Soft Hearts and Thin Skin

3763198498_98d40f2c48_oRecently I found myself engaged in another maddening conversation with my four-year old daughter. We were discussing the aquarium we were going to visit the next day. She wrinkled her nose and pronounced that she wouldn’t go.

“Why?” I asked, more than a little impatient.

“What if there are sharks? What if there are eels?”

I assured her that we would keep her safe.

“No,” she said, firmly. “I am not going to the aquarium.”

“Yes,” I said, “you are,” thinking of the tickets we’d already purchased and out-of-town friends we’d meet there.

She cried and flung herself onto the couch. “But the sharks! But the eels!”

I had no pity. My heart was a steel trap of already-made plans.

My daughter has a history of fixating on small worries in her life—every night there was a book or a toy I needed to take away, and so many questions about death and existentialism that I’m unprepared for. As she wades deeper into an awareness of life, I just try to get us through as best as I can.

And I really wanted to go to this damn aquarium.

[Read more...]

Grace and the Incomplete Flush

oldcoolbuildingAlmost two years ago my husband and I bought a condo in a cool old building downtown. Great location, hardwood floors, exposed brick, pocket doors—charm and more charm. The trouble with cool old buildings is that they are rife with plumbing and electrical issues as ancient systems jury-rigged to keep up with modern times continually fail.

Our previous home had these same issues. The electrical never bothered me much—an ungrounded outlet here, a shorted breaker there, a little smoke wafting out of the dimmer switch of a summer evening. Life.

But the plumbing. The plumbing is another story. The primary symptom of its troubles (and all of my angst about it) coalesces around what is known in the biz as an “incomplete flush.” No matter how many times you flush the toilet, you can never quite get rid of all evidence that you had to use it.

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The Regrettably Pretty Shoes: A St. Louis Story

st louis policeGuest post by Linda Wendling

 I love St. Louis. I love Ferguson.

My whole family grew up loving this burg. Two kids went to school there; my friends and I ate girly tea-party fare at The Thyme Table. And we all hit The Ferguson Bakery (famous for its chewy anise cookies). Ferguson and St. Louis proper are rich in historic homes, multicultural communities, and a long tradition of block parties (can you say “toasted ravioli?”). Two of my children still live in St. Louis. We still belong to the St. Louis Mennonites. It’s home.

This is the story of a young St. Louis mother who has to walk in far more deliberate grace and patience and with a cooler head than most of us—to not let her little girl catch the rage disease. Jaimie* is the child who came to us as a young single adult. Jaimie is the daughter who (gently) muzzles me now and then.

Jaimie muzzles herself. [Read more...]

Keeping Up with the Writing Joneses

By the time this post runs, I’ll be in Grand Rapids at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing. Since I am now a mid-careerish, spiritually mature woman attending the event for the fourth time, I will certainly not embarrass myself by committing the following rookie atrocities*:

Forgetting Michigan is on Eastern Standard Time and becoming self-righteously flustered when I find out I’m late for the opening session because who does Michigan think she is, New York?

Introducing myself with “Vander” in front of my decidedly unDutch surname to get a laugh from all those Reformed folk.

Standing in line to talk to Greg Wolfe while trying to look like I’m not really standing in line, and when I get my turn, renewing my subscription to Image because I don’t know what else to say. Realizing that because of similar conference encounters, my issues should safely arrive through 2025.

Walking up to an editor busily unpacking boxes at her publisher’s table and thrusting a manuscript in her face because editors are hard up for manuscripts, desperately seek ways to fill their down time, and thrive on surprises.

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Fear Factor

For a young woman beset with all manner of insecurities, the early nineties in southern California were the perfect storm. Or fire. Or fault.

During my college years at the University of California, Riverside, I often felt my center could not hold. But because I didn’t know how to deal with the center, I focused on everything outside it—the more explosive, the better: Desert Storm, the LA Riots, fires, and, of course, earthquakes.

I walked dutifully to class amidst yelling protestors and swirling ashes from one disaster to another, nerves on edge. But when the Landers quake hit one hundred miles east of campus in the summer of 1992, my anxiety went wild. For years, we’d been told the Big One was coming, and coming soon. I convinced myself Landers harbingered the coming California apocalypse.

I’d heard about liquefaction, when an earthquake turns the ground into quicksand swallowing buildings and cars. I saw myself pinned under five floors of books at my library job with no one to hear my cries. I recalled the harrowing stories of the Nimitz Freeway collapse in the San Francisco quake of 1989, how rescue workers had to saw through a dead woman to get to a living child, how the whimpers of dying people haunted the night. That summer, I panicked when traffic kept me under a bridge for more than a second, and I scanned every building I entered for ominous shelves and chandeliers. My imagination shook the floor several times a day.

Like Anne Lamott and her “butt mind,” described in Traveling Mercies as her monitoring, evaluating, and comparing other’s asses to her own at a daily, obsessive level, I had “quake mind” through and through.

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