the daily heroics of love {guest post}

I happened to sit next to Christie Purifoy at the Festival of Faith and Writing last spring, only to discover that we had attended the same college (Texas A&M), studied in the same department (English), and been active at the same church (Grace), just a few years apart from each other.  I've enjoyed getting to know her more through her posts at There Is A River, and am so happy she's sharing this with us today.

I know that Advent should include repentance. In fact, repentance is supposed to be an integral part of any advent observance. The idea, I think, is that we must prepare ourselves to receive Christ.

I’ve mostly avoided thinking about it.

I far prefer to meditate on ideas like wonder or anticipation.

If I think much about sin at all it’s to imagine the sin out there. For instance, the dark injustice of human trafficking or the world orphan crisis.

I’d rather not confront the darkness in my own heart.

Until the parents of twenty first-graders walked into a nightmare.

The day of the shooting I sent my own first-grader to school in tears. I yelled, “What is wrong with you?”

It was day eight of his dad’s business trip. I’d been up since 5:30 with the baby. He’d misplaced his shoes, and it seemed likely he would miss the bus. He has misplaced his shoes every single week since school began in August. We’ve taken to charging him a dollar if we find them first.

None of that matters.

On Friday, I realized that it wasn’t important if my son continues to lose his shoes every day of every year for the rest of his life.

All day I cried and prayed, “Thank you, thank you for giving me another chance.”

I might not have had that chance.

We like to describe our love for our children as the most natural, instinctual thing. I’ve never quite understood that.

Love feels much harder to me. Yes, I would run into a burning building for my child. That actually seems quite easy. The hard part? Biting my tongue when I haven’t had enough sleep. Being patient even when they make the same mistakes again and again.

And the biggie? Laying aside my book, getting up off the couch, and slicing the apple they’ve asked for instead of making them wash it themselves and eat it whole. Because even I know that an apple sliced paper-thin tastes so much better.

There are too many mothers wishing they could slice one more apple. Wipe one more runny nose. Search high and low for lost shoes.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God. Have mercy on me, a sinner.

I told myself the darkness in my own heart was not that big of a deal. I was wrong. The good news is that I don't have to wait for a burning building to give my children the very best of my love for them. I can do it now and every day. I can do it in a thousand little ways.

Because the grandest, most beautiful kind of love is revealed in the smallest, most insignificant forms.

Like a baby. A baby born on the ragged edge of an empire in a room smelling of animals.

No heroics. No burning building.

Just love.

Christie Purifoy is a Jesus-follower, a writer, a wife, and a mother to four. Raised in Texas, she earned a PhD in English Literature from the University of Chicago and now lives in an old farmhouse in southeastern Pennsylvania. Christie blogs regularly at There is a River  where she finds poetry in the ordinary pain and joy of daily life.

jesus and the stomach flu

On Tuesday night, 8 pm, I heard a barbaric yawp from my daughter’s bedroom.  Untamed, and untranslatable, yes; but nothing to sing about, in my opinion.

In other words, the stomach flu had arrived, and visited itself first upon my 3 year old daughter, the one who still has two rows of stitches in her head from recent encounters with a park bench and a farm dog.

I spent the next two days honing my ability to predict the exact moment when a child will vomit (I am an EXPERT now).

Then Friday morning dawned, and both of my kids were still sick, and I had to face reality: I called to cancel my flight to Denver Friday evening.  It was supposed to be my Christmas present, a long weekend in Denver with my two best friends and newborn baby Etta (also two husbands, a dog named Macaroni, a brother and sister-in-law, and hopefully an aunt and uncle and cousins too, but I digress).

I had been dreaming of long talks over drinks with my lifelong friends, of seeing the mountains again, of shopping and indulging and relaxing. I had even been dreaming of the eight hour transit time each way (shuttle, airport, airplane): time to read a book without interruption, time to actually listen to Silver and Gold all the way through, time to write a Christmas newsletter, time to buy a mocha and drink it before it got cold.

the kind of gallivanting girls we are (or used to be)

I had not been dreaming of endless vomit-stained laundry. But I knew I shouldn't risk taking my germs to that sweet baby Etta.

I cancelled the trip, and spent the day awash in self-pity.  On Saturday night, when we were supposed to attend a good old-fashioned carol sing around the piano, instead the virus finally hit Jack and me, too, and I... I will spare you the details. Suffice to say that by Monday morning the whole family is fine, a bit exhausted and achy and weak, but fine.

In the midst of depression and self-pity, I updated facebook, hoping for some sympathy:
This happened at least once today: Owen vomiting into my hand while Rosie, 2 feet away, doesn't even blink, keeps going, "Pretend you just got a package and you didn't know, but you were so surprised to see that it was a tiny bird, and when you touched it, it turned into the queen kitty..."

So much of motherhood is like this.  Physical, dirty, overwhelming, demanding, sensory overload. Both children clamoring for your attention at once, and even if they're being charming, what you really need is to go clean up the mess in your hands. And all of it happening while you're sacrificing your own desires and plans. 

I thought a lot about Mary this weekend.  How Mary, teenage mother, faced both the common challenges of motherhood and the challenges of raising the divine.  How she surrendered so much of her own hopes and dreams for her life to God with “let it be.”  How she probably had to repeat that "let it be" to God over and over throughout her life, re-affirming her submission to his plan.  

And I thought about Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing  by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

I thought about Mary, and Jesus, and I prayed; I prayed that my own tendency to self-pity would be scrubbed out of me, and that I would more willingly take on the nature of a servant.  

So here I go. After my intimacy with the toilet bowls this weekend, I’m fully aware of how much they need scrubbing, too. I’m off, singing a song not of myself, but of the One who teaches me how to keep saying let it be.

weaving baskets {my guest post for mama monk}

I've been reading the blogs of my friends and family for a solid decade now, but I've only been following the blogs of strangers for a few years.  (It used to strike me as kind of creepy.) At first I just followed Smitten Kitchen, the Pioneer Woman, and Simple Mom; but over the last year or two I've started reading so many faith blogs that I can't keep count.

Of those, Mama Monk was the first to stand out to me. Micha Boyett consistently writes beautiful pieces (like this one, or this) that make me go, "You too? I thought I was the only one." I met her ever so briefly at the Festival of Faith and Writing last April, and I'm so honored that she asked me to guest post for her {This Sacred Everyday} series.

At this point, I’m pretty sure there’s not a safe seat left.  Every easy chair, couch cushion, and carpet has been peed on at one point or another. Despite my eco-friendly cleaning regimen of white vinegar & tea-tree oil, the scent of urine lingers – or I imagine it does –  wafting up each time I settle into the blue cushion of our second hand sofa.
Tonight I load the laundry in again, acrid undies and leggings and rags, remnants of potty training tried and failed.  If I don’t do the wash, she won’t have any pants to wear tomorrow. I measure the detergent, close the door, and sigh with self-pity.
The desert fathers sought out these kinds of menial tasks as a way of spiritual formation.  I know this.  I know they wove reeds into baskets, unwove them, wove them again.  An object lesson. A reminder that the heart behind the work is more important than the task itself. I get that.
But when my husband is sweeping up glass and glitter from the shattered snow globe, and I am blotting the fishy smell out of a throw pillow, and the toddler is screaming, “please!” and the preschooler is crying because of the newly sewn stitches across her forehead, my introverted brain thinks the desert fathers were lucky; at least they got to practice their menial tasks in solitude.

on taking my daughter to the ER

The worst part of parenting, I’m convinced, is dealing with the paperwork, particularly the medical paperwork. Can I get a witness?

Or preferably, can I get someone to come over and take care of this paperwork for me?

There will probably be a lot of it coming up.  Yesterday Rosie ran headlong, full-speed into a park bench. Her legs hit the seat-edge, and her head crashed into the back.  Blood spurted, Rosie asked if she was going to die, and if not dying, would she have to get a shot? Jack called 911, and then me, and I drove like a madwoman from the coffeeshop to the park.  The sheriff arrived before I did.  He asked Jack where we lived, and then said, “Yeah, I thought y’all were on Bragg.”  We live in Mayberry.  We do.  

When I got to the park the medics were wrapping Rosie’s head, so I didn’t see the wound until the ambulance let us off at the Blackford County hospital.

Her skin was torn from eyebrow to eyebrow, the wound triangle-shaped.  It didn’t look like a slit.  It looked like something had pulled a chunk of flesh off. I could see bone.

Rosie remained remarkably calm and brave at that hospital, and then slept as we took another ambulance 80 minutes into the city to a plastic surgeon.

After eight hours of waiting, of no food and drink, yes, she melted down when they came at her with numbing needles and an IV of sedatives and painkillers. She cried and fought and curled up into a ball. Finally she sat on my lap on the hospital bed, leaning back against my chest as the surgeon stitched up her.

We left the hospital, and I was struck by the inadequacy of saying “thank you” to nurses. I may hate dealing with our health care system and insurance, but God, I love the nurses and doctors.  Their enthusiasm, kindness, dedication and professionalism astound me (except, you know, those nurses who didn’t know how to use the machines in my L&D room when I checked in to deliver Owen...not those nurses, but all the others...), and thank you just doesn’t seem like enough for people who care for your kids and enable you to get through the most trying of circumstances. Tiffany brought us a homemade snickerdoodle cupcake, for crying out loud.

In the darkness of the car, I cried from hunger and exhaustion and the gaping wound, the blood, the scar on my perfect baby’s face.

But I mostly cried with thankfulness that it wasn’t her eye, or her brain.  That where we live, health care is available, and we can afford it. That Rosie’s scar will be minimal. That her wound won’t get infected.   

That I don’t have to worry about bombings.  That my kids will not go hungry. That we have a place to sleep tonight.  Not to be dramatic, but that’s where my mama-heart goes, from praying for her to praying for those mamas in the Gaza strip tonight and around the world who are forced to be stronger and braver than I ever am.

Rosie woke up this morning, and told me that God answered my prayers, because she was feeling fine. She ran around all day and tripped and fell and jumped and sang, and my heart was in my throat.  Friends brought balloons and coloring books. We made roast chicken, biscuits and gravy, chocolate chip cookies. Our times are in his hands, and today I am grateful, and also praying that if someday the circumstances are harder, my weak heart will learn to be steadfast.

the must-have fashion accessory for fall

I like to tell this story:

When I was a teenager, I usually set my alarm for twenty minutes before I had to leave for school. I rolled out of bed, made a lunch, and put Caedmon's Call in the cassette deck of my '88 Camry. 

 (My morning routine, to be honest, has not changed significantly in the last fifteen years, unless you consider the addition of coffee significant, which I do.)

In those days, my younger sister would sigh and roll her eyes and say, "You're not wearing THAT to school, are you?" (She had a good point.  But yes, I was.)

It amuses me to no end, then, to find out that my daughter has a thing for fashion.  In fact, another preschool mom alerted me to the fact that Rosie has started a trend: the wearing of headbands as "collars". (I would have said necklace, but Rosie corrected me. It's a collar.)
In honor of this lovely difference between my daughter and me, I thought I'd share a few of her other distinctive fashion choices.  I generally let her choose her own clothes.

At 18 months, Rosie insisted on wearing a scrunchie high up on her arm, and this was the first fashion preference I can remember her displaying.

She is insistent that leg warmers should be pulled high, not slouched, and paired with some bling.

That's my girl.

the gifts of god, for the people of god

(Taylor Lake, summer 2011)
Around five, everybody clears out.  All the mamas say, “I’ve got to get home to cook dinner,” and the kids suck ice pops and bounce, shaking water out of their ears and sand out of their shoes, all the way to the minivans.

But not me, at least not today.  I leave my mama-spot in the shade, abandon my smart phone and my sun hat, and dive in.  Rosie and I have the lake to ourselves.  She runs out and runs in, jumping, saying “dino-ball”!  I swim deep into the cold, then flip and come back to her, pretending to be a snapping turtle nipping at her toes, just like my mom used to pretend with me in the pool in San Antonio.  She giggles, “Be a snapping fish again! Again!”

The wind is strong at the lake, the early evening air is mild.  It’s quiet and it’s peace on earth, it’s summer in its purest form for me, and I float on my back and kick my feet and feel like I’m fifteen at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Rosie jumps into my arms.  “I love you, Mommy!” she cries, passionately, and I love her too, and I know it’s not really just me that inspires that cry, it’s this me - the undistracted me, the wholly abandoned to the present moment me, the unashamedly swimsuited and swimming me.  It’s the clearness of the sky and the coolness of the water, it’s the wind and the sun and the daddy who is willing to cook dinner.  It’s the gifts of God, for the people of God, and it is for all of us, common grace, and there is nothing we have to do, and no one we have to be. We are just us, thankful.