Slow to Anger

June 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

James 1:19

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 

I like kneeling in church. At Saint Ann’s, there were many parts of the service where we knelt. At our new church, there are only a few; still, I kneel at all the points in the service where I did back at Saint Ann’s. i feel more prayerful, sure; but I also feel more connected to the energy that first brought me into the Episcopalian fold.

Our pew at Saint S— is wide. It is a special pew for families, right up front. Rather than a kneeler, there is a wide space with a carpet runner for children to play during services. A basket full of toys sits on the floor, along with a tote full of crafting supplies. Children’s books generously donated by Mother K’s son sit next to hymnals and prayer books in the racks.

As I kneel, secreted in the curtain of my long hair, little cars make roads around me. Chubby hands push crumpled bits of glue covered paper beneath the veil. Sometimes, the privacy of my meditative curtain is pushed aside, and two dark brown eyes light up the space beneath.

“Mama? Mama?? Can you hear me? Watch this!” comes the small, urgent whisper of my son, He is reaching through the foil. He has found me.

My boy loves this set-up. This is the perfect mix for a kid like him. At once deeply spiritual, and yet only four, he can be four and still be a part of church. When Mother K moves down the aisle, he stops playing and moves toward her. If the time is right, she puts out her hand and he joins the procession.

Last summer, after the storm that changed our lives, we spent a few months living at Saint Ann’s. One late night my then 3 1/2-year-old son asked me, “Mama, can I be the one who stands up front and teaches about love and peace?”

I think I stopped breathing for a few small seconds.

“You mean the priest?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he said. “I want to teach about love and peace. I want to be the one to give the communion.”

Since then, he has continued to tell me this. Whenever he can get involved more deeply in the services at Saint S—, he does. Bits of folded paper pile up around me, beads and feathers in my hands and shoes, but when Mother K moves, his energy shifts. He is ready to be mini-priest whenever he can.

Some at church are delighted by this. They can see his passion and they marvel at it. When he sprinkles them with holy water and unrelenting joy, the blessed drops fall like a living rain. “Your son!” they say to me during coffee hour, “He’s really something! He’s just so beautiful! So radiant!”

I don’t take credit for it. I am just as amazed at they. “He’s different,” I say to them, “He has a light inside.”

“Yes!” they say, “He shines!”

hearts with your hands

hearts with your hands

For some, a shine is dazzling. For some, it hurts the eyes. And ears. And any other sense that is touched by a child who is small, and four, and not completely still.

My son doesn’t sit in the pew next to me. He may crawl under it to get to a friend, or down the side isle to get to another. In our church, there are very few children. The few there are spend church in the nursery. J doesn’t want to be in the nursery. He wants to be with me, and he wants to be a part of the service.

We are a gentle parenting family. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it means that I am o.k. with him crawling down the side aisle, as long as others are not unduly disturbed in their worship. It means that I expect from my four-year-old boy behavior appropriate for a four-year-old boy, which doesn’t include sitting still in a seat in silence for 40 minutes. It means that no matter what I hope he will do or what I wish he would do, that I first consider what is developmentally appropriate before I respond.

And when I respond, it means I won’t respond with punishments. And I won’t respond with rewards (or bribes, whatever you might call them). I talk to my son like I want others to talk to me. I give weight to his position, his feelings, and realize that our priorities are probably not the same. We work for balance between us, and solutions that work for us as a team, not just forced compliance for the sake of saving public face.

Which is great for us as a family. We are Team Q, and we tackle everything together. When I need help, I call on Team Q. My sweet son never refuses to help me when I need him. He wipes tables, puts away dishes, folds clothes (that I usually refold later) and rushes to be a part of anything that needs to be done for the sake of the The Team.

I listen to him. What he wants matters. It matters that he needs to fold paper, or that he needs squish glue. As long as, in church, he can do it at a low volume, with respect to others, I call that harmony.

Of course, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I have also heard from a minority at our church that my son and I spend too much time together (Attachment Parenting) and that his activity in church requires Discipline.

Just this past Sunday, I asked a friend at church if she had some beginner piano books to lend. My sweet budding priest is also a budding musician. In great kindness, she gave us a set of books for him to explore.

As we stood there talking my son was losing his patience. He had already spent an hour in church, an hour after church, had helped wash the dishes and was ready to play outside. He is four. And really, that is a pretty long day for four.

As she and I talked, J pulled on my sleeve. “Just a minute,” I said. She was talking about Discipline. I felt my face getting hot. I was anxious to finish my conversation and make my point.

I am very aware of how some people view my son. When he exhibits normal impatience, my own impatience starts to rise and I can forget my Gentle Parenting Credo. Instead of telling my ADULT friend, who is practiced in waiting, to wait, I asked my tiny son: WAIT.

“I have home schooled students,” said our friend. “I don’t know what this one mother does, but when she tells her kids to stop they will stop on a dime. Children need to be disciplined.”

My sleeve got longer as my adult friend told me how important discipline was for children. My embarrassment grew with my sleeve as I asked J again to Wait.

“Are you saying J lacks Discipline?” I heard myself say, through my haze of discomfort and impatience.

My mind was too mucky to really hear my friend or my son. I was stuck in the vile place of parenting sin and parenting shame, looking like a bad mother to her and acting like a bad mother to my son.

“Mama! Please! Come see this!”

Different priorities. Now, he was making small, punctuated growls. And I was trying to make a point.

I don’t even remember what she said. But as she made her Grand Point, I was hit by a small, black shoe.


She walked away, and I turned to my son. My connection button was disconnected. I was overstimulated. I could no longer think.


I stood in shock for a second, and then said no. I chose the no over losing my cool. I chose it over venting. I said no, and I walked to the door.

Behind me came a flurry of tiny feet, and a tearful voice shouting, “MAMA!”

I stopped.

My little guru shouted through his tears, “We need to Stop and HUG, right now! Do it!”

And there it was. The clarity of gentle parenting. The clarity of scripture. The clarity of all that matters at the center of our lives. Love.

I stopped. I hugged. I reconnected. I found our center.

I looked into the face of my remarkable child.

“Mama,” he said, “Let’s try again.

And in this expression of God’s grace, we did.


James 3:17

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

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Woman, Heal Thy Sink

June 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

Acts 2:37-47

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day,…they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.


Life in our new world has a lovely rhythm. Two mothers flow through the challenges of parenting in a hand-in-hand friendship that fills former gaps. I can almost hear the house sigh as it settles into a new peace, and stretches it’s ribs with warm new relationships, hugs and laughter.

About a week ago, we were enjoying such a day. Jessica sat on the floor in front of the refrigerator, sorting through the edible and beyond edible. I stood at the sink, receiving suspicious containers and produce, dumping them either into the trash or down the sink. The garbage disposal‘s deep growl created the back drop for our voices as we talked, sorted, chucked and laughed, taming disorder in the comfortable partnership we had recently formed.

Cucumber, I would come to hate you. Your pocked skin and moldy blossom end met the cut of my blade. Hunk by hunk, I fed you to the drain. Hungry blades made a meal of you, and swept you away.

Then it happened.

Suddenly, rather than going down, water was coming up. Wait a minute, now it was coming up on both sides of the sink. I shut off the disposal and stared at the two sinks now a quarter full of water. My formerly peaceful heart was now hammering on the top of my tongue. I tried to swallow it, but I couldn’t.

The effects of deep trauma and grief have compromised my ability to cope with normal stressors. Discomfort enters and I begin to collapse. Staring into the floating bits of cucumber, I saw my future. How could I be allowed to continue to dwell in this land of peace? I had just broken the sink.

Jessica’s eyes rolled as she swiped a hand down over her face. It was a gesture I was now well acquainted with. It was her gesture of exasperation. She rocked herself up from her spot on the floor.

“This has happened before,” she said.

“What do we do?” I asked in a voice knitted with fear.

She let out her breath in a puff. “Wait,” she told me.

I’m not good at waiting. I wasn’t good at waiting before all the trauma and I am less good at waiting now.

Do you know what waiting is? It is the space between the wondering and the knowing. And it is all filled up with the anxiety of the thing you are waiting to know. it’s like back on the farm, when i was being kept a prisoner. When he said I wouldn’t survive the night. I waited. It is like back in the NICU when they told me that there was one last thing they could try. I waited.

With the kinds of waiting I have done I have developed an aversion.

And here, in this new heaven, I waited. Had I just created a problem I couldn’t afford to solve? Visions of plumbers choked off my breath, tied knots in my intestines and painted sweat across my palms. I looked at the swirl of vegetable bits and thought of eating from dumpsters. I wondered where I would put our stuff. And I waited.

Hours later, the drains were still full of water, but it had gone down. I employed my non-toxic drain opening method immediately. This is supposed to be applied to a DRY drain, and has never failed me, but I couldn’t wait for a dry drain. I needed the sink fixed now.

I filled my largest pot and set it on to boil. This is the recipe for opening a drain without toxic chemicals

1. Put 1/2 a cup of DRY baking soda down the sink.

2. Add 3/4 of a cup of vinegar. Have a drain stopper on hand to cap the drain IMMEDIATELY as it will begin to fizz out and you need to trap this action in the drain itself. If you are working with a double sink, do both sides.

3. WAIT 30 minutes.

4. Pour a gallon of boiling water down each drain.

I’ve used this method before. I’ve used it when repeated applications of chemical drain openers failed and it worked. It has always worked. After 25 minutes (i couldn’t WAIT any longer), I poured the boiling water in. I watched the swirl of cucumber bits rise up to mock.

I talked to me. “Erika, don’t panic. Erika, breathe slowly. Erika, wait until the morning and try again.”

The next morning. i was jamming baking soda down the drain with a butter knife before Id even had coffee. By afternoon, I was teary eyed as I plunged the sink ferociously, cucumber bits flying up and sticking to the front of my shirt. Wet from within with sweat and wet from without with impossible sludge, the panic continued to rise. What was left?

The night before, I had reassured Jessica. My Uncle Ernest was a plumber. I would get his advice. I had a few more things to try. I would fix it.

At that moment, looking into the drain, I could hear Jessica’s voice in my mind. She would be talking to her grandmother. She would be telling her I broke the sink. I closed my eyes and took some breaths.

In the front yard, I heard the sound of our neighbor. Jack, a kind man who has developed an affection for this family, had come over to water the grass. I asked him to borrow a wrench.

Was there a part of me that hoped my request would be met with his offer to fix the sink? Of course. But there was another part. There was something deeper down. There was something more. There was a badly beaten woman who was still very much alive.

My hand raised up to touch my forehead. It protrudes more on one side than the other, a result of a severe beating back on the farm. It was a beating that left my entire face black and my forehead hanging over my eyes like a shelf. Sometimes I touch it, and I remember.

Remembering sometimes makes me want to lay down. It makes me tired and it makes me want to give up. Other times, it makes me take apart all the pipes under the sink.

I had done some reading.. The clog was probably in the trap. (That’s the curvy part, for those of you that don’t know.) When it wasn’t, I took apart more pipes. Soon, I was staring into a hole in the wall that went deep into the plumbing. I stuck my short, little finger in it and thought.

Downstairs in the garage, i rummaged for tools. Anything. Something stiff and long to poke into that hole. I found an old piece of T.V. cable and ran upstairs.

Back on the floor, I started feeding in the cable. About a foot down, it stopped. When i pulled it out, it was covered with grease. A grease clog. Not cucumber. It wasn’t my fault. And it was only a foot down. With the right tool, I could handle this.

Some people call them a snake. It’s really called a drain auger. Pictures I saw on line showed a coiled cable with a hand crank. I could use that. I got on the wire.

For such a fearful person, I know how to work a network. I emailed my priest for recommendations and anyone else i knew locally who was even remotely handy. Then, suddenly, I was struck by inspiration.

A few weeks ago, I was confirmed. I remembered a guy in my confirmation class, Mike, talking about his huge collection of tools. I grabbed the church directory (which I’d only just picked up) and sent him a text. Drain auger. Today. Do you have one?

He did.

My wee one and I had an unschoolers playdate. We were meeting several other unschooling friends at a great play space at Lifeworks for an afternoon of exploration and unwinding. I sent Mike the address there. He said he’d show up with the tool.

When Mike walked up I didn’t quite know what to say. He didn’t have a coil with a crank. He was carrying a big, heavy power tool that probably used to have a manual.

“You are going to have to tell me how to use that,” I said.

Mike blinked. “I’ve never used it.”

We stood in silence.

“Um….” said friend Mike, “Maybe this is more of a man tool.”

I began to heat up.

“Um…. This thing is really gusto….” he stammered, “You know, like Tim the Toolman Taylor… guys kind of like to overdo it. This probably too much for you.”

My dam of fear broke and my feminist rage flowed through it.

“UM….. No offense! You probably just don’t know about how guys are into power!” came Mike’s frightened response to the Amazon glare he was now under.

“Oh, yeah?” I said. “Just the other day I was bragging to my friend about how my hand mixer was 300 watts and hers was only 120! Give me that tool!”

There is nothing you can’t learn from a Youtube video. My sweet babe and I watched one about the Super Vee Drain Auger and I went to work. It took several tries and I had to go down 12 feet into the pipes, but I didn’t let anything stop me.

N, Jessica’s son, was in the kitchen while I was working. “Wow… that thing shakes your whole body….” he said.

From deep inside my wounded core I felt myself snarl, “You bet it does.”

He and J were outside playing by the time I put the pipes back together for the final time. I turned on the water, and I waited. I watched it gurgle down and waited for it to rise back up. It never did.

I ran out on to the deck and screamed down into the yard to the boys, “I DID IT!!!!!!! I DID IT!!!!!!!!” They joined me in my victory dance and we all squealed and laughed and tickled and hugged. I cleaned up my mess and spent at least ten minutes just watching the water go down.

Now N says to me, “Who fixed the sink?” and I call back, “I fixed the sink!” and the house is filled with the warm, round, connected laughter of healing in progress.

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My Trust in You

June 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

Psalm 9

10 Those who know your Name will put their trust in you, *
for you never forsake those who seek you, O LORD.

The light of another rainy day is leaving us. Behind me, tall grass blows against the wide windows, flicking the glass with a cool evening spray. Across the long room, soft light shines through the scarf I’ve hung around the lamp. We are still lining the generous confines of this new nest with touches of our own.

The last time I wrote you, my son slept a few feet from me under the roof of the tiny 9′ x 11′ house. The occasional thud of a cat landing above kept company with the barks and meows of the family with whom we lived. We were warm, dry and loved; but my four-year-old ached for the space required for the active life of a young child.

My monk-like boy didn’t often complain. He spoke with love of every dog and cat who snuffled at our door. He ran to pet and hug any animal that would accept it, and my heart broke as I watched him. My beautiful child, a wellspring of love; he needed more. He deserved more.

What could I do? Starting over takes time. Building from the ground up with only ideas and faith happens slowly, one miracle at a time. My son would have to wait for a string of miracles to give him the things he needed to feed his young life, even simple things. Like space.

I looked at the houses we passed on our walks. I focused on the smallest ones. How much could it cost to live in a small place like that? Look at the yard… J could dig in that dirt. There is even a fence. But fence after fence kept us out. I squeezed my son’s tiny hand. We walked on.

God is always listening. God is always working. God is always weaving. And, if we listen, God is always talking.

We went to play groups, as many as we could. We went anywhere just to have a place to jump and tumble and stretch, things the tiny house did not allow. Most of the children there were younger than mine, children awaiting the day when they would start preschool. We are unschoolers. That day, for us, was not coming. We just needed a place to play.

At one of our groups, I started chatting with one of the other moms. We seemed to have a lot in common, or I hoped we did. I hoped that making friends here would be easier for different people like us. When I found this mom shared so many of my own philosophies, I thought I’d hit upon a match.

After group one day, I invited her out for fries. As I asked, another mother I had been talking to walked by with her own little one. As she looked up, I saw something in her eyes. It flashed for a second before she turned her eyes to the floor and moved on. I watched her get into her car and my heart stirred. I heard God speaking. I had made a mistake. It was to this woman I should reach out.

The next time, I asked the her to join us for fries. Her name was Jessica. Fries and the park led to invitations to her house. The friend I had been hoping to make rose up in front of me. I had put my own ideas aside and listened to a movement in my heart. The voice of God said, “Embrace Jessica.”

As I was helping Jessica fold laundry one day she said, “I’ve been thinking about your living situation. We have a lot of space, Erika. Would you guys consider living here?”

My first reaction was fear. Change. Unknown. I hadn’t known Jessica very long. Images of the tiny house rose up in my mind. The meows and barks and all the things that came with such a menagerie also rose up. I was afraid. As challenging as the tiny house was, our friend there had been in my life a long time. She was very familiar. Jessica was new to us. I asked to keep the question open.

A few weeks later, J and I were in our car, driving away from the little house. A sudden complication of circumstances required quick thinking, and I called Jessica. “Can we come over, just for the night?” She was ready.

When we got there, she showed us to the extra bedroom downstairs. The comfortable room had an even more comfortable bed sitting in the middle of it. My little one and I climbed into it’s luxuriously downy arms, and he fell asleep.

Later, on the back porch with Jessica, we talked over the tumultuous events of the day. Tenuously, I explored the edges of her offer. What would life look like in this new place? How would these two families work together while maintaining their own identities and habits? I watched Jessica’s dark eyes while she talked. My trauma kept my emotions high, but inside something else was talking. God said, “Listen. Look at her eyes. Look and listen.”

One car load at a time, we moved our things. Fear bit at my nerves with every gesture. I prayed. When the fear would rise I would close my eyes. “I rest it all on you, Lord. Lead me. I will follow You.”

As our boxes arrive, Jessica moved hers aside. When we took a tentative step forward, Jessica’s arm swept the path clear. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Packing and moving made me nervous. Jessica came with us to the old place for support. Her dark, determined eyes flashed over the tops of our well-traveled boxes as she carried load after load with ferocity and gusto. My friend had become a kind of champion. As I watched her move, I let a little of my fear slip away.

Upstairs, I can hear the soft voices of Jessica and her oldest son. The baby is asleep, now. This is their time. My own sweet son sleeps on the downy bed in the next room while I expand my psychic energy to fill the 25′ length of this room. If I need to use the bathroom, ours is just a few feet away. When I get tired, a soft bed waits. A kitchen and a refrigerator are only feet away. God has done this for us, God and Jessica.

Jessica is a young mother. She is new here; and the house was too big for them. Our presence here is medicine for her family. I am an older mother. We are new here, too; and our house was too small. Our life here is medicine for our family.

Talking to Jessica is changing me. I am seeing myself through new eyes. When she hugs me and thanks me for being here, I am stunned with amazement and gratitude.

I apologize for my deficits. I apologize for being too strange. She says they aren’t deficits. She says I am not strange. She says I am different, and magical, and wonderful. I think I have given up blinking.

A few nights ago, I sat with Jessica. All the children were in bed. She was showing me the string tricks she had been teaching to her oldest. It had been years since I had seen those old tricks. I thought of those old days. I glanced down at my hands.

When I was a child, I had rubbed the back of my left hand with a pencil erase until all of the outer skin had come off. A self-made, concentrated friction burn. Richie Mylar had shown me that trick. It was the trick of a child in pain. Pain to pain, we passed it. It left a scar. I lived with that scar all of my adult life. I couldn’t believe how tenacious it was, that little scar from an erase burn.

I sat with Jessica. I looked down at my scar. It was gone.

I turned my hand towards the light. I stroked. I looked. Nothing.

The tension of all of our recent experiences pressed hard against my heart. Fear, worry, insecurity, self-loathing, doubt, anxiety, pain of every stripe. I looked at the back of my hand. Smooth. No more scar.

Behind me, the living green of the grass reaches all the way back to the woods. On the way, it skips over the sand pit where my son digs almost every day. At the edge of the far woods is a row of lush blackberries canes, dotted with the buds of new flowers. In our new home we are warm and safe. And we wait for the harvest.

hebrew alphabet kids

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