learning grace

she calls me in quiet sadness, says in soft British voice, “em, dad won’t let me go to the centre today.”

mum has found a home at the local adult day centre, a place where people of small and large disability gather as one to do crosswords and play bingo and eat meat and potatoes. when mum needs to rest, there are easy chairs. when mum needs to chat, there are adults to listen and she feels normal there.

but fridays are for those suffering dementia. i tell her this, remind her gently and she says, “what does that matter?” and i think, hmm, what does that matter? “well mum, they’re different…” and she says in return, “so am i. we can be different, together.”

different, together. isn’t this it? the message of the gospel? the meaning of church? it’s not about pressed suits and ironed dresses and curled hair and sitting in a pew. it’s about meeting at a day-centre, in stretchy blue pants and stained sweater, doing cross-words with other adults who may forget your name but who will sit with you and touch your hand and smile as, together, you learn how to walk in grace.

(photo of my mum, on left, running as a little girl)

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being family

i hear him slip from the bathroom into teacher-clothes, and i rise, greet the morn with tousled hair and wrinkled pyjamas, slide his lunch into school-bag, and then he dances for me in the middle of the kitchen while he waits for his toast. dances for me as marmalade-sunshine splashes onto floor and i double over laughing as he exaggerates his moves in slow-motion then pulls me into farm-boy arms and twirls me like he did on our wedding day.

then, from the room down the hall, a small voice begging ‘getmeup so i too might join in this day, in this dance of life’ so together we visit the nursery, find our son in his wee bed big eyes staring up, small face stretching wide into smile as we gaze down. i pick him up, tuck him close and he slurps milk and we sit in kitchen-stillness eating toast and drinking coffee and being family.

God in the grime

the seed has fallen on snow, splattered on powder blackened by foot. there, the sparrows congregate, pecking and stepping on white cold when above, the feeder dangles from tree. why the ground, not the feeder? the birds scatter when my shadow crosses window, and i lament my haste. wish them return, for there is peace in watching them gather.

this, i hunger for: seed of Scripture sprinkled where dirty footsteps fall. the holy amidst the mess. i am trying to see God in the grime of living, to find him in the poverty of spirit. for somehow, feeding on him amidst the pain is far more filling than feeding on him in comfort: the safety of feeder, hanging from tree. no, i’d rather grovel on ground, uncovering the secret stash of seed, made more sacred by the fall from heights. there, amongst the homeless sparrows i share broken bread, broken spirit, broken body… there, we congregate. feeding on grace.

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winding white

i’m peeling down white roads in blue-rusted van, aiden cooing and me, listening, making mama-noises until he fades into deep dream-blue and i, space into quiet, letting God speak to mind, finding time to listen on curled country road.

this, my drive to writer-friend’s. she, waiting with loaf of bread and books and half a dozen children, waiting to breathe words into this dry soul, this young, aspiring soul so lost in the loneliness of writing. she, waiting to listen and speak and cry upon my transparent pages, pages blotted with black words dripping ink down hands and life. she, writer-friend, waiting to fill this soul with thoughts of good things, with mama-advice and hot, vanilla hazelnut tea steaming from earthenware mugs, us sitting on leather couch, figuring out grace and life through tears and talk; two lonely women clinging to our children while finding time in the after-hour to put pen to paper and await the spirit-breath.

i drive home now, aiden speaking in the back and me listening, grateful for these roads winding white, for writer friends and for babies who babble infant songs.

my sunshine baby

he’s got old-soul eyes this child peering up at his mama who’s sad because of grey skies. i live in a house of walls, windows few and small, so grey clouds make the air feel heavy. but there on his playmat, my rolling sunshine… squealing, lifting legs high, or sometimes just staring up at me, always seeing me… and while he’s asleep i remember his eyes, his old-man eyes, how they know when i am happy, when i’m sad, despite the smile on my skin…

and in his gaze, grace. in his his tiny hands which touch mine, soft love and then, when i try to make him laugh even when he’s tired, he giggles, light in this small house, loving me in spite of me. and sometimes, he makes funny faces waiting for me to laugh and then i do, and he does too, and we press heart-beats together and make merry this dark house, child and i, finding joy in the other.

my word-space

this, then, is my workspace… my word-space… place where phrases fall into cyber-world while beside me, piles of laundry-folds, baby chair, spit-up rag and phone dangling for interviews. on the floor, play-mat with baby rolling, sticking fingers dripping wet on clothes, in mouth, gurgles, sighs, these, the muse for my articles and books, this, the place where the washing machine-whir and drier-drum keep time with my thoughts. here, i write. for you to read.

body

He’s suckling, urging milk to mouth, and it flows, electric veins through my chest, body throbbing with the pulse of feeding life in arms, and now he’s slurping, milk bubbles at mouth, and I marvel at the way my life feeds his when I was told I couldn’t. Doctors staring at 60-pound self purple with pneumonia saying, Never. She’ll never have a child and me not caring, only wondering why I couldn’t lose more weight. Bones, I counted each before bed, fingers on ribs making sure they jutted out, Anorexic mind calculating food for next day, tummy crying like an angry baby begging to be fed. Then, slowly, very slowly, starting to eat again, blood beginning to flow in maternal patterns, tummy quieted for the moment until marriage, when body became his and his, mine, and nothing was private, no room at the inn, and suddenly, starvation became lifeline and once again my tummy wept and bones protruded, blood flow stopped and mind went numb. Losing… and then, that day on the road when we screamed and he said, me or food, and I chose him, his body, his mind, his soul, as mine, and slowly, again, covered up my bones and blood started to flow and we began to try for more bodies in this little house until one day, rejoicing, faint lines on stick, planning names, talking to womb, praying for life internal then, the doctor’s face, and, no heartbeat, and, dying inside. Blood again flowing—bad blood–taking baby with it and tears, wet on face, and everywhere, liquid. Amidst the liquid, pre-cancerous cells, faint rejoicing that they’d been found like sheep gone astray, and now, trying again, body tender and sore, making love until we wept then strong line on stick and happy songs; heartbeat, like tiny footsteps against my womb and glowing, growing, my body a garden, papoose-bearing-vessel. No longer me, but us, child from my skin: bones covered with baby. Then, nine-month pain, from places I didn’t know I had, secret rooms within my body screaming and the baby, sliding from a hole which somehow widened, the cave within, and me, opening myself up to unspeakable pain and preparing to die, when suddenly, in my arms, baby-life, nuzzling breast and so, I continue, feeding miracle-milk, not knowing why the doctors were wrong but oh so glad they were.

(written for Geez magazine)

bigger than biggest

mum is at the door, laden with bags stuffed with books, slippers, diaper, her cheeks frosted with winter. it’s wednesday. she comes here, while dad is gone. aiden is crying from somewhere deep inside him, a cry i’m not sure how to soothe, and so i just pat his bum whisper prayers begging God to breathe quiet so i can tend to mum. then, when baby rests, i turn, and she’s sitting at the table, still in her winter coat and boots, smiling at me. winter still frosted on her cheeks. slowly i help her de-thaw; we eat pea soup together, she tells me about her morning, pulls out her pills, and spends the afternoon trying to swallow them. finally i help her down for her nap, tucking her deep under duvet, pulling the blinds, kissing her forehead and praying God give her rest to heal her mind. mum turns to me, touches my cheek with hand worn from raising four children. “i love you bigger than biggest,” she says. eyes like blue earthenware on the pillow. i nod, swallow hard, kiss her one more time. shut the door.

i hear Jesus echoing mum, from humble-hanging on the cross. loving us bigger than biggest. every hour, every day.

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change-table chats

i meet him there, on the change-table. no matter my baby’s mood before, there, on the table he squeals, lifts legs in glee: naked legs, growing out of pants legs, soon to be crawling, then walking, then running legs.

we chat, there on the change-table, him telling me stories with beautiful baby consonants and me listening and nodding and urging, ‘tell me more.’ then me asking him what he’d like to do today? perhaps learn how to draw? perhaps kick a ball? or maybe, just lay on the play-mat and giggle? when i talk, he stares into my face as if memorizing every detail and then i pause and he laughs, eyes still on me, loving me with his joy-sounds.  he judges not, just listens to the lilt of mama’s voice. these are change-table moments, when nothing else distracts. when i am all his.

this then is what God seeks from me. change-table moments. he is always waiting–for me to listen, for me to memorize his face, for me to adore. and for me to want to be changed. for at the table, it’s just him and i. no one else. our own little world of chit-chat and laughs. and so, i practice the presence of the divine. making moments stretch, laying heart before God, letting him make me smile. delighting. and being changed.

my ode to Edith Bunker

on morning like these, i don my apron, flour my nose and prance around the kitchen as if i were Edith Bunker. Aiden watches me get domestic, greasing pans, kneading dough, kissing my husband, calling him ‘dear’ and sipping my cup of coffee. and for a moment, i wonder if i could be content as a house-wife. but then, that moment passes as wings of white morning flap against the window like a moth, and i find myself typing with flour-fingers trying to capture those wings while the bread burns.

there are Edith Bunkers in the world. all-in-the-family women. beautiful, floury women with warm ovens and golden loaves of bread. then, there are Emily Wierengas, constantly drawn to the written word while loaves turn black, dust gathers and mothballs collide. (oh, i clean, but only in order to create a space in which to make chaos.)

so if you find yourself in this neck of the neighbourhood, i can offer you a piece of burnt bread and a tidy spot amidst my chaotic life. but forgive me if, when a shaft of light hits the curve of your neck, i have to sit down at my computer and type.

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