Friday, January 29, 2010

Color Him Love

Dear Dutch,

I heard this song, "Color Him Father," by a little known but very talented woman, Linda Martell, and it reminded me of you. In particular the opening lines:

"There's a man at my house he's so big and strong;
He goes to work each day, and he stays all day long.
He comes home each night looking tired and beat;
He sits down at the dinner table and has a bite to eat.
Never a frown, always a smile,
When he says to me, "How's my child?"

Think I'll color him father;
I think I'll color him love.
Said I'm gonna color him father;
I think I'll color him love..."

Thank you for working so hard to provide for us. You color my world with so much love... xoxo, HMB

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How's your bed?

It was nearly seven o'clock by the time we finally sat down to dinner. Dutch and I were both bleary-eyed and yawning. A very long week.

"How is your bid coming along?" I asked him.

"It's ... fine," he said, "as far as bids go. We still have a few more properties to evaluate and then we'll send it in."

Suddenly Audrey who was sitting - very auspiciously - at the head of the table piped in: "I-- I have a bed, guys! It's in my room! Wanna see it?"

We looked at each other for a moment in bafflement before realizing that her child's mind had taken my word, "bid," and transformed it into "bed"" - to both of us, a far more enticing topic.

"Oh my," I said to Audrey, leaning forward with sudden interest, imagining myself buried in a bed of down, "Do you like your bed?"

"Yes-I-like-it-very-much!" she chirped, wagging her head from side to side and spearing a bite of fish with her fork. "It's white and it's soft and I go sleepin' in it before I wakin' up in the mornin' an' eatin' my bagel with cream cheese."

I let go my fork with a clatter. "Now that," I said, "sounds like a heavenly idea."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I am sitting on my bed reading a book when Audrey wanders in wearing her feather boa and brown felt hat. "Hi, Mudder," she says glumly.

"Why do you have your hat on?" I ask, a smile breaking out across my face.

"Because," she trills, "I halfta to go..." She lifts her hat off her head then drops it down again, Charlie Chaplin-style. "I halfta put on my hat and I halfta get my scarf..." - she is speaking breathlessly, wrapping the boa around her neck - "And my hat... so i can -- and my gloves! These are my gloves," she makes a sandwich with her hands, points to an invisible pair of gloves, "and this is my hat and I halfta go to work!

"Really? Do you have to?"

She shrugs and squints and purses her lips apologetically, like someone who is being forced to break bad news: "Yeah. I halfta go. Sorry. I can't - can't stay here. I halfta go to work - but... then-I'll-be...right back!"

"Oh. When are you coming back?"

She is squinting and shrugging and angling her head at me: "Thursday," she says.

"Thursday? What time?"


"2:41? You won't be home until 2:41?"

"Yeah. Sorry. Two forty-one."

"Well then, travel safely. I love you!"

"I love you too, Mudder!" She turns sharply and scampers out the door. Halfway down the hall she stops, sprints back, pokes her head in and says: "I almost forgot to tell you! When I coming back I bringin' you a treat!"

"A treat," I want to say, "You are my treat." But I hold myself back, unsure whether she'll understand.

The Sweetest Thing

"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born." ~CS Lewis, "Til We Have Faces"

It was Thursday night. Dutch was out of town. Both babes were in bed -- at last. I sat up, stubbornly, in my bathrobe and slippers, writing... or, trying to, but the words just wouldn't come. Instead, I became enraptured by the music of Regina Spektor...

I happened upon one particular video (!) featuring an incandescently blue-eyed Ms. Spekter, her tousled head full of black curls, sitting on a hillside beneath a brilliantly blue sky, pounding away on her piano...

All at once, inexplicably, I began to cry. And once I started crying I couldn't stop.

What was it, I asked myself, that was arousing so much emotion?

Was it the sheer beauty of the setting - a landscape entirely unobstructed by manmade ugliness? Was it the impact of seeing someone - a woman, about my age - applying her talent for music in such an extraordinary way?

Or was I merely jealous of her powers of expression, wishing I could cast off my own shortcomings and constraints, banish the dumb hesitation, the awkward fumblings, and speak the words which burn in my soul like embers? Was that why I was crying?

"If only you could..." a voice seemed to whisper,"...then you would be..." - what - satisfied? content?

That is what the Serpent would like me to believe. That satisfaction is not only possible, it is a hand's breadth away... near enough for me to pick and sink my teeth the fruit in the garden long ago. For that, after all, was part of the appeal: "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was...pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it."

But I cannot possess Wisdom and Beauty any more than I can pluck a star down and plunk it into my pocket. I imagine even Ms. Spektor looks at the fruit of her labors - the combined effect of countless takes, film editors, sound editors, clothing designers - with a certain measure of astonishment. All those lights and all that makeup, the gear that littered that gorgeous hillside...turned into... this...something so flawlessly pure it almost takes your breath away.

Still, countless millions spend their whole lives worshiping Beauty - whether they ever come to realize it or not. I understand these people - who seek out any means of experiencing the 'sublime' - even if it means exploiting artificial substances, hallucinogens of one kind or another, to suspend or "create" the feeling.

But this, too, is a trick; another dead end street... For the truth is that nothing, outside of Jesus Christ, can satisfy my deepest desire for beauty and wisdom.

The best artists enable us to feel as though we are touching the divine...just as Adam and God touch fingers on the ceiling of the Sistene chapel. In this way, artists are magicians. They make us 'see' the footprint in the sand, even if only for that one moment before the tide washes it away. In this very great sense, Ms. Spektor's music succeeded for it aroused within me an unquenchable longing for that which nothing in this world can ever satisfy. And as CS Lewis famously noted, “If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

But the artists fail us, or we fail ourselves, when we mistake the poem for the Prize; the footprint for its Author. Unknowingly, we "exchange the truth of God for a lie..." and begin to worship the created things, rather than the Creator of them all.

The most beautiful song, the most inspired poem -- the most evocative film sequence, enchanting sunset, or decadent meal -- these do not quench my thirst for beauty. They only arouse it. As CS Lewis says, "they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited." If we are wise, we will recognize that all art and beauty are pointing us in a particular direction... they are lighthouses, illuminating the darkness, pointing us to the safety of the Shore.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Sky

Some days, when I am suffering a loss in perspective, all I have to do is...look up.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Painting for Evie


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Farmer's Market

Sunday Farmer's Market... So many colors, flowers and smells... it was a little slice of heaven.

The day began with coffee and "sonts" (croissants) and ended it with roasted leeks and chicken, greek salad, hummus, staziki sauce, and pepperoncinis. Yum. Audrey relished her job of mixing dressing onto the salad; and we clapped our hands when Evangeline finally succeeded in getting a slippery piece of avocado into her mouth.

After she asked to be excused Audrey went into the living room, threw up her hands, and exclaimed, "Oh, I like your bookshelf, Mom. It's really beautiful."

"Thank you," I said.

"But Daddy can't - Daddy can't take it down 'cause then it's gonna make a really big mess!"

She may be only two but it seems one is never too young to recognize the law of cause and effect...

After dinner we all snuggled on the couch eating popcorn and watching The Black Stallion. Evangeline slept on Dutch's chest. Audrey and I put together her animal puzzle and afterwards danced "the puzzle dance" - which is, in fact, shockingly, just as highly choreographed as it sounds.

When Dutch tucked Audrey into bed she nuzzled her nose up next to his and I heard her say, "Oh, I love you my Hessel." He came walking down the hall shaking his head.

"There is just nothing better, is there?" I asked.

"No," he said, "nothing."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Door in the Wall

This extraordinary book was written and illustrated by Marguerite de Angeli, whose personal story is also, in its own way, rather extraordinary. After completing one year of high school Ms. de Angeli dropped out in order to become a choral singer and soloist for various churches throughout Philadelphia. She met her husband, a violinist, and after they married she devoted herself to the raising of their six children.

Ms. De Angeli began as an illustrator of a Sunday school newspaper and did not try her hand at writing until the middle of her life. In a short introduction to The Door in the Wall her son writes, “Her sense of wonder and modesty about her talent were things that lent her work such charm, in both the text and the illustrations, and her love of people, especially children, is evident throughout.”

Indeed, The Door in the Wall is the story of a child - a young boy named John, of noble birth, who is made a cripple by the plague before his dream of becoming a knight can be fulfilled. With his parent's away in service to the King and Queen, John is taken in by the local monastery to be cared for by the monks.

For much of the book he is preoccupied with his handicap and its shattering effect on his dream.

“What think you Brother Luke," he asks in a moment of despair, "shall my legs ever straighten?”

“God alone knows whether thou’lt straighten or no," says the monk. "I know not. But this I tell thee. …It is better to have crooked legs than a crooked spirit.”

And that, in essence, is the theme of this book: Ms. De Angeli deftly illustrates the point that having character is more important than getting what we want; and that character is achieved - not in spite of the pain in our lives, but through it.

Pain is the instrument; and the result can be beautiful. In contrast, to achieve one's dream at the expense of attaining character is the greatest tragedy of all.

The book also tacitly conveys the tremendous difference that one individual can have in the life of another. It is Brother Luke who perseveres in reaching out to young John, urging him to "look for the door in the wall which no one can shut" (Revelation 3.8), which is another way of encouraging him to look for some means of thriving within the confines of his limitations. He may not be able to walk, but he can learn to carve wood, to swim, and to read.

In this way John's handicap teaches him to focus his attention on what he can do - which is quite a lot.

Slowly, very slowly, he begins to learn self-discipline, patience, and perseverence. And in the end John, the cripple, turns out to be a hero, soaring to heights he might never have reached if the events of his life had transpired differently.

When he is finally reunited with his father, he garners the strength to ask the question that has been burning in his soul for months: “Father, mind you not that I must go thus, always bent over, and with these crutches to walk?”

His father becomes suddenly grave and, resting his hands on his son's shoulders, says, “The courage you have shown, the craftsmanship proven by the harp, and the spirit in your singing all make so bright a light that I cannot see whether or no your legs are crooked.”

Perhaps the great irony of this book is that it is written for an audience of children. For it contains truths that many a grown up (like myself) would be privileged to fully grasp.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pony House

I brought home some old produce boxes from Costco; took a bag of fabric scraps, pipe cleaners and batting out of the closet and marginally assisted Audrey, Ella, and Kate in the construction of "garden-forest-houses" for their ponies.

They were absorbed all evening.

When Ella's mother went in to check on her that night her "pony house" was nestled beside her bed... and her pony had been tucked in just as lovingly as she had been.

I wish I looked that happy while I sleep.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Starting Small

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eggs in a Basket...

...never tasted so good.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Thoughts to Usher in a New Year

On New Year’s Eve I sat watching old video clips of Dutch’s grandparents – his grandmother in her easy chair reading Bible stories to the grandchildren; feeding ice cream to the baby; washing and re-stuffing an old stuffed toy. His grandfather at the piano belting out lyrics to forgotten hymns; bouncing a child on his lap, making up songs. The two of them, sitting on a backyard swingset, waving and smiling beneath a sunny sky.

Ten years of Christmas and summer vacations condensed down into sixty concise minutes, prepackaged for my viewing pleasure. I couldn’t help but notice the date on the recorder jumping forward with every frame: June 1990, December '91, '92, '93, '94… creeping ever closer to the year 1996, when his grandmother died unexpectedly of leukemia.

And do you know what it made me think?

It made me think how very fast life goes. Our children age while we grow old until, all at once, without warning, life can be, will be over.

TS Eliot writes: there will be “time for you and time for me, / And time yet for a hundred indecisions, / And for a hundred visions and revisions, / Before the taking of a toast and tea.” But the truth is that the time is very short …

Dutch says I am not a good listener. He is right. “But why do you think?” I asked him.

“Because,” he said, “you think you know what people are going to say before they say it. Usually you are right but that isn’t the point.”

“What’s the point?” I said, laughing.

“The point is that you don’t have the patience to sit and listen.”

He is right about that too. But that is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg.

On Christmas Day I realized that I want life to consist of epiphanal moments, mountain top experiences, where I learn something completely, cross it off my list and say, “Now that’s done let’s get on to more important matters…”

But that is not what the Christian life is about. The Christian life is about the small moments spent going to battle with myself, revisiting old truths and putting them into practice. Victory is slow and incremental; it isn't glamorous but the small moments really are the important ones.

I am not really one for making New Year’s resolutions which hardly seem to outlive the hoopla that surrounds them. But this year feels different. We are entering a new decade. I am about to turn 30. And my daughter who, only a moment ago, was looking up at me mute and toothless, now asks about the meaning of airplanes, and when I am frustrated detects even the slightest alteration in my voice.

And while I would like to say that I am approaching total mastery of skills like patience and kindness, the fact is I am not so different from the girl I was ten years ago. Then, as now, I was resolved to “count everything a loss for the sake of knowing Christ and being found in Him.” But what I did not count on, and what still leaps up to shatter my self-image, is the sin in my heart. “Look for me another day / I feel that I could change / I feel that I could change” is the ballad my soul sings.

But though I may feel that change is possible, the truth is I cannot, apart from the salvific work of Christ, change my nature one dot or tittle.

What to do, then, I asked myself, in a moment of despair? And what was it all for – my casting out into the unknown future, forging a life I never otherwise would have dreamed of, and counting as loss those things I once considered valuable - if I am not discernably closer to “knowing Christ" than I was before?”

I thought about this a long time. I thought about it until my head hurt… and the more I thought, the further I seemed from arriving at any kind of conclusion.

That is until something led me back to the famous chapter in Philippians from which these words and concepts emerge… And in revisiting these old passages I realized something new: that it is not the attainment of perfection that matters - Christ has already done that once and for all on my behalf (Hebrews 10.14) - it is the perpetual striving, the continual willingness to “count all things to be that I may gain Christ...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection of the dead.”

It seems to me that what Paul is describing is a process of counting all things as loss in order to gain intimacy with Christ. Put another way, he is exhorting me to cast aside, or consider as rubbish, anything which raises itself up between me and Christ.

My mistake is in assuming this should only happen once when in fact it must happen many, many times... for a lifetime. For it is in the act of perpetually dying that I am conformed to the likeness of Christ.

So rather than give way to despair in those moments when my sin is revealed, I should rejoice, knowing that Christ not only paid the ultimate penalty for my sin; but that He has paved a different path for me to follow.

The revelation is an opportunity - a carpe diem moment - to cast my sin aside and "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."

With His help, this year, I want to... more and more, I want to.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Pretty in Pink

In life it rarely happens that one's expectations are exceeded. When such anomalies (or miracles) do occur it is important to record them... and today was one of those days.

We began our ballet/tap class with Teacher Annette. Teacher Annette was so lovely and stood so straight and tall. Audrey was in awe. As we fastened on her tutu, beside six other girls and their mothers, Audrey looked around and said, "Mom, what are all these peoples gonna do?"

"They are gonna dance - with you, Audrey!"

"Oh," she said, "like a princess?"

"Just like a princess."

Audrey peered wordlessly through the window into the mirrored dancing room with its bare wood floors, and its ballet bar wrapped around the wall. Soon the girls began to cluster in one corner - girls in black leotards with champagne-colored shoes and white tights. One girl even wore a robin's egg blue tutu. It was like something out of a Degas painting.

Audrey looked back at me, her brown eyes staring, mirror-like, into mine. "Mom," she whispered, "why are all these peoples getting married? Are they gonna, Mom??"

"No - not exactly," I said. "But you will get to twirl around in your tutus and glide from one end of the floor to the other. You will learn to walk with your toes pointed out and round your arms and float just like you were a bird instead of a human being...and, well, it's not like getting married... but I'll tell you a secret: in a way it's almost... kind of... better."

I watched proudly as my little Andaatje made slow, bashful, but eventually self-assured steps across the floor. When it was her turn to step and twirl she turned back to wave wildly at me, like a scene from an old silent movie, her lips mouthing the words, "Hi, Mom! Hi Mommy, hi!" I blinked back tears. Such a small moment - but it made my small life seem suddenly big.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Put on your dancing shoes...

She starts ballet/tap tomorrow. I wonder who is more excited - Audrey or me?

Um, definitely me.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Feeding the Ducks

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"I carry your heart with me...

...I carry it in my heart." ~ ee cummings