things my mother taught me, or a reflection on mother’s day

tomorrow is mother’s day. i have mixed feelings about mother’s day, because while i want to celebrate my mother as much as i can, i have such a hard time finding ways to celebrate her. flowers are out, she’s fastidious about what she eats so chocolate is mostly out, and most of the cards i find in the store are just too cheesy or flowery to really convey what i’m thinking about.

i’ve been reading dorothy sayers still, slowly digesting each chapter, rereading as i need to truly understand. that’s something my mother taught me, but that’s beside the point. i’ve been rereading a chapter titled “creed or chaos,” a reflection on the creeds of the church, and what it means to embrace christian doctrine. as i read sayers’ words, i see my mother’s actions, her movements spread throughout my life.

if you read my mother’s and sister’s blog –, you will see doctrine in action. it is one thing to tell your children that they can have it all. that if they want to go to college, they can; if they want to be successful business owners, they can; if they want to stay home with their children, they can; anything they want, they can have. it is another to show your children that they can truly have nothing but Christ. that the glittering accomplishments the world holds up as trophies to womanhood, to personhood are nothing but dust and ash. that all the things we cling to as proof of our worth are nothing in light of the gospel.

and scripture is clear on what it means to embrace Christ – Romans 8:15 begins by making it very plain:

15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again;rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spiritthat we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

by embracing Christianity, and all the creeds and doctrines and beliefs, we embrace both suffering and glory. and there is no guarantee of earthly glory. at all. in fact, over and over, we are told – what comes is more valuable than what we possess here. what we have here is ash, and when we receive the reward for our lives at the other side of this existence, then we will receive our true reward. that which glitters here is not gold there.

and this is something my mother taught me. lived it out, load of laundry after load of laundry. dinners on the table, prayers prayed for my broken heart, nights spent in solitude. that often, the sacrifices we are called to make are the little ones. the little moments of laying herself down, her wants, her desires, even her needs. and it doesn’t stop. she’s been laying down her life for us my entire life, and she is now, even still, laying her life down in a hospital room at my sister’s side.

she taught me that this life is worth nothing, only worth living if we can take every moment we are given and shine the light of Heaven on it. that the only things that are worth keeping and embracing are the things with eternal value. and that not only is it hard, it is a struggle, pushing aside the flesh, setting aside our desires. she embodies what i read this week in “creed and chaos”:

[christianity] is fiercely and even harshly realistic… that there are certain eternal achievements that make even happiness look like trash.

her joy in life has been pointing us towards the cross. both pointing us to Christ’s suffering, and pointing to the glory to come if we can embrace it. she’s not been suffering in silence, putting on an aggrieved face, and doing what needs to be done begrudgingly. she’s been embracing the suffering of this world, the hard, the painful, the unwanted, and doing it with joy.

and just so you don’t think i have a completely unrealistic view of my mother, i know there have been many many times she has not wanted to do what she has been asked. disobeyed, turned away, begged not to do what lay before her. she’s overreacted, missed God’s leading, spoken from hurt, made the wrong decisions. she’s been angry and sinned, and yet. and yet.

in spite of all of those things, what filtered through was this. in order to embrace Heaven, we must embrace Jesus. not just the victorious, triumphing over all the world resurrected Messiah, but the one who begged His father in the garden, as recorded in Mark 14:

35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba,[f] Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

i can think of little else of more value than this, than what she taught me, and teaches me still: everything is possible, but what we are promised is suffering. and after these pains fall away, we are promised Heaven.

fear and hoarding in athvegas

alternate title: how i cleaned out my closet.

yeah, i’m still circling around the way i have fear based mechanisms in place all over my life. they keep appearing, new cogs and gears, moving me in directions i thought i was programmed to. it turns out, maybe i’m not supposed to be this way.

i watch a lot of netflix in the evenings after zoe goes to bed, and much to the chagrin of spencer and pretty much all my friends, i love the show hoarders. and anything dealing with hoarding. in the past, i used to watch it, think to myself, well thank God i’m not that bad.

does that sound like a verse? luke 18:11 says “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” so yeah, maybe there was some judgement, but there was a whole lot more convincing myself that my small piles of clutter were fine – sure, i totally need 18 cardigans, or 8 pairs of jeans i don’t wear. or chairs i can’t use in my house yet. or extra wool blankets. or books. and books and books and books.

and in my attempt at justifying my own hoards, i completely missed the point. well, two points. one, that there’s a deeper reason for my holding onto things. and two, i was super close to falling down that hole myself. anyone who knew me 10 years ago, and saw the insane amounts of stuff i kept filling our house with probably knows how close i actually was. and still am sometimes.

so what about my closet? i had dresses i hadn’t worn in years, jeans 2 sizes too small, and cardigans in every color of the rainbow, even though i only wear 4 or 5 of them. for me, with the homelessness, the joblessness, the despair of our previous years still written on the back of my eyelids, every time i looked in the closet, i saw money. the fact that i had so many clothes meant that no matter how broke we got, i’d still have clothes. sure, i hated half of them, but at one time i loved them, and if i really had to, i could wear them.

the phrase “poverty mindset” is thrown around the american church, and i think it is grossly misused and the solutions presented are often trite and meaningless. the thing is, poverty thinking is focused on the now. you’ve got 20 bucks? okay, put gas in your tank, buy 10 bucks in groceries, and pray nothing breaks. spending 5 dollars on thrifted shoes instead of saving for new, more expensive ones makes more sense. you know why? because as soon as you save some money, something bad will happen, and you won’t get your shoes. you’ll need your money elsewhere. your paycheck is completely allotted to food and gas and groceries, and bills and rent, and there’s no room for new clothes. better hang onto everything, because there’s no telling when you’ll get to buy something for yourself or your husband – any money for clothes goes to the growing child.

how do you escape that? i don’t know. i’m only now having to confront it, because we’re actually slowly digging out from that hole. are we rolling in it? not hardly. but the recent lowering of gas prices has given us breathing room in the budget in a way we’ve not had in years. it’s weird to be such an economic statistic, but we are. lower gas prices has freed up discretionary income, and forced me to look at my hoarding habits.

so i still watch hoarders, and i will likely keep doing so. but now, i can look and see people who are sick with fear, and somewhere along the line, something convinced them that they can’t get rid of anything. whether that something is mental illness, trauma, or other adverse events doesn’t matter. i watch it, and i want to get rid of half the things in our house. in a way, it’s cathartic for me, because i have to confront my stuff. i cleared out half my closet last night. and i’m not even kidding. i’ve only got clothes that fit me, and not only that, clothes that i like.

i kept a couple of tee shirts that don’t fit, 2 dresses and one pair of jeans. everything else is stuff i like, not just stuff i have. and that’s freeing. the act of taking the clothes off the hangers was a step towards walking away from the fear of not having enough. i still need to confront my emotional eating, and my poverty food habits, but i’m taking baby steps. i will be able to get the things i need, and i don’t need to hold onto everything just in case. the things i carry with me should be tools and not chains, assistants not weights.

i know this is a very long blog post to just talk about cleaning out my closet. but i had deeper issues to confront, and i want to keep doing it. i’m cleaning out my mental closet, trying to put away mindsets and attitudes that do nothing but destroy me. i want to walk away from fear.

fear is the little death

ever read something that you’re struck by, like a bell that resonates throughout your thoughts, echoes through your days? i certainly hope so. it’s like hearing the words of someone you love, intruding into your thoughts, months after they’ve moved away, years after they’ve gone home.

today, i was on facebook, and saw a friend remembering her mother. a mother i remember in bits and pieces as well – the friend and i went to high school together, and her mom worked at our high school as well. her mom told my mom i was wearing my lip ring to class (DIY at home piercings were all the rage in the 90’s, okay?), and that was the beginning of my teenage rebellion/depression/searching for identity. but her mom was always so kind to me, whenever i would spend the night – she had the homiest kitchen, in this really cool cabin of a house in what was then rural area in our county. she also passed away a year ago, a year ago today.

i heard once, that people fear speaking in public more than they fear dying. i don’t mind speaking in public, but the thought of this short beautiful life ending before I am ready for it to, terrifies me. the presence of loss, the specter of death hovers over our every step, and yet all i do is pretend it away. pretend that i can send that email encouraging a friend on another day. pretend that my sharp words can be apologized for tomorrow. pretend there is another day, another time to walk in kindness. pretend that i can be distant in my fear, pull away because of potential pain, hide my heart away and keep to myself.

this isn’t easy to balance. on one hand, there is the guilt of all the things left undone, the words left unsaid as i try to forget that i might lose my mom, my sister, my daughter, my family, and everything, in just a moment. and yet, there are still bills to be paid, work to be done, lunches to be packed, dinners to be cooked, and i could slip so easily into despair if all i thought of was the unavoidable nature of loss. i’m going to, one day, lose everyone i love.

the quote that’s been ringing in my ears today is this one:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

it’s from frank herbert’s sci-fi classic dune, and while most of it is glorious escapist ridiculousness, there is something to be said for adopting this idea. to let what terrifies me be accepted as terrifying. it is scary, and overwhelming, and yet, and yet.

i am afraid of losing the people i love. i am afraid of my sister dying, even though i know it is only the end of her mortal body. i am afraid of losing my brother. i am afraid of losing my daughter, like one friend has already. i am afraid of losing my mother and my father, as another friend has. i am afraid of losing my husband to death like a friend of mine has. i am afraid.

and yet.

c.s. lewis has written so many, many words that bring light to my heart, and today is no exception. i find myself longing to read the great divorce again, to remember that every fear, every hope that i lay down will one day rise again, made truer, made right. lewis writes in various places on these ideas:

Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried.

If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.

I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches Heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) has not been lost: that the kernel of what he was really seeking even in his most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in ‘the High Countries’.

so today, i am confronted with my fears. and in seeking to let them wash over me, acknowledge their presence without giving them power, and believe that one day, i will see my family in the high country. that the things i lay down, let go of will be abandoned for a greater hope. that this is not the end, and my heart does not need to die a thousand times a day before the ending comes. now to put these words into practice.


so i’ve been posting a bit at, mostly about motherhood and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. i posted there this morning on gluttony, and i honestly feel like it’s worth sharing over here. i know it’s not my usual fare, but bear with my rambling thoughts. i’ll get back to sharing pictures soon (always check the flickr account, as i post without fanfare on my flickr feed.)

also found at:

you’d think by the title of this post, that i’m talking about thanksgiving. the holiday of overeating, jokingly referred to as “turkey day,” because what it’s really about it: gorging ourselves on turkey and mashed potatoes and passing into a tryptophan coma on the couch while watching football. that’s what thanksgiving is, right? followed by another day of “thankfulness” while people get trampled in stores for goods marked down to their actual cost of manufacturing, because everyone knows labor from political prisoners in china is cheap. that’s gluttony, isn’t it? turkey, stuffing and just one more slice of pie. gluttony is that woman who carries extra weight around on her hips, her belly, her heart. gluttony is the man who drinks just one more beer, eats one more order of nachos at the game and is still ready for more.

it’s easy to reduce gluttony to over eating, the hollowness of a belly that is never satisfied. but i think it goes deeper than that – further into our selves than our stomachs. deeper than our guts, into our hearts. i’ve been reading dorothy sayers a lot lately, and she wrote some quite profound essays on the sins of the body and the heart, made ever more profound as she was writing during WW2 in england. she was writing during a period that can be argued as the last time western nations have endured mass poverty and privation. i know there have been other countries, other times, but it seems to me that the availability of consumer goods was reduced in a way that we haven’t seen since.

in that vein, knowing that the availability of goods has increased significantly after WW2, certainly with the advent of globalization, i am attaching the following paragraph of excerpted lines. it was taken from an address to the public morality council at westminster, 10/23/41. seventy three years ago. let that rest in your mind while you read her words.

“But on the whole, England in wartime is not a place where the majority of us can very easily destroy our souls with Gluttony.  We may congratulate ourselves that, if we have not exactly renounced our sins, this particular sin at any rate has renounced us…

Let us seize this breathing-space, while we are out of reach of temptation, to look at one very remarkable aspect of the sin of Gula.  We have all become aware lately of something very disquieting about what we call our economic system.  An odd change has come over us since the arrival of the machine age.  Whereas formerly it was considered a virtue to be thrifty and content with one’s lot, it is now considered to be the mark of a progressive nation that it is filled with hustling, go-getting citizens, intent on raising their standard of living.  And this is not interpreted to mean merely that a decent sufficiency of food, clothes and shelter is attainable by all citizens.  It means much more and much less than this.  It means that every citizen is encouraged to consider more, and more complicated, luxuries necessary to his well-being.  The gluttonous consumption of manufactured goods had become, before the war, the prime civic virtue.  And why?  Because the machines can produce cheaply only if they produce in vast quantities; because unless the machines can produce cheaply nobody can afford to keep them running; and because, unless they are kept running, millions of citizens will be thrown out of employment, and the community will starve…

The point is that, without any legislation whatever, the whole system would come crashing down in a day if every consumer were voluntarily to restrict his purchases to the things he really needed.  “The fact is,” said a working man the other day at a meeting, “that when we fall for these advertisements we’re being had for mugs.”  So we are.  The sin of Gluttony, of Greed, of over-much stuffing of ourselves, is the sin that has delivered us over into the power of the machine…

But what will happen to us when the war-machine ceases to consume our surplus products for us?  Shall we hold fast to our rediscovered sense of real values and our adventurous attitude to life?  If so, we shall revolutionise world economy without any political revolution.  Or shall we again allow our Gluttony to become the instrument of an economic system that is satisfactory to nobody?  That system as we know it thrives upon waste and rubbish-heaps.  At present the waste (that is, sheer gluttonous consumption) is being done for us in the field of war.  In peace, if we do not revise our ideas, we shall ourselves become its instruments.  The rubbish-heap will again be piled on our own doorsteps, on our own backs, in our own bellies.  Instead of the wasteful consumption of trucks and tanks, metal and explosives, we shall have back the wasteful consumption of wireless sets and silk stockings, drugs and paper, cheap pottery and cosmetics—all the slop and swill that pour down the sewers over which the palace of Gluttony is built.”

i am by no means exempt from this. i have too many clothes. i tend to keep the pretty bits of things i collect and buy more without using that which i have. i carry extra weight around, a product of emotional eating – trying to fill that which cannot be filled by food. or fabric. or sex, or wine, or money or any of the other things i have been told by my culture, my world, my society will fulfill me. ease the ache of hunger. christmas is approaching, and it is the holiday for gluttony. can you deny that if gluttony is more than a plate over piled with food, if it is consumption without fill, then christmas is its high holy day? i can’t. and i want more than a room full of shredded wrapping paper, and a child asking if that’s the end of the presents. i want more than perfume and diamonds and whatever else i’m supposed to want. i want what Jesus promised me: to be filled. where did He promise me this? when He said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matt 5:6)”

if i hunger for anything less than Him and the righteousness He brought when He came, i cannot be filled. when i eat, trying to ease the hurt of seeing a beloved family member slip closer and closer to Heaven, i cannot be filled. when i buy more and more, trying to feel better about myself, my station in life, my abilities, i cannot be filled. when i seek pleasure, seeking to fill the void in my heart from loss or doubt or heartache, i cannot be filled.

it is only when i hunger after Him and His righteousness – the promise that His coming so many years ago is what makes me enough that i can be filled. when i stop and ponder and ruminate and grasp and wrestle with the idea that He makes me whole – His shed blood, His laying down of Heaven for this broken place, His arrival on a starry night in Bethlehem is the only thing that can ever truly satisfy, then i don’t need to buy another thing. it’s all been bought already, on a cross not of His choosing, but of His sacrifice and of His willingness to obey even unto death.

does this mean i won’t be buying christmas presents this year? of course not. i’m still frantically knitting, and planning a canning day this weekend, and trying to find the perfect gifts for those i love. but they have to mean something more than “you wanted this new and shiny thing, so i bought it for you.” our lives and our money have to mean more than being part of a machine that not only enslaves those who make the goods we purchase, but enslaves us – the purchasers. they have to mean more than that, because WE mean more than that. we mean so much more to a Father who sacrificed for us, doing anything it took to get us back. we are more than a sales number, and so we must respond in kind.


the poetry of leaves and ashes

i could wax rhapsodic about fall for many many posts, but i will refrain. Only barely though.

so we bundle up in our sweaters, let the last warmth of summer settle into our bones, and prepare for the deep sleep of fall. the warm bed in the cold night, the skitter and play of leaves on streets and roofs, the blustery winds that drive us to seek comfort in homes redolent of spices. the lengthening dark of winter’s approach drives us to the mountains, to the orchards, to the fields, to save and preserve the final parts of summer’s bounty.

we walk down shadowed lanes, with leaves suddenly bursting with light, as if lit from within, light coursing through the branches of the trees we stand beneath. the flickering rays of sun enter our homes, our eyes, our hearts, turning all to brightness within, and we store the light in our hands. hands that flicker with speed over knitting needles, fabric, jars, bottles and pages of books, fluttering like the leaves from the one perfect tree illuminated by the setting sun.

in cold clear nights, we gather around fires, burning with the remains of summer’s light and warmth and water. we gather our friends to us, hoarding our moments together, preparing for the long cold of the coming nights in our homes. driven together, we set fires inside each other that outlast the ashes of wood and water. eyes across the fire meet, and our hearts burst with light.

this is the last, loveliest smile. the pause between the opposing agonies of summer and  winter. the old friend who settles in to tell stories of where he has been since last you met. the smell of ripe earth, honeysweet and bitter.

appreciative nods to william cullen bryant, carol bishop hipps, stephen king and rainer maria rilke for the final paragraph.

image from: Kelsey Garrity Riley



that’s how many steps we took at the highland games today. maybe more, but my phone died right after the pipe and drum bands closed out the day, and we hadn’t walked back to the car yet.

zoë, spencer and i went to the stone mountain highland games today – the first time spencer and i had been in years, and zoë’s first time ever. we had fun, and tried to do all the things that a first timer should do – watch the caber toss, eat fish and chips, walk around and hold historic weaponry, and of course – the clan tents. spencer’s family is deeply deeply scottish on both sides, and so i think there were something like 12 tents he could claim as part of his heritage. he primarily discusses and reearches the macdonald and ferguson clans, in case you needed to know – his maternal and paternal lines respectively. 

7 1/2 hours of walking, sitting, eating, dancing, listening and seeing later, spencer and zoë are passed out, and i am actually uploading pictures. woo hoo! we didn’t get a chance to go to the top of stone mountain, but i think today was pretty full as it is.

it’s funny – this was the first time, in the 4 times we’ve gone to the games that is, that spencer and i could seriously enjoy ourselves. we had far less spending money than we’ve had in the past, and because we went down with friends, we didn’t get to dictate our schedule or where and when we stopped for dinner or left the house, etc. but we were marveling at the way anti-depressants and counseling has so seriously changed our marriage. i know i find ways to stick this into every post, but i really do feel amazed when i think about our life as it was, compared to how it is. comparing our first year of marriage to this year – we’ve got something like $25,000 less yearly income, higher bills and insurance, less vehicles, and more debt now. but we’re happy. which i guess i wanted to say, just as a reminder to folks, that your fiscal circumstances aren’t going to make your life better or more stable if you’re falling apart on the inside or in your relationships. but again, i stick that into everything. money don’t buy happiness.

money, however, would buy a lochaber axe, or a norwegian stuffed reindeer or a handmade kilt at the games. you know, in case you were in market for any of those things. zoe bought herself a wooden sword with allowance money, and promptly left it in the vehicle we carpooled in. she’ll have it back soon enough, and then the highland rampages can begin. at one point in the car ride back, zoë and her friend were arguing about which clan was better – ferguson or macgregor. we had to step in, and remind them that they probably fought the english together 300 years ago, and peace was restored. 

so yeah, that’s pretty much what’s been exciting in our life – laundry, schoolwork and watching the chickens grow don’t rate as highly on the meter. a side note though, we had a parent teacher conference last week, and i just have to say, zoë’s teacher is just wonderful. full of grace and understanding for the disorganized, smart, talkative, little sweetie we have, but unwilling to let her stay that way for the rest of the school year, and willing to work with her and us to help zoë cultivate the skills and methods necessary to becoming more organized and focused. just talking to her was uplifting, and it was very clear that she absolutely loves the kids in her classroom. just another reason we’re so thankful for zoë’s school.

so, the fall marches on. i’ve posted a bunch more pictures on flickr, in the album “fall 2014.” the other pictures were from a birthday party for the youngest child of very good friends. it was a sunny, perfectly blustery day in the park, and of course, the birthday boy was extremely unhappy the entire time. also, if you’re not following me on instagram or twitter, i can be found both places as @cakewife. there are always lots of quick snaps of pics and things going on, since i don’t always have the big camera on hand.

everybody needs their mr. keating…

so with the internet exploding with depression awareness posts and blogs and news, i wasn’t sure i wanted to throw my hat in the ring. i’ve already covered my own battles with the darkness, and my experience is not unique. there are so many people who have said it much better than i could, so i will let it be.

however, every time i think of robin williams, i think of dead poet’s society. and i think of my dad. i remember seeing dead poet’s society on vhs when we lived in chicago – i think i would have been 11 or 12. we all remember (those who have seen the movie) the iconic stand on the desk moment. but what resonates with me, even all these years later was the introduction to the power and beauty of the english language. my dad, who is one of the most brilliant people i know, has an intellect that is completely different than mine. he is methodical, logical, process and detail oriented, whereas i am flighty, big picture, easily distracted, and very very creative. but in spite of the very real differences in our interests, my dad found ways to introduce me to the passions i would carry into adulthood.

i watched dead poet’s society with him, and within the next 3 years or so, he bought me my first book of t.s. eliot poems. those two events may seem insignificant, but they laid the foundation for my eventual degree in english, my love of the written word, and my hope to pursue a master’s degree in modern poetry one day in the future. t.s. eliot became, and remains my favorite poet. i return to his four quartets several times a year, and without my father’s introduction to mr. eliot, my interest in modernist poetry may have taken much longer to develop.

he encouraged me to play viola, came to every concert he was able to, bought me books of poetry on out of town trips. took me and 2 friends back to chicago for my 16th birthday, just so i could see the museums and feel like such a grownup (when truthfully, i was so young.) he covers the private school tuition for zoë, since the school she would be attending is ranked 1 out of 10 on, and similarly ranked using other national school ranking sites. he’s lighting the way for her through his commitment to seeing her well educated, pursuing her own passions and dreams.

dad was my mr. keating. and still is, truth be told. is our relationship perfect? not by any stretch. but like any relationship of value, i’m working on it. I’m closing with one of my favorite passages from my favorite poem from my favorite poet. hahah. But there are lifetimes burning in my moments, in zoë’s  moments because of him. through the dark cold and empty desolation, there is still that light.


T.S. Eliot – excerpted fr0m East Coker, The Four Quartets

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.