Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Telling God "yes" when you really mean "no"

I bet you've been there before. Maybe you're there now...staring down some big thing that's being asked of you, feeling a gentle nudge in your spirit to step forward into something scary and unknown.

Or maybe God doesn't do nudges with you. Maybe God repeatedly hits you over the head with things until you agree to them.

Either way, have you been in that place where you stand in front of the thing you don't want to do, and you take a deep breath, and you fully intend to say "no, God, not this time..." but "yes" comes out instead?

Or have you gathered all of your courage up and faced the thing you want most to avoid, squared your shoulders, opened your mouth, and all you could manage was a tiny, squeaky "ok, I'll try" ?

The thing is? There's grace for those kinds of yesses, too. Not all of us are going to break into song after we get some angelic message notifying us of what's ahead. Not all of us are going to confidently reply, "Let it be done to me according to your word."

But God knows that.

God can work through the shakiest yes. Even a tiny, hesitant whispered yes is enough for Him. He can take it and run with it and work mighty things through it. Through you. Because when you say "yes," no matter how small a yes it is, you become His partner- His co-creator. You become part of the way God is working in the world.

We don't have any guarantee that Mary's voice was strong and clear as she gave her assent to the angel. Maybe her voice quavered. Maybe her knees shook. Maybe her hands felt sweaty or her head light. We don't know how much she had to set aside to tell God yes. What we do know is that she did it.

And that's what it comes down to. It isn't about how we feel. We're human, and we are not perfectly in tune with the will of God every day. But God knows that! Who knows it better than God? He created us, we let Him down, and He still gives us chances to be part of His story. He still welcomes our participation in showering love on the world. He still wants us to be in this with him.

All we need to say is "yes."
Even if our voices shake.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why I love the...(on writing, interrupted)

If I could only finish a sentence.

Sometimes, I think my thoughts don't come out in linear ways anymore. It feels like maybe there isn't a coherent thought (that begins with a beginning and has a middle and an end) in my head at all. Has having young children around all day given me a form of conversational ADHD? Is writing with dashes all over the place just part of having little folks interrupting me constantly?

Maybe I can't even think from point A to point B without interrupting myself.

I read recently that writers should never interrupt their own thoughts. Good writing starts, progresses, and finishes. It doesn't interject with other ideas in the middle of ideas already in progress.

I know I have a bad habit of interrupting myself. I wonder sometimes if I interrupt myself to avoid having others interrupt me. The worst feeling in the world is being talked over, and it happens to me a lot. I can't finish a sentence without someone asking for more water or to be wiped or to have her ponytail tightened or her velcro on her knight costume adjusted or to have the duct tape torn into smaller strips.

Maybe this is at the root of my love affair with the ellipsis.

I use it liberally, I know. I don't always end my sentences...sometimes I just leave them hanging while I talk about something else for a minute. It's not clean and tidy, but neither is my brain. Its inner chambers are littered with bits of colored paper and pencil shavings and paper doll shoes and Legos. Getting from here to there without an interruption isn't happening very often, so maybe I choose to embrace it? Maybe stream-of-consciousness is just my thing these days.

There's some freedom in accepting that where we are is where we are. There's joy in deciding to embrace what's before us. Maybe this extends to punctuation, too- deciding to go with the flow and use dashes and ellipses with joyful abandon might signify that I'm coming to a peaceful place with my vocation and how it looks right now.

Interruptions abound. Maybe it's okay that my punctuating reflects that.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: Doubt (and getting poem-ish for Pope Francis)

For his seventh birthday, Sam asked for an R2D2 cake. Although I am not a great cake decorator, I agreed to try, and after looking around at some pictures, I had an idea of how to do it.

The night before his birthday, my plan literally fell apart. The cake I was baking cracked in three pieces when I was removing it from the pan. I turned to Google for help- surely someone had put together an R2D2 cake I could copy, somehow?

If you are ever planning to make an R2D2 cake, don't Google it. The images that came back were soul-crushing for this humble baker. I could never make something that looked like those cakes...all the dowel rods and wooden bases with bolts and carved rice krispie fondant layers made me feel like my task was impossible.

After a little meltdown, I went back to the drawing board and came up with a way to modify a design that would work for the cake I had left. I resisted the temptation to try for the first time to make fondant icing when I should really be going to bed. I frosted the cake in my regular old buttercream, white and a little bit of blue. After I outlined it with a little black gel, it actually looked like R2D2.

Then, because I had almost allowed my self-doubt to overcome me, I posted a picture of the cake on Facebook- not because I needed or wanted congratulations, but because I wanted to remind myself of a truth I'd almost forgotten.

We are each enough. I am, and you are. In the age of digital photos and Instagram and Pinterest, it's much too easy to think we have to be practically perfect in every way. It's a lie. God made each of us with unique gifts, and all we have to do is to use those gifts in His service and in service to the vocations to which we've each been called. I will never be a professional cake decorator, but I can bake a cake for my son, and it will be good enough.

* * * * *

A week or so ago, a writer friend who was pulling together some work from our region on the Pope's visit to the US asked if I would write a poem for the occasion. I quickly said "no." I wasn't sure I'd be able to come up with anything to say, and with all the kids' birthdays and traveling and everything, I was afraid to commit.

Besides, I wanted to tell her, I'm not really a poet. I just write poems sometimes, and they almost never see the light of day. I like to keep them safely between the covers of my journal where no one can see them.

Then, one night, I felt inspiration hit, and I scribbled down a flurry of words that came out in a rush. I sent my friend a message and said, "Hey, guess what? I'm inspired, and I can do it."

I've spent every day since then second-guessing and questioning and worrying that what I wrote wasn't good enough for the importance of the occasion and wishing I hadn't told her "yes" after all.

In the spirit of embracing grace in the good enough (and with the much-loved R2D2 cake fresh in my mind), I'm sharing what I wrote for Pope Francis. Although I'll never be Mary Oliver or T.S. Eliot, I am grateful to be a writer and to be able to share my words with you.

We all have gifts. Any voice that tries to tell us otherwise is not from God. Let's not be afraid to use what we have received to build each other up.

* * * *

I’m missing the Big Important Catholic Gathering.

Is it an excused absence?
Not really.
No Big Important Crisis prevents me-
just hundreds of little fires, all in a row,
lining the path from here to there,
waiting for me to extinguish them.

My hands are full, people say-
busy slicing grapes in half
strategically placing Band-aids
peeling the pink crayon to make it last a bit longer
busy steadying a wobbly bike
rebraiding flyaway hair
washing wiggly feet.

His hands were full, too-
busy breaking bread (somehow stretched to plenty)
busy drawing in the dirt
touching ears, heads, foreheads
busy not casting stones
grasping a hand and pulling it back to life
flipping over tables when necessary
washing reluctant feet.

I examine my hands and wish they were more like His-
less afraid to touch a stranger
more willing to reach across a fence or a language barrier
less concerned with my own comfort.

They're full, yes, but they're lacking.
I could always hold a little more.

Papa, you walk into our country holding out His hands to us.
They're your open arms, but they're His open hands.

You hold them out in the poor places, on the sidelines, in the margins.
You hold out the Host-
       The Body of Christ.

We line up to receive it
offering unceasing commentary on what you're doing with your hands
even as we receive you as one among us.

I won’t be in your line for Eucharist.
My aching hands are full of the weight of small things.
How your hands must ache- do they?- with the weight of the cup you've accepted!

Perhaps we aren't so different.                                                                                       

Each of us touches Christ’s face, His body, His feet.
We each hold the Christ-light for someone, for many someones.
And if I were in your line?
Or if I had a minute to place my hand in yours,
to lean my head on your shoulder and tell you my life?

I expect you’d tell me I’m right where I ought to be,                                                                      
among the least of these,
and that Jesus is right here, too.

For more reports and reflections on the Pope’s visit from members of the Mid-Atlantic Conference of the Catholic Women Bloggers Network (CWBN), please visit “A Walk In Words With Pope Francis.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Here, part 2: this place, right now.

Here is the front porch of a little country store up the road, the one that sells the donuts on Saturday mornings. Only now, it's deep in the middle of a summer afternoon, complete with humidity and hot breeze and bluebottles buzzing all around the wrought iron table where we sit, sweaty but satisfied, drinking Snapple Apple and eating Moon Pies.

Sam is getting older.
This seems like an obvious thing, one not worth writing out loud here, but for some reason, today, it hits me hard and unexpectedly.

He's just ridden his bike, his two-wheeled bike with no training wheels, a mile up the road to this store while I ran behind him with the stroller. This very same stroller once held him, all bare feet and chubby cheeks, as we pushed it through the streets of London and carried it up and down the steps in the Paris Metro. Now, it is full of his baby brother, and I have to run to keep up with the bike.

Teaching my child to ride a bike is not teaching my child to go away from me, exactly...but the speed at which he is traveling makes me painfully aware that this is, indeed, what's happening. Not now, maybe, not next month when we begin school again, not even next spring when he's old enough for First Communion...but someday.

There's going to come a moment when he won't want me to hold his hand or ruffle his hair. I might do it anyway, but I'll know he'd rather I didn't. Already, there's a different distance in our hugs, and I notice he no longer wraps his entire body around me like he used to. I remember cradling him on my side, balanced on my left hip, and how his little head nestled perfectly in the recess of my shoulder where it meets my neck. Now I cradle his baby brother and watch as he deftly presses Lego pieces together, humming the theme from Star Wars. His legs seem impossibly long.

For babies grow up, we've learned to our sorrow...

I have never felt sad about his growing up- he has always seemed to be exactly the right age to me, with time passing at just the rate it should. Lately, though, I feel it whizzing by like the breeze through my hair on a really good downhill, one where I would take my feet off the pedals and stick my legs out to the sides and just hold on for the ride.

I guess I will just hold on. I'm not sure what else to do. Are there other options?

Friday, September 18, 2015

Five-Minute Friday: Celebrate

There is still a pile of laundry on the couch, half-folded, and more in the basket waiting by the piano.

There are toys stacked in the hallway that need to be put away.

An empty suitcase stands ready to pack, eager to hold the not-yet-folded clothes that will carry us through our weekend trip to celebrate three birthdays. Our September clump of children all have wanderlust. They’d rather travel than party at home. To be fair, they inherited it from us. They’re seasoned travelers- we’ve always taken them everywhere. They love to see and experience the world outside our little valley, and I love to do it with them.

I don’t always love all the steps that come before we climb into the van, buckle everyone in, and back out of the driveway.

There’s so much to do, and I’m the one to do it today…listmaking, list checking, packlisting, and packing. Stacking, cleaning, sorting, piling, loading and arranging. All of it aggravates my Type A tendencies and makes me likely to grouch at anyone who approaches too closely. None of it feels like much fun on a sunny afternoon when I’d rather be outside with a book on the porch or working in the garden.

Sighing, I contemplate the piles, temporarily paralyzed by the number of tasks before me.

Suddenly, there’s a pull on the leg of my jeans. Lucy’s eyes are dancing up at me…and so, I realize, is the background music. A rousing fiddle tune is floating from the iPod dock through the living room, and her toes are tapping time.

“Dance, Mama!” she shrieks, and begins spinning madly through my piles.

I could grab her and stop her, or holler at her that she’s ruining my plan. I could gasp and rescue the clean clothes before they’re stepped on by her muddy purple sneakers. I could send her outside, or to the playroom, or sit her down at the table with some paper and crayons for a more appropriate “inside activity.”

Today, I don’t do any of those things. I grin at her, shake my head, grab her hands, and join her dance.

For more Five-Minute Friday and to join the celebration, head over to Kate's blog, heading home.

Five Minute Friday - 4

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Twins at Four {happy birthday, girls}

The alarm cuts through the dark, jerking my soul out of its reverie. I was dreaming that I was asleep.

What kind of person dreams that she is sleeping? Probably only a really tired one, right? Struggling to sit up without waking the baby beside me, I think the last time I felt well-rested was probably before the twins were born.

Today, they are four years old.

I stare out the window at the silhouette of the mulberry tree against the barely light sky, remembering how the window of our hospital room overlooked a flat roof and a bare brick wall.

Four years ago today, they broke upon the world before the sun did, making their entrances at 5:15 and 5:55 AM, respectively. The mere forty minutes between their births gave us no hint of the gulf between their personalities. There is love between them, of course…but sweet tea parties and sisterly hand-holding are often overshadowed by screaming matches and sisterly pinches over the imaginary line on the sofa.

The gradual coloring of the sky this morning reminds me of their birthday. I watch the grey outside the kitchen window get lighter and eventually turn to a yellowish pink as I put the finishing touches on packages and cupcakes (pink and yellow frosted with gold sprinkles). It’s critical that there are an equal number of yellow and pink cupcake wrappers, as they’ve taken to counting such things and accusing me of loving one more than the other. One requested pumpkin pancakes, and one requested toaster strudel from the freezer case at the grocery store for breakfast. I make sure their favorite skirts are clean to wear with their self-selected birthday t-shirts- one grey with a heart and one kind of a neon cantaloupe with sparkly cupcakes. The skirts were requested ahead of time, also, and if I mix them up, the girls will definitely let me know. “This is one of those important things, Mama, so please remember,” Nora told me last night. It’s funny, because I know they’ll only wear them until after breakfast, when they go to change into their dress up costumes like they do every day right now.

Maybe it seems like a long list of arrangements for such little girls. I labored a full day and a half to bring them into the world, though- what’s a few requests between a mother and her daughters?

I put the packages on the table and set out two princess hats, embellished with initials and sparkly rick rack trim.

Princess hats.

How far we have fallen, we forward-thinking parents whose daughters would be mighty and strong, who would have no use for such pink, such sparkle, such over-the-top girly stuff!

The irony almost drips from the rosy-colored hat as I hold it up to adjust the streamers.

But these girls are no run of the mill Disney princesses. These are wild-haired, wide-open, sword-wielding, blaster-toting, space-exploring archaeologist princesses who happen to like pink and yellow. These princesses will rescue a baby bird and chop to bits any monster who tries to hurt it. They will tease each other without mercy, but if you mess with one of them, the other one will bite you. They'll share their toys with friends and even brothers sometimes, but they'll fight anyone to the death over their favorite spot on the swing set.

And the fighting...oh, it is epic. They battle ferociously for the right to wear the pink fairytale dress, the knight helmet, the cherry nightgown. Instead of celebrating their birth, I sometimes think we should be celebrating their survival. They are surviving each other.

On the other hand, they are never more united than when they're making mischief- defeating a childproof lock to ransack a bathroom cabinet, painting the bathtub with shaving cream, climbing out of their cribs and emptying every drawer and cabinet in their room, unrolling all the toilet paper down the hall, drawing all over the freshly painted deck railing with a red colored pencil, sneaking out of bed on the eve of their fourth birthday to play dress up in the playroom.

They are no cliche. They are a force with which we must all reckon. And today, we celebrate both their strength and our own.

Happy birthday, girls. Here's to many more princess battles, tea parties and kite flying afternoons. I love being your mom, even though I sometimes wonder if I will survive it. Thank you for the sunshine, the music, the color and the sparkle you bring to our family...and for ensuring that none of us will ever be bored.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Second grade, Day One- Homeschooling Update

Today was our first day of school for the year, officially speaking.

I know that we don't really need a first day, considering we have settled into a school-life balance where learning is just part of our normal flow, but I still want that for my kids. Maybe this is because I am a product of the American public school calendar and it's hard-wired into me. Maybe it's because everyone else's first day of school pictures on social media are so cute. Regardless, we kicked off the year today.

My second grader was exuberant. He was dressed and ready, shoes on and already-finished cereal bowl in the sink, before most of us were even out of bed.

As we prepared for the upcoming school year, I asked Sam to think about his goals as a second grader. He reminded me today that I had promised to post them for him. Here are his plans for this year:

"My goals are to build a robot, read some King Arthur and Shakespeare, learn to write in cursive, learn more about castles and how they were made (and big weapons they used like catapults, ballistas, etc.) and learn to make bread. Also learn to identify some new constellations I haven't learned yet."

This list makes me so unbelievably glad that we're homeschooling. I can't wait to dig into all that stuff with him!

We started our day today with breakfast, chores and free reading, followed by our Morning Meeting. Then we headed out to meet friends at our local greenway trail for some nature exploration.

The explorers ended up at the creek (as they often do). There's something magnetic about kids and water. The creekside nature exploration became kind of a mid-creek exploration, and the rocks were slick, and, well, you know...

In the end, two out of three walking Dupuy children were wet from the waist down, so we went home for dry shoes. (I had dry clothes with us, and snacks, and water bottles, and everything we'd need...just not extra shoes. Silly me.)

After a wardrobe adjustment and a snack, we met up with our homeschool group at the library to build some catapults that shoot marshmallows. Sam had made one of these a long time ago with a slightly different design (with hilarious results that might have ended with an interview by a catcus-turned-sports-commentator), and he was excited to try again now that he could do it without help.

When he was done flinging marshmallows around, we checked out some books and headed home for lunch and rest time.

I was dismayed to find that Sam had checked out a pretty awful My Little Pony book for Lucy at her request on his library card. This leads me to believe she asked him because she knew I would try to talk her out of it, since I had already read it to her five times at the library (and since it was SO AWFUL). 

The afternoon was spent doing a little math (Life of Fred, which Sam says he's missed so much that he couldn't wait to see what was going to happen in this next installment), some grammar review, and some light saber construction out of PVC pipe and painter's tape.

Sam got in some piano practice before dinner with a little assistance from the shortest member of the family, who has a real fascination with all things musical. I expect he will be over there every time the piano is open for a while. Fortunately, the gap between their ages is old enough that Felix never annoys Sam, just amuses him. It's amazing to see what a different reaction Sam has to Felix - he'd have been completely frustrated by his sisters' doing something similar, but when Felix does it, it's just cute. Sibling dynamics fascinate me.

We also celebrated the feast of The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary with a stack of Krispy Kreme donuts and some candles. (That's what happens when feast days sneak up on mama after vacation and coincide with homeschool donut fundraiser delivery day.) We'll call it Anti-Pinterest Liturgical Living- Do Not Try This At Home, Because You Can Surely Do Better.

All in all, it was a pretty awesome day.

How did your first day go? Anything you are planning to do differently on the days to come? Anything that went so well that you'll never change it again? I want to know!

Thanks to Janell for the creek and library photos!