behind revealed as the decaying death they truly are. For weeks I was active in this, asking God to do this work. For weeks we labored together so he could say the truth and I could hear the truth and the truth could set me free.

And then, then there were circumstances that pushed me to the utter brink. A son sick. Passing the illness to the baby. The baby, breathing fast and shallow, heart racing, eyes closing. And even a novice mother of two knew that there wasn’t much oxygen getting in there. By the time a nurse-neighbor said it was time for Urgent Care, my mama’s heart said it was time for the ER so we left and I prayed, urging him to stay awake just so I could be sure. The registration desk didn’t even ask for a paper to be signed; triage took us back immediately, past the waiting room of those without a baby gasping for breath. We began the slow recovery in the days that followed. But no sooner had we started than another dreadful virus touched each man and boy in our house, leaving me up to my ears in vomit-covered linens. Washing, and washing, and washing. So I stopped cooperating with God in this revelation of my false self and starting mothering and nursing and surviving.

But God didn’t stop. Pushed to the very edge I only asked, after days of sleepless nights and smelling like another’s bile and the day that the water stopped working (isn’t this America?! How did this happen this week?), only for five or so minutes just to sit and think. And I didn’t get it. The baby couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t hold it together for one more minute.

So on this day that I live to celebrate the death that brought me life, I find myself shaking my fist at him, partnered with those who did it two thousand years ago. Just five minutes. It’s all I needed. I needed to shower, to write, to think, to sit in the bathroom by myself for just five minutes. But no, I didn’t even get that. This stone-cold heart speaks the lie I didn’t even know I was living: fine, I’ll just take care of myself. It seeps out, weeps out, bleeds out of this lifeless heart: that I’ve been taking care of myself all these years, trusting only in me. Wearing a mask that says something else but deep in this rock-hard heart, I’ve been my own sovereign. No, this is not a mask I wanted him to reveal because it’s not a mask I want to be wearing. But it’s said. Loud and silent simultaneously, it hits me in the face like the slap I deserve and a gentle kiss I don’t. The truth, breaking me.


Writing with the ladies at FMF through Lisa Jo…

Home: Five Minute Friday

Five Minute Friday

It feels like a loaded question when acquaintances ask the benign: “So where are you from?” We’re living in this college town with a lot of other transplanted beings whose roots hurt as much as ours, or probably a lot more. My root system has been waiting to unfurl for years, bound up in wet burlap, hoping that my place would be obvious. For seasons, I was allowed to be home while abroad but the most recent months were spent in emotional and geographic turmoil, when we left what we thought would always be.

The houses are too many to count. The countries are fewer but none became home all the way, down to the toes. The one with the most promise left us bruised and broken, not by life or local friends but by other expatriates. It is bewildering to find yourself homeless while far from home. At a certain point while shuffling belongings into trunks and children into new beds week by week, the terms become meaningless.

And suddenly where we least expected it, we find ourselves unfurling into a life we never could have imagined. A life in America. The challenge is to make ourselves at home, to live the life that is, rather than the one we had always dreamed. Praying over tender roots still unsure that they were meant to live in soil, unaware that the burlap was just the transition.

Writing with Five Minute Friday at

Snow Falling

We watch through the window as snowflakes swirl down from the sky. They are big, overly moist; they don’t stick. I know from growing up in New England that these are flakes that won’t amount to much—school never let out early when it was snowing like this. Probably the temperature is hovering a little over freezing and while it looks beautiful, there won’t be sledding snow today. My four year old son bounds back from the window to his room, yelling over his shoulder, “Mama, I’m going to put on my snow boots.” He doesn’t know about snowflakes. Any snow is worth sledding in to him. I tell him that we probably won’t get to sled and he stops in his tracks, curious. “But why, Mama?” I try to explain what I know from experience but I come up short. How do I make him understand what I know to be true? The thought gives me pause because it reminds me how different his childhood has been. How he knows things I am still learning as an adult. How his life has been shaped in a few short years by growing up in a land that isn’t his.

When we returned to America for the birth of his little brother, he asked me casually, “So what do I do here when I hear gun shots, Mama?” Of course his grandmother was listening in; she masked her abject horror. The protocol was the same—just come inside as quickly as you can and move away from the windows. I didn’t tell him he probably wouldn’t hear gunshots here; I didn’t know how to answer all the questions that would spring up from that conversation.

He asks me if I remember that place we would take an airplane to get there, to have hamburgers, and aren’t those the best hamburgers in the world, Mama? They are so good and you can’t even get them here. No, you have to go clear to Nairobi for a Java House hamburger and they are the best when you haven’t had a hamburger in eight months and you are playing on a playground that is really just a large rock with a tunnel through it but you live in a place where there are no playgrounds. And his first library is an alcove outside an office with three tall bookshelves full of books and it’s amazing. His love for riding the bus makes spending an extra thirty cents feel priceless so we ride it again and again. When the power goes out during nap time and it’s at least 115 degrees, we dress and I veil and we trudge down stairs to ride with the hot wind blowing like an exhaust fan through the curtained bus windows.

I marvel at him. Because I spent my whole life living on Pequot Trail and my parents still live there and their phone number is the same. He has had a passport since he was ten days old and one of his favorite stories is our ridiculous antics of trying to get him to open his eyes for the passport photo and hold his head without showing our thumbs because the American government won’t let us crop his ears digitally since September 11th. He has been a resident of three countries and a citizen of one he has only begun to experience. He is four and asks me all the time when we will start learning another language again and I was four without knowing a world existed. When did I first see a map? I knew about snowflakes but I didn’t know that there were different kinds of people who spoke different languages and lived different stories. And I didn’t know that we are so much the same if we will gently enter a different story. That we can be changed for the best when we live into another narrative without telling stories of all the odd things “they” do. I was eleven before I flew the first time; my mother tells me that I reported I could see the eye of God up above those clouds. He was barely five weeks and I could hardly stand straight when he first crossed the Atlantic and he has seen God’s beauty in deserts and coral reefs and faces so unlike his own.

So when he proudly brings his beautiful blue L.L. Bean backpack to me to show me all he has packed for his first day at kindergarten club, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when he reveals a full roll of toilet paper because, “Mama, you just never know if they’ll have it.” He heard it here first, and watched me stuff toilet paper in my purse before every outing.

He doesn’t know about snowflakes. He can’t understand why he can’t just take a piece of candy at Kroger because every shopkeeper used to give him a lollipop and a glass-bottled Sprite while his mama shopped. He used to sit in the passenger seat of a Toyota SUV and bounce along unpaved roads with his papa and his still bristles a little at the buckling of a car seat. He (and I) both scan the ground for sizeable rocks when an unleashed dog bounds up to us at a park here; it’s a habit we can’t break. Or one we don’t break. Because there are pieces of both of us that miss our lives, those other lives. The ones we lived when he didn’t learn about snowflakes but he knew how to wave down a bus and could understand the sign language of the young man leaning out the door, telling us, “It’s full.” Those lives of dreaming from another country about a Java House hamburger. Those lives that make me aware of all the ways we don’t fit in either place all the way. The lives that have shaped us.

Ordinary: Five Minute Friday

On Fridays (and Saturdays when Fridays are too full), I write with the wonderful people of Five Minute Friday. We write for five minutes, with a one-word prompt and just go. No over-thinking, no intense editing, just writing to write. And I’m loving it!

Five Minute Friday

Brother Lawrence and his ability to commune with God over a sink full of dishes used to irritate me to no end. I wash and clean and wipe and sweep but never do I understand how the God of the universe can be present with me. My mind wanders and my thoughts willfully stalk away from all things good to engage that thought I have no business thinking. Meeting with God has required quiet and time and silence and solitude, all good things to be sure.

I meet him in my imagination. Following the advice of those wiser and more mature than me, I seek God’s help in entering the stories of the Gospels in order to share those experiences with Jesus. From my point of view, it makes sense. The very heart of how we desired to live overseas was to enter into shared stories as we grew in our ability to participate in a different cultural world. So entering into the stories of the Gospels resonates on a very deep level, especially when spiritual direction David Benner reminds me that I do this with no motive, no agenda except being with Jesus. No divine word, no peaceful feeling, no answer to my immediate circumstances is necessary—just spending a few moments using prayerful imagination to see the story more deeply, and hopefully engage with the one living the story.

The moments are so ordinary. There are weddings and walks and meals. Markets and temples and dust. Sicknesses and brokenness and misunderstandings and learning. Stories and answers and more and more questions. Imagination takes over. I marvel at how quickly I read over a brief sentence setting the stage when I realize how long the walk actually took. What was Jesus thinking about during those miles? Did his world have donkey carts? I wonder out loud to my husband if Jewish rabbis in the first century wore frontlets. I trail behind him sweeping through markets that are as loud and colorful and bustling as those in East Africa I have experienced and we come to the Temple. We enter the Holy Other but the stillness and coolness evade us; the market has seeped right into the Temple courts. And it takes him a long time to braid a cord to drive those animals out. Time enough to think and pray and know certainly what his God would have him do.

So I enter into his ordinary moments and live them with him. No doubt, some skeptics will think, I import too much Africa and not enough historical knowledge of first century Palestine. That’s very likely. But the miracle isn’t really in having it all right—it’s in living life together. As I enter his story quietly, a few moments a day, I find him entering mine. My ordinary becomes a place he can live with the same humanity and simplicity I’ve watched him live in his. Our ordinaries intersect and leave us knowing one another better. Me, because I have much to learn. Him, because when one wills to reveal oneself, you learn, even if you already knew her inside and out.

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