Thursday, November 22, 2018

Collecting Coins in my Bank


Naming blessings out loud to people who ask me how I am, or writing them down in my journal, or thinking them in my head as is often the case because my hands are busy and the children can't seem to listen for more than a moment to the sweet things I want to share and by the time Philip comes home, I haven't the stamina or words to express them, is a form of depositing coins into my bank account of contentment. Or perhaps it is a bank account of discerning reality or accurately totaling the day's balance.

Each moment or beauty or funny thing the children say acts as a clinking coin, and as I collect, my bank grows heavy. I am saving up for those days when I must break the bank open because the children have rolled on the couch with dusty clothes or because our rabbit dies or because the church service was a bore or because I contracted pink eye from the kids or because Benny's oversized head concerns the doctors or because our grandparents will one day pass away or because our monetary bank accounts aren't enough for the credit card bill or because Phil's Mazda's engine dies.

Those inconvenient or tragic or worrisome creditors come knocking on my door and I must pay out. If I have no money, I will go into debt and quite possibly shake my fist at heaven, saying, "How do you expect me to pay for all this? Why didn't you give me the money?" And all the while it is raining money outside my home. I need only go out with my bucket.

One day's collecting isn't enough to pay out a year's worth of creditors. I must collect daily because daily I encounter disappointments. And besides, when collecting becomes a habit, I find that I shall never go into debt. My piggy bank and cupboards and drawers and bureaus are filled to the top with coins.

Here are a few from this morning's walk:
The men I follow on a breathtaking trail


Trunks of oaks with green nylons

Benny in a red beanie Grandma Taylor knit
Windows of blue that we spy on our walk 
Little hats left behind on the hat rack
A pop of pink and purple in the forest

Manzanita bark the colors of fire
Moss turned bright green in the rain
Rose's nonchalant attitude at getting water in her boots
This spot of wilderness where the children can be wild and adventurous
The view of the forested hillside hiding in the mist outside our cabin window

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Psalm 66: Thanksgiving for the Past Season


For the internet readers. A blog. A celebration.

1 Shout for joy to God, all the Stevens!
2 Sing the proofs of his faithfulness for the last few months;
    make his praise as loud as our neighbor's garage band.
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your plans!
    So great is your arranging of a nanny for us,
    and now the marriage of Katie and Alec.

4 All the earth bows down to God;
    they sing praise to you for the friendships made,
    they sing praises for the new marriage beginning.”

5 Come and see what God has done,
    his awesome deeds for our family!
6 He turned my postpartum weeks into rest,
    I passed through the turmoil with help—
    come, let us rejoice for the months that Katie dwelt here!

7 She loved our children through your great love,
    her eyes watched over the household affairs—
    let not this desperate mother forget your faithfulness.



8 Praise our God, all peoples,
    let the words of his praise be read in other countries;
9 he has expanded our family to five
    and he will continue to provide each day.
10  For you, God, tested us at the birth of each child;
    you refined us like silver.
11 You brought us into parenthood
    and laid another soul in our arms.
12 You let sleeplessness cloud our heads;
    through labor and postpartum,
    but you brought us through each season of exhaustion.

13 I will go to church with a stroller
    and let the older generations see the blessings of God —
14 blessings for which my friends prayer and my eyes wept
    for fear of miscarrying.
15 I will dine richly at Phlights in celebration
    and Mission Square and Niko Niko Sushi;
    I will raise my Martinelli's and decaf coffee.


16 Come and hear, all you who fear God;
    let me tell you what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him at midnight, two and four a.m.;
    his praise was in my clouded thoughts.
18 If I had dozed off mid-prayer,
    the Lord would not have listened;
19 but God has surely jerked me awake with baby cries
    and has answered our pleas for peace and wisdom and grace.
20 Praise be to God,
    who has given us much more than we could ever ask
    and heaped his love upon us!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Psalm 4: A Mother's Lament of Her Home

For the internet world. To the Kitty Piano accompaniment. A Psalm of Abigail

1   Answer me when I call to you,
       my righteous God.
     Give me relief from my distress;
        have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

2    How long will my children turn my home into a pigsty?
        How long will they abuse the furniture and leave honey drips on the floor?
3    Know that the Lord has set me apart as his faithful servant not theirs
        the Lord knows about every fingerprint on the walls.

4    Tidy up and do not sin;
         if you have a moment in bed,
         search your hearts and be content.
5    Offer thanks for the unbroken dishes
         and trust in the Lord.

6    Many, Lord, are asking, "Who will bring us a new sofa?"
         Let me acknowledge the places to sit with you among us.
7    Fill my heart with joy
         when their laughter and new games cause wear and tear.

8    In peace I will lie down and sleep a few hours,

         for you alone, Lord,
         make me dwell in abundance.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Why People Drain Me

I've heard that introverts are people who prefer solitude, that they're energized by being alone and that they tend to focus on internal feelings as opposed to external stimulation. I've always thought myself an introvert, but I'm not so sure any more. Here's why.

I've noticed that certain people rapidly drain me of energy, such as small children, strangers, complainers, sulky teens, big groups, long-winded talkers, and reserved types. After an extended period of time with these people, I'm ready to be alone for a few hours.

However, other kinds of people energize me. Some of my energizing people are introverts. Some are extroverts. Some are shy. Others are more talkative. After having coffee with these people, I'm full of new ideas about life and parenting and the world.

Do you see my dilemma? I don't necessarily prefer solitude over being with people. I prefer solitude to being with draining people. And I prefer being with energizing people over being alone. My energizing people inspire me to look outside myself for stimulation. My draining people compel me to contemplate why they are so exhausting.

Why are they so exhausting?

Well, besides being demanding and asking a myriad of questions that I don't know the answers to, my children exhaust me because I'm trying so hard to do them justice. I'm trying to be patient and gentle or I'm trying to validate their feelings or not spoil them. I'm worried about saying "no" too much or emotionally cutting them off from me. All that effort and fretting is exhausting.

Strangers are exhausting because I feel I ought to take an interest in them so as not to appear self-absorbed. But truth be told, I don't usually care about them. Or worse, I'm altruistically interested in the hopes that they'll be genuinely interested in me. Again, all that pretending and expecting something to happen that usually doesn't is exhausting.

Complainers and sulky teens are exhausting because I tend to take on their emotions. I feel responsible for fixing them or cheering them up or sympathizing with them. And it's awfully hard to do that when I either don't care about their troubles or would rather they just buck-up and stop hemming and hawing because I don't think their situation is really that bad. They're like little wet rain clouds, and I'm a sponge. All that soaking up of their complaints is exhausting.

Big groups are exhausting because if I stay silent, I'm afraid I'm being a wallflower, and if I try to join in the conversation I worry that I'm saying something that is relevant to everyone. I'm nervous about people feeling bored or excluded or unwanted. I'm worried about how someone's bombastic comment might offend so-and-so. I feel responsible for making everyone happy and again, all that juggling and straining is exhausting.

Long-winded talkers are exhausting because, unless I'm genuinely interested in the subject, I find feigning interest and thinking up intelligent follow-up questions taxing.

Reserved people are exhausting because again I feel responsible for drawing them out, thinking up good questions, and helping them to feel comfortable. Fretting and straining.

Are you seeing a pattern here because I am.

Is that what it means to be an introvert? To pretend and worry and strain? And if I didn't pretend or worry or strain, might I be an extrovert? I sure would be less exhausted in social settings.

This last weekend I attended a wedding where I sat next to a gal with three kids. I started up a conversation and felt a wave of exhaustion overcome me as I began to worry about what to say and how I was presenting myself.

I can't do this, I thought to myself. If I keep this up, I'm going to have nothing left for the dancing and long drive home and unloading the car and putting the children to bed. So I stopped trying. I lowered my voice from that high-pitched-bubbly voice to my calm laid back voice. I sat back in my chair and contented myself with some silence. Why don't I do this all the time? I wondered.

It's the same with tasks. When I have too much to do, more often than not I'll forget it all to sit down and do something I enjoy: read a book, write a blog, journal a list of things I'm thankful for, organize a book shelf. (Yes, that's why this blog is getting written: because I have too many other things I ought to be doing.) I don't want to work myself up into a frenzy of activity, so I say, "Forget it! I give up." Perhaps I ought to try this in social situations too.

I'm not going to be a nice mommy. I can't fix complainers. I can't control people's thoughts about me or manufacture love for people. Why don't I give up already? I think that's where God wants me to be anyway: giving up and saying, "I can't manage. I can't produce the outcomes I want or the right feelings in people, But you can."

I think that's what living in the spirit must mean. It means that when I encounter people that drain me, I stop hoping that I'll be able to maneuver the situation properly and instead invite the Lord to steer me. Frequently, this means keeping silent. I've noticed that sometimes when I've kept quiet through a child's tirade or bickering that they come to a satisfactory conclusion on their own! I've noticed that sometimes when I merely display a contented smile, shy people share their lives with me! When I'm quiet I can listen to a group of people toss around conversation like a volleyball game! (I could write books about that.) Yes, sometimes I'm compelled to speak up too, but it can be done so effortlessly. It's not draining. In fact, it's invigorating because it's like watching a well-scripted play where I know the ending is going to be good. I'm on the edge of my seat. I wonder what will happen next.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Comstock Chronicles: Farewell to the Rabbit




In the mornings when I throw open our bedroom curtains, I see our rabbit hunched down on the cement pad beneath our avocado tree. She stares at me out of one glassy eye and sometimes rises up on her hind legs at movement from inside. We’ve given up trying to chase her into her hutch at night; she's become too evasive. In fact, if she hears the screen door clatter open while she's nibbling grass pellets in her hutch, she’ll spring out so we can't trap her inside. Phil, pitying her joints, has put a ramp up to her door so that she doesn't have to leap the three feet to the ground.

Now we stand over the Amazon box with the labels still affixed to the sides. I’ve set the box in a hole I dug in our garden, and the children and I squat around it. 

“Now you’ll have to tell us the last Bigwig story,” Rose says as she and Lee stroke the rabbit's soft fur. 

I respond with some sort of agreement. I’ve made our rabbit more clever than an ordinary scrub-and-sage-brush-rabbit and more adventurous than an ordinary hutch rabbit. In my stories she has escaped from our backyard and disguised herself as a chihuahua and out-smarted coyotes and stolen vegetables from the neighbor’s gardens. I have immortalized her. Certainly, she can’t die.

Next to her stiff body, I’ve wedged a paper bag filled with a nest of celery strings. 

“Some vitals for the afterlife,” Phil comments later as if we’d just buried an Egyptian rabbit.

“Why did you put that in there?” Rose asks.

“Because Bigwig loved celery,” I say half-choking. 

The children see our neighbors setting up their front yard for Halloween. They’ve spread their front lawn with tables and chairs, a giant black-and-white snake and wine-colored curtains surrounding their front porch. Two houses up the street, our introvert neighbors have turned extrovert with their Disney-themed front yard. Later we see them dressed as Ariel, Eric, the fairy-god mother, Cinderella, Prince Charming, Hercules, and Belle. 

“Bonnie!” Lee yells across the street. “Our rabbit died!” 

Our neighbors give their condolences as do all the people that our children tell. It seems that Bigwig's death is more news-worthy than their school's Halloween festivities that happened earlier in the day. Lee, dressed as a very serious Batman, marched in a school-wide Halloween parade with his fellow kindergarteners. And I accidentally sent Rose to class dressed as a ballerina only to discover that pre-school kids aren’t supposed to wear costumes to school. Rose reprimands me at pick-up time.

In the evening we have our Halloween bonfire, but neither Phil nor I are in the mood to do the traditional throw-a-stick-on-the-fire-to-earn-your-candy ordeal. Phil takes the children up and down our street before we let them hunker down with their candy bags around the fire. Lee shares his sweets with our fireside guests. Roses eats way more than her allotment as I later learn by counting the wrappers in her bag.

I sit in a sling chair with Benny and pass out candy to kids who either know the drill or stumble up to me, confused as their parents behind them urge them with, “Say 'trick-or-treat.' Say 'thank you.'”

Before the burial I open my journal and ask the children what they liked about Bigwig so I can write it down. 

“She ate from our hands.”

“She wiped her little face with her little paws.”

“She was a good digger.”

“Mommy, can I touch her eyeball?” Lee asks stretching out a finger towards her still-open glassy eye.

I decide it is time to bury the box. But later Phil and I complete the list.

She sprinted around the backyard in the early morning, kicking up her legs wildly. She trimmed my roses and the skirts of the trees. She dug several holes under the gate but didn’t run away. She sniffed the piles of fresh dirt that Lee made as he dug with his excavators and dump trucks. She never bit anyone; although, she did use her kickers when we picked her up. She liked to lay sprawled out in the cool dirt behind the strawberry tree. She repeatedly began digging new burrows even after we filled in her holes. She stomped her feet when she felt threatened or when we forgot to fill her food bowl. She presented herself when we called her name.

Now she, along with Hazel in Watership Down, has gone with El-Ahrairah, that folk rabbit hero who invites the strongest and most clever rabbits to be part of his company.

One chilly, blustery morning in March, I cannot tell exactly how many springs later, Hazel was dozing and waking in his burrow. He had spent a good deal of time there lately, for he felt the cold and could not seem to smell or run so well as in days gone by. He had been dreaming in a confused way—something about rain and elder bloom—when he woke to realize that there was a rabbit lying quietly beside him—no doubt some young buck who had come to ask his advice. The sentry in the run outside should not really have let him in without asking first. Never mine, thought Hazel. He raised his head and said, "Do you want to talk to me?" 

"Yes, that's what I've come for," replied the other. "You know me, don't you?" 

"Yes, of course," said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow the stranger's ears were shining with a faint silver light. "Yes, my lord," he said. "Yes, I know you." 

"You've been feeling tired," said the stranger, "but I can do something about that. I've come to ask whether you'd care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you'll enjoy it. If you're ready, we might go along now." 

They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him and into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses. 

"You needn't worry about them," said his companion. "They'll be all right—and thousands like them. If you'll come along, I'll show you what I mean." 

He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.
-Richard Adams, Watership Down