Monthly Archives: January 2012

Love in the Afternoon

It rained yesterday.  A real rain.  Not the half-hearted drizzle Southern California sometimes mistakes for rain, but the rat-a-tap-tap pour down on your tin roof kind of rain.  By afternoon, it had cleared up enough to reveal a glorious sunset between the palm trees.  But still, the cozy feeling of a rainy day persisted.  And by afternoon, I was in love.

In love with the easy comfort of home.  In love with the cute little piles of debris: baby rattle here, pacifier there, fabulously unmade bed, Melita coffee filter with its fragrant grounds, stash of watercolors and pencils, left over butternut squash lasagna with its vibrant orange color.  In the middle of it all was my son, laying on a blanket on his tummy, propped up on his forearms.  He’s building up the strength to roll over soon – a milestone often reached at 3-4 months.  He looked so adorable, little tushie and little legs, struggling to keep his head and shoulders off the floor.  And when he started to tire from the exertion and cry, I picked him up and we danced, and danced.  On the rainy day, to the tune of flamenco guitar by Ottmar Liebert.

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Farewell to my Convertible

Caitlin Orr and Her New Set of Wheels

It’s interesting how a car can symbolize an era in our lives.  This is definitely true of my hunter-green Mazda Miata, which I passed along to a new owner this past Saturday.

The car represented a brief yet expansive period of my life: newly married, driving my hot wheels to increasingly professional and well-compensated work, working in the field I’d trained for (I studied arts education at Harvard), and scooting off to wherever I needed to go whenever I wanted.

But now I’m a stay-at-home Mamma and the Miata is definitely not the appropriate car.  To save money Ben and I have decided to share his car, which means most of the time I ain’t got no wheels at all!  The good part is that where I used to be stuck with an ugly freeway commute, I now have the luxury of walking everywhere, and we live in a beautiful area.  It’s hard to put a price tag on the value of strolling down a sunny sidewalk on my way to Peet’s coffee at 11am.  But still, I’m going to miss that convertible.  Sigh.

The car has great vibes.  It was an indescribable gift to me from one of my very best friends.  Yes, a gift (who gives someone a sporty convertible?).  Colleen drove it for years and when it came time for her to buy a new car, she decided to give me her Miata.  That convertible was a continuous reminder of the goodness of God expressed through the generosity of a best friend.

When I first met Caitlin (26, gutsy, smart, beautiful and without a car), well, I just had this hunch.  She’s gonna be the one.  When the time comes, I want to give my car to her.

So here goes.  Farewell to the miracle car – one that I didn’t earn and cannot sell – and farewell to my late twenties (I know, it’s been three years already, but symbolically…).  Farewell to my life without kids.

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The Value of ‘Negative Space’

Recently I joined a watercolor class.  It meets in Seal Beach on Wednesdays and is instructed by my own Mamma, Bobbi Boyd.  Aside from the fun of getting to paint every week and the fact that my mom is really a great teacher, I like this class because the other painters are so interesting.  Get a table full of creative women together and the conversation is bound to be dynamic.

At my first visit one of the women, Nicole, brought up some research she had come across on a German media program (she’s German).  Neuroscience has shown that the brain actually forms memories during periods of inactivity following an event.  So, Nicole explained, she now understands why her two little girls often seem to space out after they’ve been studying something.  Another woman in the group, (who I happen to know pretty well because she was my natural childbirth instructor), said that she often gets the solution to whatever problems she’s facing if she lets herself sit in stillness for awhile.  Again, just spacing out.

These valuable periods of inaction remind me of a parallel concept in art: negative space.  The idea is that the empty areas in an artwork have equal importance to the active, filled-in areas.  We use negative space when creating art, as in being able to accurately see the shape of a three dimensional object and translate it to the canvas.  We also use negative space when viewing art.  The space has presence of its own and counterbalances the presence of the depicted subject.

Just before typing this I’ve been staring at a beautiful example.  In our living room stands a life-size portrait made by artist Amanda Harrison.  While the figure obviously dominates, I find I can sit for great stretches of time just examining the white areas.  The negative space.  There is such a sense of air and light breathing through the emptiness.

Original Drawing by Amanda Harrison.

In life as in art, there is a great harmony achieved when we allow for emptiness.   Periods of unstructured time.  Moments of spacing out.  Staring at the sky.  Daydreaming.  Wondering.  I think, but I’m not yet experienced to know, this will be an important concept to remember when I’m raising my kids.  Aaron’s so young still, but I want to give him the same freedom as he gets older that I had as a kid.  The freedom to gaze long into the open spaces and find the company of my own thoughts, dreams and visions.

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My Delight Meter is in the Red

My mom coined this phrase several years ago on a trip she’d organized in Tuscany.   There were about 8 of us, mostly fellow students from the Laguna College of Art and Design where my mom was pursing her BFA.  Although I was not a student, I loved hanging with this brilliant cadre of artists.  Overlooking the undulating hills studded with olive trees and vineyards, we were sharing a bottle of Chianti and breathing in the pure air when she famously declared “my delight meter is in the red!”

Mom says it’s her translation of St. Ignatius’ idea of consolation versus desolation.  According to Ignatius, we have this kind of spiritual thermometer inside us.  It is our task to tune in.  If something feels delightful, pure, good and true, it is what he calls “consolation” and we should pursue it.  If something feels bad, wrong, impure, oppressive, it is the opposite force: desolation.  We should flee the latter while increasingly running after the former.

Last week I spent a day in Laguna Beach where my mom lives and while the baby slept I went for a walk.  Later that day the fabulous Alli Tosti came by with her two kids.  No question: my delight meter was in the red.

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A Song of Ascents

Every once in awhile a prayer rises within me and it’s so wholehearted I know the origin is deeper than self-will.  It’s more like a groan of the Spirit, pulling at every sinew and blood vessel with an unexplained longing.  Maybe that is what Jesus meant when He told us that anything we ask for in His name He will do for us (John 14:14).   The prayer rises up like a bird beating against our chest, longing to be free.  In such cases you know it is His initiative.

My prayer was this: to be set free from depression, envy and all the junk that can emotionally annihilate me at Christmastime.   For love to pour out where in the past there’s been a lot of bitterness and blockage.  I wanted to genuinely connect with my dad and step mom up in Santa Cruz, even if it was only over the phone.  I wanted my mom in Laguna Beach and my brothers far and wide to know how amazing I think they are, and how invaluable their love is to me.  I wanted to be fully present with my in-laws in Dallas.  To feel comfortable just being myself and at the same time open to getting to know them on a deeper level.

By mid-December things began to line up.  A good friend shared with me how it feels to be a step mom and constantly rejected by your husband’s children.  I thought about how fruitless it is to hold one another hostage for being human and having messy family trees.  It’s not like anyone fantasizes about being a “broken home” or a “second wife” or an older single person.   It isn’t anyone’s first choice.  But every day we have a choice whether or not to forgive one another.  Every day we have a choice whether or not to receive the Love of our Creator and let Him re-create us in wholeness. It’s a wild ride if we choose to take it; freedom beckons on the other side.

This year, it seems the freedom ride chose me.  Throughout the holidays I found more and more connection with the people in my family, both on my side and my husband’s.  In the past the holidays have shrouded me in sadness, sense of lack, envy and unforgiveness.  But this year, pretty much all I could feel was whole.  It was like sitting in a circle of people and this golden light falling on everything, making it beautiful and soft and transcendent.

Which brings me to the Psalms of Ascents.  While in Dallas I kept thinking about Psalm 133 which speaks of a kind of family connectedness, a spirit of unity which is truly God-breathed.   I asked my father-in-law Allen about the wording.  Why the oil dripping from Aaron’s beard?  Allen, a pastor and Biblical scholar, broke it down for me this way:

What does oil signify?  Anointing.  Blessing.  Consecration.  Aaron’s role as high priest, the mediator between God and man.   Psalm 133 is the image of the oil being so thick it is pouring off Aaron’s beard and his clothes.  It’s a picture of the place where God’s blessing has saturated the atmosphere and people are in harmony with each other because of it.

Allen explained further that Psalm 133 is a Psalm of Ascent, part of a group of psalms about spiritual pilgrimage.  Part of the journey of Ascent is coming into your identity which involves aligning with those you’re supposed to be connected with in the Lord.

I loved this interpretation because it confirmed my experience.  Where there had been subtle but significant road blocks in my sense of unity with the people in my family, suddenly I was experiencing breakthrough.  And it really did feel like an atmospheric change.  Like finding myself in a place where the “oil” of reconciliation was raining down in abundance.  What is so awesome about this is that without the “oil dripping down from Aaron’s beard,” I often miss the opportunity to truly connect.  Potentially vital relationships stay surface-level.  And without this God-breathed unity, I won’t know how to fulfill my destiny.   I can’t quite make the ascent.   Our traveling companions, so to speak, are all around us, but we need this heavenly anointing to release the truth.

Behold how good and how pleasant it is, for brethren to sit together in unity

It is like the precious oil upon the head, Coming down upon the beard,

Even Aaron’s beard, Coming down upon the edge of his robes (Psalm 133:1-2)

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Sle-e-ep in Heav-en-ly Peace

A week or so before Christmas I was pondering my purpose in life.  I was disappointed with the reality that no matter how hard I try to be efficient, I just can’t seem to get much done besides being Mamma.  Some days, just getting a load of laundry completely through, or getting the dishes from table to dishwasher feels heroic.  The interruptions of baby Aaron are frequent and imperative.  Not that I’m complaining.  Being a mother trumps any experience or achievement real or imagined in my life so far.  Just holding him is a sweet reward.  Yet I persist in wavering between pure surrender to the fleeting moments of motherhood and the voice of the self-critic that says I’m not doing enough to validate my freedom, my time, my education, etc. etc.

So, while nursing the wee babe I decided to journal.  I figured by asking the question: “what am I supposed to be doing with my time right now” the answer would manifest.  I wanted to search the Scriptures for answers, but my Bible is unwieldy.  Too big for balancing with the baby on my lap, especially when he’s focused on his all-important task of eating.  Meanwhile the good hormones released by breastfeeding had begun to work a marvelous calm in me.  When Aaron finished eating I decided to lay him down on my bed and sleep next to him for 15 minutes or so.  My face was right next to the baby, so we were looking eye to eye, so focused I could see my own reflection in the blue-black of his iris and pupil.

We both fought sleep in order to keep staring, but it was a losing battle.  Aaron succumbed first.  Sleep washed over him like a soft wave and I admired how his wide lids and long lashes are so perfectly formed.  Cheeks full and flushed with life.  Lips slightly open.  I could feel cool air on my face and looked up thinking it was the ceiling fan, but the fan was off.  It was the breath from baby’s nostrils.  And then he reached with his hand, still so hard for him to control, and it landed like a gentle smack across my nose.  Palm to Palm is holy palmer’s kiss (Romeo & Juliet, Act 1 scene 5).  Smack to the nose is baby Aaron’s kiss.

I got to thinking the intimacy between us as mother and son was so seasonally appropriate.  The image of Madonna and Child–an icon of Christmas–is kind of an ordinary event.  A portrait of a woman holding her child and contemplating the mystery and the miracle of his life.  For us as women it is also an expression of Emmanuel.  Just as the Spirit hovered over Mary, God-is-with-us, dignifying, sancifying and blessing our everyday acts of love toward our children and other family members.  Mary had prophesied over herself: “henceforth all generations shall call me blessed“; I believe she was also symbolically prophesying over all womankind.  We too are blessed to be agents of heavenly peace.   We carry this Peace when we welcome the love of God for us and within us, allowing that Love to spill over into the lives of the people around us.

Thank You Aaron, for being my son.  Thank You Jesus, for coming as a helpless baby.  Thank You Father, for sending Him to us in this way and affirming forever the dignity of every mother’s work.  Thank You for the blessing of this sacred time in my life, when I am called to contemplate the peaceful face of an infant and even to see through his tender eyes a new image of myself.  Thank You for this beautiful portion of Heavenly Peace.


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