January 20, 2011

I See Joy

I look around my house and see books on the coffee table, crayons left out, a stove that badly needs to be cleaned. Shoes are scattered by the door, afghans are rumpled on the couch, and there are toys from one end of the living room to the other. Upstairs, there are bits of paper on the floor, a stack out outgrown clothes, and the bathroom counter is a mess of hair bows and hair clips and brushes and combs. It’s messy.

And the voice of perfectionism starts to whisper… you’re not good enough. You’re a mess. You need to DO MORE! How can you raise a family in these conditions? What if someone came by right now and saw this? And echoes of a conversation with my mother return: “If it was so important for you to look perfect, then why wasn’t your house cleaner?”

Just as I start to go into overdrive mode – Park the kid in front of the TV! Attack the dishes in the sink! Start a load of laundry! Make all the beds! Frantically toss toys into the drawer! – another conversation comes back to me. This time, it’s a voice of reason, asking me one question: What would your house look like if it was perfectly clean?

It’s a conversation I had with a mentor and friend. At the time, I went deep into fantasy, luxuriating in the thought of crumb-free counters, spot-free mirrors, doors that didn’t get hung up on shoes discarded too close, rooms that stayed clean when I left them. He let me go on and on. Then he quietly told me, “When your house looks like that, you will be living alone.”

I was abruptly stopped short. He was quiet. I sat and thought. Just like I sit and think today.

The books are from when I read to the kids last night, snuggling together on the couch under an afghan. The crayons and bits of paper are from a picture that Ladybug colored for me and cut out. It’s hanging on the fridge now. The mess on the stove is from dinner last night, a dinner that we all shared around the table, that nourished our bodies and strengthened our relationship. These are the indications of life, of people that I love living with me in our home, not always in calm and quiet, not always in clean and neat, but together. Happy. Content.

So I sit and I think. I look around, and I still see the toys, the crumbs, the things that need to be put in order. But instead of choosing to see messy, I choose to see joy. I see life lived together, and lived well, and lived exuberantly. I see evidence of creative play, gifts given and received, and time spent connecting heart-to-heart.

I begin to speak, a new soundtrack to quiet that whisper in my head. I speak aloud and I say: “This is our home. This is where we live. This is where we are safe and free to learn and grow and explore and mess up and start over again. I look around and I see it, and the evidence is beautiful.”

January 10, 2011


I’ve been home for 153 days, 5 hours, and 21 minutes.  I was gone for 719 days.  It’s hard, still, this transition back into home life. 

These days, I can’t stand overhead lights.  I have a closet full of clothes and yet I live out of a laundry basket, because there are only a few things that I need, so there are only a few things that I wear, and those are what get washed and reworn.  I crave foods that never used to be a regular part of my diet.  And I always wear socks now, or slippers, when I used to be a barefoot girl through and through. 

Being home is sometimes a little lonely.  I miss my friends.  I miss the people who understand the experience, who can relate, who don’t just try to affect a sympathetic mien and be socially sensitive to the person who recently got out of prison.  I feel socially awkward.  I feel like, despite the TIME magazine subscription, I have missed two years of news, current events, and technological advances, and because of that I feel somewhat irrelevant and a lot out of touch.  It’s nice – more than nice! – to be with the people that I love.  My husband, my children – I would choose them over every other person in the world.  It’s great to relate to my brother as an adult and get to know his lovely wife.  But I really do miss my friends.

Maybe other people just slip back into life, put it on like a familiar cloak, wear it well and easily. Mine doesn’t seem to fit right. So together my husband and I are talking about those things, refitting, stretching, taking in.  He is so incredibly understanding about it all, which puzzles me.  How can he be so understanding, when I don’t understand it myself?

This morning at breakfast, Ladybug and Wild Thing were debating how God gets to heaven, and if he needs a spaceship.  Wild Thing finally determined that “He can just fly to heaven, because God is magic.”

While I’m not sure I agree with the theological premise of God being magic, I understand the sentiment.  I don’t understand how God works, either.  Or why he does the things he does.  But when I take the time to recognize his handiwork, it’s always breathtaking, delightful, and, well, magical

There are days when I struggle with this new life, when I struggle with the “re” of it all: the restarting, the renovating, the repairing.  I’m tempted at times to give it up and start over, create a new “me” entirely to hide the past.  But I don’t want to deny God’s redemptive work.  When I share about the changes that I experienced during incarceration, people look at me in blank amazement. Because they can’t really grasp it. It’s hard to believe that God can take something devastating and ugly and ruinous and bring beauty and maturity and life and renewed hope and deeper relationship with loved ones.

I’m not advocating the situation. But our Magician God can bring good out of it! Like reaching into a pile of garbage and bringing not just one amazing thing out of it (because that could be pure luck, coincidence, right?), but dozens of amazing, lovely, delightful, magical things.

I don’t have to understand it.  Having it all worked out in my head isn’t as important as living it well here and now.  And I guess that’s the challenge, isn’t it? To live well, to live fully, to embrace life without fear and apprehension, to let go of shame and embrace grace, to walk away from guilt and grief and to embrace mercy and gladness.  It’s a tall order.  But I’m not here on my own. 

Yes, Wild Thing, look around you: marvel at the mountains and be awed by the moon.  Consider the ocean and listen to the wind.  Then look at humanity—look at your mother!—and see: God is magic, indeed. 

October 11, 2010

Living Free: Worth It?

Freedom is so much more than simply the lack of confinement. I know many people who could be confined, limited, restrained by their circumstances, whether a chronic illness, financial difficulties, lack of education, or physical limitations. Yet they live free – resolutely and exuberantly free lives. And I know others who seem to have it all, but still live a life constrained by fear and anxiety, bitterness, grudges held, forgiveness not extended.

It’s similar to the difference created by living an “I should” life versus an “I could” life. “Should,” the idea of one right choice, compels through fear. “Could,” the idea of limitless options, allows me to govern myself in freedom.

Was it worth it? Would Ladybug and Wild Thing think it was worth it? Yes, anonymous commenter, and here’s one reason why: Nothing in my life or from my past is ever wasted or thrown out with the garbage; it’s all composted and assimilated into a growing life – if I allow it. I get to make that choice. I get to choose whether or not I dread the day ahead, or embrace it. I get to choose whether I will allow God to work in my life or not. Because, contrary to popular thought, God is not the Great Controller. He’s not the big guy in the sky managing and manipulating people and circumstances and situations. He won’t ever shoulder me aside and insist on working in my life. But he’ll come in if I let him, and if I ask him to somehow work through it for my good and his fame, he will. Jesus didn’t leave us with the Controller, he left us with the Comforter, the one who will help me maneuver my life in freedom. He’s not out to get me, punish me, or shame me – he’s out to love me. And I understand that through this situation. I know it and have lived it and experienced the goodness and grace and mercy and boundless love of God in and through the last two years. And I can impart that to my children.

Here’s another reason: I am free to live a life characterized by freedom. I don’t live in the fear and punishment world anymore – and I’m not talking about my physical surroundings. Because I don’t live there, I don’t have to raise my children there. We can have a real heart-to-heart connection. They don’t have to be afraid of punishment or the threat of punishment. I don’t have to try to control them. I no longer have to live in the Christian hypocrisy of talking about love and unity but using fear and intimidation to exert control because of my own insecurities. I don’t have to be afraid of their mistakes. I can show them that I can handle it. I can introduce them to freedom, and allow them to practice messing up. They can be themselves, find out about who they are, practice freedom, and they can run to me and their dad when they’re in trouble, because we’re the safest place for them when they’ve blown it. I will never allow anything to be more important to me than my connection to my children. Not homework, chores, obedience, respect – there is nothing that I will allow to sever my connection with them, and I will work to live that as an experience for them. I think they’ll appreciate that. 

Here’s a third reason: The experience saved my marriage from being a sham of obligations. I learned what it means to be faithful and loving and loyal, about what it means to make choices that protect my husband’s heart, about what it’s like to be separated by distance and razor wire and yet still live in his presence, because my heart is connected to his heart. I learned how to be a real person in my marriage – a complicated, emotional, imperfect, authentic person. I can’t teach my children about any of this unless I know and live it myself. 

Yes, real freedom is so much more than simply the lack of confinement. It’s not the external props of our lives that make us free, it’s the timeless qualities like self-control, love, kindness, courage, honor, and humor. 

Was it worth it? Was there something of value to be found the wreckage?  It was costly. It was difficult.  It was gut-gripping misery to be away from all three of them.  But yes, it was worth it. Was it worth it for them, too? Absolutely.