1000 Gifts-Week 34

Usually on these days I write a list of gifts small and large over the past week. Sometimes paragraphs tell the story best. This is one of those weeks.

I take the smallest of steps toward God. Make time to pray. His response, so all out of proportion to my furtive stumbling blows me away. Yet again I remember how good, how generous he is.

I wake up at 6:30 am to the quiet beep of the alarm, on the days when Aaron doesn't have to work early and kisses me awake on his way out the door. I prefer the second way. Sometime in the night Little crept into my bed and now lays snuggled beside me.

As quietly as possible I sneak out of bed and don workout clothes before making my way into the living room. I cherish this quiet dark silence. I don't want little needy voices disturbing me yet.

I light candles on the piano and kneel at the bench, not because I am very pious, but to remind my sleepy body to stay awake. This is my early morning meeting with God, and it is very good. My hand in his, we talk about the people he has given me to love, and the places where I have influence, and I ask again for his will to be done, for him to walk with me through this day.

Sleepy heads tumble out of bed as I finish praying and snuggle in for kisses and hugs in the candlelight, one for each of them, for a few moments before the rest of the day begins.

After morning chores and breakfast we gather together at the bench once more. The Lord's Prayer for us a rabbinical mnemonic, teaching us how to pray. (Matthew 6:9-15) Squirmy bodies kneel and try to be still as we walk through it together. This is our meeting place.

To whom do we pray?
Our Father,
in heaven.
What is He like?
Holy is your name.
What does that mean, holy? Complete, perfect, whole.

Hand in hand once more we ask the maker of the universe, who tells us to call him Father
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
For once the hearts and minds of men come into His kingdom His will shall be done.

We are specific. We pray for our neighborhood, our home, for Burma, for the villages in Thailand. I tell them to listen, perhaps He has something special he wants to do today through their prayers.
Give us today our daily bread.
We ask for work to do. We ask for people who will give to the children's home. We ask for blessing on the people who have been generous to us and those we love.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
It is a moment of confession, for all of us. A daily soul searching. It isn't optional, this choice to forgive. It is one of the inescapable elements of Jesus teaching in this passage. You may not expect to receive forgiveness from God if you will not extend it to others.

So we ask forgiveness , and we choose to forgive. God meets us here, in these moments. He greets our halting, imperfect baby steps with a flood of grace that never ceases to amaze me. I watch my children transformed by a process so simple, yet pointing to truths so rich they will spend their lives trying to understand them. They run up to me in the middle of the day now after a fight with a friend. "Mommy, I want to forgive her, may I go and tell her I forgive her?"

In the process their anger and passions rule them less and less. They are being changed.

We memorized Galations 5:22-26 this month.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
The first verse is easy enough for children to understand. If your heart were a garden what kind of plants would grow in it? If the spirit of God is in your heart you can tell because you will find these things there. But how do I explain verse 24 to a 5 year old and a 7 year old?

So we talk about how we were once God's, but believed the evil one and gave ourselves to him. How he owned us. How all of the Bible is the story of our Father in Heaven trying to get his kids back. How he came himself, as one of us, to walk with us and to give himself in exchange for us. How he then defeated the evil one in a way no one expected, could ever have imagined, by that sacrifice. How he won back the earth that we gave away along with ourselves, and all of us.

We talk about their naughty part, what it wants. Does it ever want good? We talk about how we can put our naughty parts every day up on that cross, where Jesus won us back, and not let it own us or be in charge of us anymore, with the help of his spirit in us.

I am tempted every day to skip through these parts. There is reading and writing and history to teach. There is a schedule to keep. This takes so much time. Yet I am reminded every day that I am not just teaching children to read and write. I am shepherding souls with eternal potential into the relationship they will have with the the maker of all. I am giving them the space to learn how to walk with him on their own. This is the real work I am doing, the rest is simply details.
Lead us not into temptation,
Help us to stop ourselves at the beginning, at the moment we first step toward doing wrong. The first moment our naughty part speaks out. Guard us from taking that step, or the next one. Help us not tempt each other to sin by the way we treat each other.
but deliver us from evil.
Protect us, protect our families, protect our brothers and sisters the world over. For them the real meaning of deliver, to save us out of evil, is literally what they need. There are 2000 Karen and Kachin children in Burma with a mysterious and severe illness. Trapped in a place where the government refuses to provide health services, and will not allow international organizations to go in and help, who knows what will happen to them? We pray that they will be saved out of evil.
For yours is the kingdom,
We pray to him because this kingdom of life and light is his.
and the power,
We pray to him because He has the power to answer.
and the glory forever and ever. Amen
We pray to him because he is eternal and worthy of praise and it is from him that all the earth wishes to hear, "Well done."

This is the story I have been living for the past several weeks since we started school again, and thus to pray. Why we don't do this all year is something I cannot answer. I have no good answer for that.

I hesitate to write this, fearful it will sound boastful. That is the opposite of what I intend. Here is the story of God's grace, to meet with me, and with my children, to pour out his love and presence on our lives, far greater than we will ever deserve. It is the story of making space to meet with Him, and being overwhelmed by the fact the He is present when we do. It is an encouragement to take the very first step, stop to meet, and see where he will take you; to remember that he is the good God, and he calls us his children. His goodness is the source of all other gifts we pause to give thanks for.

The gratitude community is here.


Writer's Block?

There are so many things going in my head this month. I'm learning and thinking through some new things and I'm longing to write about them. But I seem unable to pull it all together in a way that is communicable yet. Two attempts already this week have gone by way of the delete button. (The mucus in my sinus cavities may have something to do with that. That is communicable I'm sure.)

There are stories entangled with these thoughts that are not going to appear here because they are confidential. Which may be the other difficulty. Until I can extract the kernels from the stories that I must not tell there isn't much to say.

Then there is the very real and constant conundrum of voice. What kind of blog is this anyway? It's my blog and so it in many ways reflects me, my personality. I am the type of person to be having a deeply intense discussion on the practical aspects of the charismatic ministry of the church one second, or the nature of the divine, and the next laugh myself silly at an episode of South Park, which isn't always funny but sometimes is brilliant, or one of The Bloggess's advice columns, which bring me to tears almost every time I read them. (DO NOT click on that link dad. You will be way more offended by it than the bra post.)

In between those are all of the other things that I think, do, pray and live.

We are, none of us, one dimensional. Is it possible, I wonder, to present here a balanced image of myself? I could write an all devotional spiritual blog, and another on cute things my kids say and their bodily functions, another on my thoughts on marriage, another on justice an poverty, etc. They would each only be a fragment of all that I am.

I am trying to live authentically, both online and off. Yet I find myself pausing before I type certain things, on either end of the spectrum. In my search for balance I tend to stay near the middle, knowing that I may inadvertently offend by either extreme. I don't know if this is the right thing to do or not. It will probably keep being the thing that I do for now.

I do know this. If nothing else the act of telling my story here has in itself altered the story I tell. Or at least the way I tell it. That's another story for another day as well. But I am confident that my life is better because of that shift. So I know I won't be quitting the struggle to continue telling it anytime soon.

Instead of an actual post today you get a post about posting. Sorry about that. It's as much as I can manage to squeeze out right now.


Not for people who are offended by underwear, or vomit.

It has come to my attention of late that the bras I bought a year ago are no longer doing the job for which they were fashioned. That job being to prevent my breasts from doing what nature intended, hang around my belly button.

When I commented on this fact to Aaron he informed me that he had observed the same. If your husband notices the stretched out sags in your dormant bras you can be sure that it is time to get a new one. I said, "I have been waiting for a good time to spend the $30 on a new one but it hasn't come."

"There will never be a good time," he responded, "just go and get one."

To motivate myself I threw the no longer useful items away. What would I wear instead? Why, an old demi-bra from my lingerie shower before our wedding that is two cup sizes too small and itches. But it does hold them up (Why, you ask, do I still have such an item? Well, the straps adjust to halter, and once or twice it has been useful under a dress for an hour or two, however uncomfortable.)

Sunday, I stayed home from church with all of the kids who were once again coughing and snotty, and occasionally vomiting when they coughed really hard. I hoped that when Aaron got home I could walk over to Target/Frederick's and purchase myself a new bra without the cheerful accompaniment of my offspring. (That didn't go so well the last time I tried it.)

The flushed success of his little sister was still ringing in his ears from yesterday, when she returned home with her very first pink bag declaring, "I love Victoria's Secret, and I'm a C cup now. These bras were 2 for $30." He decided I must also go to Victoria's Secret and buy a bra. It was sound reasoning. I could get, theoretically, 2 of a better quality item for the same price as one nearby.

So conveniently forgetting that I have yet to actually buy a Victoria's Secret bra, because they don't fit right, and that the children were being kept home from church for a reason, we all piled into the car and went to the mall.

We haven't been to the mall in more than 2 years.

That was foreshadowing.

The 2 for $32 dollar bras were lovely. And only go up to a D cup. I am sadly at least a DD. They did not fit. I tried to walk out of the store but a sales clerk stopped me at the front and directed me to the far back, where they have other, more expensive bras in my size that aren't padded. She doesn't walk with me to help me find them. She just points.

I waste at least 15 minutes pawing my way through high tech satin to find one lonely 34DD at the back. Whatever happened to arranging things according to size in a lingerie store anyway? Or customer service?

But, it's a demi bra. And I spill out of the top. Victoria's Secret does not go up to an E cup, so I ask the first employee who asks how I'm doing for directions to Nordstrom's. I never did find Nordstrom's, but I did find Aaron and the kids at Playland outside of Sears.

The Girl coughed into his shirt and ended up vomiting as well. It's not much. (foreshadowing) He managed to clean it up with a wet wipe from a nearby mom. The Girl is playing happily. I go into Sears to look there.

There is not a single sales person on the floor and after several minutes of fruitless searching I determine that there are no bras in my size either. I now remember why I hate bra shopping so much.

So I consult with Aaron once again. Do we go home or try Macy's next?

He and the children accompany me to the intimate apparel section of Macy's, where he encourages me to find an employee and get them to find me a bra in my size. Then he found one for me. The kids want to go back to Playland so he retreats with them while I continue the search.

The store employee usually works in the children's section. "Oh my God," she says, when I tell her what size I'm looking for. But she's willing to join the search.

We grab another person who looks as though she belongs in that section, but it's her first day at work, so she doesn't know either. Between the 3 of us we find one bra in the right size. I try it on.

I don't think even my grandma would wear this. (See above photo.) The straps are too close to the neck, there is puckering at the top of the very full coverage tops. In fact, I might as well just buy a sport bra and call it a day.

I leave it hanging forlornly in the dressing room and make my way back to my family.

What I see first is Little playing on a slide, and wonder where everyone else is. Around a column Aaron is sitting on a bench holding the girl between his legs, and then I see it.

Vomit is everywhere. On his arm, his shirt, his pants, her hand, the bench, the floor, everywhere. It is bad. They are frozen, like a moment in a bad tableau, unable to move or the vomit will spread.

The Boy has been sent to summon me from the store, but he went up the wrong escalator and missed me. My first task is to find my son. It is only a little way, but it's too far. I run back to the store and he is waiting at the fitting rooms looking for me.

With him safely retrieved I rush back to Playland, where Aaron and the Girl remain frozen, marinating, waiting for help.

I then run the other way to the far back end of Sears to the bathroom. They start to turn the lights out in the store as I disappear into the dark recesses. The kids start saying, "Isn't mommy in there, why are they turning out the lights?"

Aaron doesn't say, "Yes she is, the mall is eating her."

But I think it may be.

When I return we wipe as well as can be done. Aaron removes his vomit stiffened shirt and makes a half-hearted swipe at the crotch of his pants with the paper towels. I wipe as much as I can from the bench and floor with the remainder and we make a break for the exit.

The lights continue to go out around us. But we escape in time and are soon in the sweet warm air of the parking lot. Sounds of the freeway hum all around us.

Anyone want all the rhinestones I'm going to have to cut off the bra I buy at Frederick's of Hollywood tomorrow?


to find life

Recently I was having a conversation about a mutual acquaintance who has just achieved a wonderful milestone, one they worked hard for.

This person has also been more unhappy than happy for quite some time and the person I was talking to wondered if this achievement would finally do it, would finally give this person some sense of peace or accomplishment that would change their life for the better.

I don't think it will. I'm not sure that meeting goals and finding success will ever be able to meet the truly deep needs that we all have, to feel loved, accepted, and worthwhile.

Some people believe pushing and working for what they want, often at great cost, is being grown up, mature, and the right thing to do. Find yourself, follow your happiness, these are catch phrases for the attempts our society makes to find happiness. Often the work and the things they obtain are good things.

I believe that the method is flawed.

The sign of a true grown up, a truly successful person, is someone who can put aside their own desires for the sake of someone or something more important than themselves. It requires sacrifice of a different kind, the willingness to be selfless, to embrace humility, to lay our lives down.

Happiness is not a thing to be grasped and wrestled into submission, it slips through the fingers of a selfishly closed fist, but often surprises by resting at length in an outstretched hand.


Never a Dull Moment

Do not for a second imagine that just because I am not posting that all is quiet and peaceful here at casa Carrien. Quite the contrary. It has been an eventful week of the kind that taking care of people will draw you into if you truly mean it when you say, "I'm here for you if you need me, just let me know."

It has involved middle of the night knocks on the door, waiting for the police to show up, watching many children while their mom gets important things done, holding someone while she cries for a very long time over a situation that will not change; you know, all the normal stuff that happens in a week.

I will not be telling those stories. They aren't mine to tell. But I can assure you that it is mentally and emotionally draining to be walking through them with the people we have been given to love. I can also assure you that it is very worth it. Aaron and I are of a mind that it is a privilege to be called upon in this way, to be allowed to give help where we already love.

Also there was the start of school, and a return to early busy mornings and time set aside just for the learning conversation we continue to engage in.

I can tell you that after a week of this kind of thing it took all I had to keep it together on Sunday taking care of babies in the nursery at church. (A job I rarely do.) Because keeping 5 babies who want their mommies, all on the verge of tears, distracted and somewhat calm for an hour and a half just so their moms could enjoy sitting quietly for a change was just frustrating, frustrating work. Especially when I've already used up most of my emotional and mental reserves. I particularly don't like nursery because I never left my kids there until they were old enough to enjoy it without crying and it bothers me that other parents do.

But, those moms may have had a worse week than mine and needed the break. I don't know. So I smiled, and colored, and sang silly songs with actions and doled out goldfish crackers to children plaintively calling, "Mama?" while their lower lips quivered ominously.

On the way to church Little vomited all over herself in the car. It was church so a friend with a change of clothes the right size was easy to locate and borrow from. She stayed with Aaron while I was in nursery to keep her from infecting anyone else. It was to late to just stay home.

Yesterday she seemed better; no fever, and she played all day, with the two girls I was watching, who also had low grade fevers. After school there were 7 kids in and out of my house. Then, the Boy's friend puked all over the sidewalk out front.

Today Little woke me up a bit early by vomiting green bile all over me and my pillow. It's not looking good. I'm holding my breath for another round of illness to sweep through our family, yet again.

It's eventful, and the events I can describe. What eludes words is the deep joy that runs under, through, and around a week like this and remains even when I'm bone tired and wonder how much longer before I get a break, and the contentment that attends the sleepy realization at the end of long days that I am doing my best, and it is enough.


One Thousand Gifts-Week 33

The discipline of stopping to notice and say thank-you for every little gift that is bestowed may be the most life changing of all that I have yet endeavored. Will you join me?
  • I walk past the front door again while exercising and there, lit only by the gray light flooding through the door and the candles on the piano is Little, beaming, as the Girl wraps her arms around her while putting on her sweater.
  • The Boy's satisfaction with a job well done.
  • The Girl deciding to forgive one of her little friends, and running over to her house to tell her so.
  • Little- "Mmmm, it taste dewicious!"
  • The unabashed pleasure the Boy takes in being told he has done well.
  • Candlelit silence in the morning.
  • Walks at sunrise.
  • The Boy sneaking his hand into mine as we are walking.
  • My kids swimming with their dad.
  • Well thought of words that feed mind and soul alike.
  • The questions my children ask.
  • "This is my Father's world. Oh let me ne'er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet."
The gratitude community is here.


Fear of Failure

I was thinking last night, as I put the finishing touches on the daily schedule that I hope we can stick to this school year, about how it used to embarrass me to be seen trying anything new. It still does sometimes actually. I would rather Aaron believe that I have it all together and that things just run smoothly than to let him see me posting reminders to myself to learn a new habit, such as remember to put in a load of laundry right after breakfast. I know, how horrible, to let my husband see me making an effort at something. He will think awful things of me if he sees that. No, it doesn't make sense what goes on in my head.

But I've always been this way. I never liked for people to see me practice. They might hear a wrong note. I would rather exercise alone. So no one sees me sweaty and awkward. I would rather not get sleep than post myself a reminder to go to bed.

I don't like to feel that people are checking up on me, measuring me against a standard that I am trying to achieve and finding me wanting. I don't like that little, "I thought you were going to do x...?" question when I have given up or forgotten. I would rather they didn't know that I was trying at all rather than let them see me try and fail.

This of course is messed up. And silly. And I'm getting over it. Because the alternative is, well, not at all pretty. Here in this space I have taken tentative steps toward letting you see the stuff I try, and the mistakes I make, and the things I want to do better.

It wasn't until a bit later last night that I smacked my forehead and said, "I am a classic case of fear of failure that prevents me from achieving things. Just like all those shrinks told me when I was a teenager and I scoffed at them. So, I'm like everyone else pretty much. How boring.

But I had nothing else to write about today, unless you want to see the pretty color coded schedule. On that note, I don't know how much I'll be here this week. We started school today, and I will need to sit on top of people and push them through the new routine for a week or two before it gets easy to get through everything. Wish me, well, perseverance, endurance and patience would be nice.


One Thousand Gifts-Week 32

  • The safe return of the Aaron from Thailand.
  • The Girl in her new traditional Thai clothes sitting on his lap exploring his face with her hand while they smile at each other.
  • Little waking up from nap walking out from the room saying, "I want my mommy."
  • "I love you so, so, so, so, so, so, so, much."
  • The Boy reading Winnie the Pooh with girls cuddled up on either side listening.
  • The Girl gently cradling our neighbor's 2 week old baby in her arms.
  • Mother and daughters weeping as they embrace in prayer.
  • peach crisp with ice cream
  • Hundreds of photos of happy, well cared for kids at the children's home.
  • Impromptu dance parties in the living room.
  • Books arranged in order, ready for school to start.

The gratitude community is here.


7 Quick Takes

1.This story just took my breath away. As a doula I have read a lot of the literature about skin to skin contact being best for baby. That's the first place babies should go after they are born. But that it saved this baby's life takes my breath away.

I'm also angry that mainstream birth practice in this country is still so ignorant of how mother's bodies work, and so brutal at times.

2. I was ordering a book on amazon and remembered that I've wanted to buy a copy of Tales of the Kingdom for a while now. One of my all times favorite books. I planned to read it to the kids this year. But when I went to order it I found out that a second hand used copy would cost more than $35. Why is this? Is it out of print? If you scroll down further you will see that people are selling new copies for more than $100. Someone should find out about this and organize another printing of this excellent book. It is very good, but I can't spend $140 for it.

3. Without really realizing it at first I've been inspired by Elizabeth Foss In the Heart of My Home. Her post about the curriculum she's been writing all her life from the books she's loved and treasured and saved must have got my mind whirling. For a few short days after that I thought that reading The Little Princess to the Girl would be just the thing to inspire her to, well, overcome certain shortcomings that most 5 year old have. I thought the whole idea of Sara acting as a princess would act, even when she faced such difficult circumstances might help her to see the value of self control.

While I was digging out that book, from a very hot and dusty crawl space, I found so many other delightful books that I kept because I loved for one reason or another and so I set them aside as well. I don't think we'll be going to the library for a long time. We have Winnie the Pooh, (first edition) and the Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, also The Princess and Curdie and The Wise Woman, we have an old book of animal stories, and Grimm's Fairy Tales and My Friend Flicka just to name a few. I'm even more excited about this year now.

4. I'm not actually on Facebook all day. It may look like I am, but that's because I never log out of anything when I walk away from my computer. Why would I do that? I'll just have to log in again later. I feel the need to explain this. Apparently some people don't live their entire lives online or keep 20 tabs open at once. Who knew? And they have asked if I'm really on Facebook 24 hours a day and how do I get things done?

So, I am not on facebook all day. My computer is though. It is present for me when I am washing laundry or making dinner, and it catches me up on all that I missed. Reminds me of the electric monk in the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it does all the believing so that you don't have to.

5. I have spent months trying to find someone who wants to take my old toddler potty, booster seat, and portable gas grill by Thermos. Everyone I know already has this stuff. Since I don't have a car I called Goodwill to come pick up, but they don't pick up less than 3 boxes due to the cost of gas. Finally today I was cleaning out the storage room and I just took it all and laid it next to the dumpster thinking someone might see it and pick it up. An hour later all of it was gone. The benefit of living in a quasi lower income neighborhood I suppose.

6. Technology is cool isn't it? I have been able to follow my husband while he's on the other side of the world this week in Thailand. He's been posting updates about his trip on twitter. So I know that he ate pigeon at the children's home, and couldn't stomach the raw dog they offered him in the village but the cooked was alright, and the raw barking deer meat, well... you get the idea. It's an interesting read. To find out more go to, http://twitter.com/CharisProject.

7. I missed Jen's carnival this week about choosing a defining post. One post that would summarize my blog. But I had to try anyway. I wasn't sure I could do it because I am all over the place but I think I found one. So if you are interested you can go and read What High School Didn't Teach Me.

Thanks Jen for hosting 7 Quick Takes Friday


Before it was Iran, it was Persia

We were a young couple with a baby, just moved in to a cute one bedroom walk up near the university with hardwood floors and south facing windows. They were the family that owned and ran the dollar store in a store front of the same building.

Warm, friendly and open, they quickly became real friends. I would stop to chat on my way home, or on the way out while the Boy played with the trinkets at eye level. Her name meant butterfly. From her I learned that Iranian women keep their names when they marry, unlike western tradition.

From him I learned never to confuse Farsi and Arabic. He was not an Arab, he was a Persian, and he was proud of it. "We were Persian long before Islam came," he would tell me as if heritage were more important than religion. To them it was. They were nominally Muslim, mostly to keep the peace. But he kept his beer in the garage anyway.

He was an engineer in Iran. Here he was a shopkeeper. His wife, an accountant, kept them all afloat for a while.

Their adult son was an artist, but could never be content with that. It wasn't a real job. He was studying forestry at the University also. He was discontent, and constantly searching for something more, or something that mattered. We talked long into the night after he closed up the store. We went to one of his exhibits, in the garage the GH renovated for them and turned into a suite. At one point the GH turned to him and asked, "So, are we your only white friends?"

It seemed we were.

They came to our home for dinner and the Boy's first birthday party. We belly danced in the living room that day, and laughed and talked and laughed some more.

They were among the first to greet the Girl when we first took her from the apartment where she was born to meet the world.

But business was slow, and they sold the store. They took some trips back to Iran, and decided to move back there. Their daughter would stay in Canada and finish her degree, but the rest of them were to go back.

When I hear of Iran in the news, it is their faces I see. It is them I pray for. To me it is not just a bunch of crowd shots on the news. It is real people and friends and families. So let's not forget them just because they are no longer a trending topic on twitter, OK?


While we all go quietly about our day, they are saving lives

My friends Levi and Jessie have been great supporters of The Charis Project since the very beginning. The laptop that the GH took with him on this trip for the kids in the home to use was donated by them. They rallied their friends to help us through a crisis last January. They still sponsor one of our children.

A few months ago they left their life in Sacramento and moved to Ethiopia to help establish an orphanage for children who would have been killed by their tribe if they had not been rescued by outsiders. Their tribe believes that certain children are cursed and must be drowned in the river to take the curse away. For the whole story go to drawnfromwater.org

I was going to post something else today, but when I found out that they are running out of money and that their support is waning I had to tell you about it. Maybe some of you will be able to help.

Drawn from Water from Drawn From Water on Vimeo.

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