Day 18: How does your garden grow?

cutting a pumpkin for Oliver

cutting a pumpkin for Oliver

There are days when I think of all the work we have done or still need to do on this house and I am totally overwhelmed. We got our home as a ‘fixer upper’, to put it mildly. We have fixed and fixed and fixed, yet there is still more work to be done. However, we have transformed our little money pit into something quite lovely. I’m in agreement with those people who buy houses and slowly begin to make them beautiful. There is something very holy in creating aesthetic beauty and I believe in making beauty out of ashes. I just didn’t know the ashes would be over three years high.

The first year we moved here it was all about working on the inside of the house. Then by the summer time I was so pregnant with Chloe that I couldn’t even think of the outside of the house. I sure did notice it though. We had weeds growing in our back garden that were taller than Matt who is 6’2″. So we just hacked away at the weeds and covered them with a plastic tarp. “That’ll do ‘er for now!’

Then the following year I ached for a garden after visiting Tacoma and seeing a lovely little back garden that a friend had worked years to beautify. He grew every kind of veggie, mixed hot compost (an art all in itself) and about four types of berries, plus flowers galore . I was locked in when I saw how sweet and restful it was. There is a freedom that comes from growing your own food. It’s liberating to go into the yard and pick your dinner.

When I came back to Madison I was on a gardening mission. I grew a lot, and learned a lot, that first year as I pulled up the yard all by my lonesome and planted away. I planted squash and pumpkin (only inches apart- I didn’t know!), tomatoes, spinach, chives, lavender, cosmos, sage, rosemary, basil….blah blah blah. It was crazy how things grew. The compost was the kicker. It mutated my food and flowers so that they grew to epic sizes. People would say, “I’ve never seen cosmos get that big” The stalks were about 3″ in cir.

Every year I plant more and dig up more of the ground. I am taking back our garden, even though a neighbor’s menacing trumpet vine threatens my veggies very existence. But that is another post all together…. And every year I learn more about gardening. The other day I was working in the yard, getting discouraged by the number of trees the previous owner allowed to grow out of control when a woman walked by and said stated that we had quite the make over going on in our yard. I sighed and told her she should have seen it when we first got the house. She mentioned she has passed our house on foot for years now and has seen the progress and that it looked so great. She was also a professional gardener and told me how to deal with those !@#$ trees. In all it was extremely encouraging to hear her perspective since I’ve worked so hard at turning this literal rubbish heap (I’m always digging up buried garbage) into something beautiful and refreshing.

Today I was digging more ground in prep for the spring planting and was so thankful that I have this plot. I love gardening and growing things. It’s something tangible for me to see and touch (and eat) and gain gratification from knowing that I made this, or made it grow. It’s the activator in me that wants results and not many things in my life give me fast results. Raising children shows you slow results just as investing in people’s lives shows slow results. But I get satisfaction and rest from my garden when I can sit next to it in the summer time, watching bees pollinate my goodies and slowly seeing little buds develop into treats for our dinner table.

What are you thankful for?

Showing Chloe our worms

Showing Chloe our worms

Tulip Garden

Tulip Garden

Last summer's sunflowers

Last summer's sunflowers

Green, green, green!

Green, green, green!

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Day 17: won’t you be my neighbor?

Since I have worked in an international mission organization the past 15 years I have always had one grievance, well a few, but one main one, the lack of establishing ourselves in a community. I moved to Madison nearly 9 years ago and straight away felt that it was a perfect fit for me. The city is very community oriented. If you live downtown you can walk almost anywhere and where Matt and I live you can walk or ride a bike to retrieve any amenity you need. There is always free stuff to do, things to do with your kids, museums, pubs and various hang out spots as well as community events for people to gather under a specific purpose or interest.

Recently, maybe the past three years, I have been bemoaning the fact that I don’t see people I know when I go to the store or have long and annoying conversations with my neighbor whom I bumped into while another customer waits, sighing and rolling their eyes, behind me in line. There is a sense of community and belonging you get when you drive down the street and honk at your mate, Bubba, who is playing Frisbee in the park while on your way to the laundry mat. “Hey, there’s Bubba.” Honk! “Dude, what’s up?”

I have friends who moved away from my hometown in Tacoma to the bustle of the ‘cool city’, Seattle, only to find that their lonliness was magnified to highs that would often bring the onset of severe depression because they lived in a rad city but knew not a soul. Suddenly the weekends don’t mean quite so much when you have zero friends.

We live in this great neighborhood where we come out once a year for a group organized block party, people wave when you are out mowing your lawn and often you see families walking past your house through the warm season. I even took a job in town last year just to put more roots into the city that I call home. It’s a wonderful endeavor to maintain a global perspective but if you still haven’t had one of your neighbors over for a meal then you clearly don’t understand what it means to love your NEIGHBOR!

Today I was at the store. Let me just say if you are from Madison you know that Woodman’s is hell on earth. We all winge about being in it’s clutches but still we shop there. Never go there on a Sunday, like I did today, say…after church time. It’s madness. Worse than usual. You go down any aisle and there’s ALWAYS people!!! You turn the corner with your cart and you ALWAYS run into someone. It’s like  interstate 405 in LA. It’s a necessary evil. Merging is a drag and someone always cuts you off. Then if you are in anyone’s path they roll their eyes at you. We’re all in this mess together at Woodman’s yet no one is ever patient or nice! I guess it’s because we all just want to get out of there ASAP. Maybe that’s just me.

So I was braving the store today and just as I passed the cracker isle (yep, an entire isle devoted to crackers and cookies) I saw a neighbor. She stopped me and said hello and we chatted for a bit. Then a few minutes later I saw another neighbor and we stopped to laugh about how Woodman’s sucks and we parted ways. When I say ‘neighbor’ I actually mean people who live on my street, not the ubiquitous neighbor  that Jesus was referring to. Then as I was checking out my items someone said , “Tracie!” I looked over and it was someone I use to work with when I worked at the sweat…I mean sewing shop. I hugged him and we chatted for a bit.

As I was leaving the dark halls of the horror that is Woodman’s I had a great feeling inside. It certainly wasn’t from finding a great deal on organic apples in the produce section. I felt like I lived in a town where I know people outside of my immediate world of believers. I’ve always loved hanging out with people who won’t enter a church. I love the conversations and the lives we end up sharing. Today I am super thankful that I have placed roots in a community where I am beginning to know more people who are becoming friends. I’m not in a bubble where the unbeliever is an outcast or unattractive to me. It’s like going to Cheers, that stupid show from the 80’s set in a bar and the theme song is about everyone knowing your name. You want to be somewhere that feels like home because you’ve invested in the relationships. That can happen on a global scale but likely it will not. Not when you only spend 2 months somewhere, and even then you’re usually traveling the entire time and spending a day here and a day there meeting scads of people. This doesn’t even happen if you work with people all the time. It can but it doesn’t always. People are too busy.

Funny how the entire kingdom of God is centered around relationship yet the church has become so friggin’ busy that we don’t even have time for relationships anymore. Well, today I had my thankful moment realizing that even though I’m not having these people sign my yearbook or give me matching bracelets with half a heart that says “Best” while the other half says “Friends”,  I’m here and I’m planting deeper roots than I have planted in a long time. It feels damn good to know people outside of my world and to join the journey of loving my neighbor whom I actually know.

What are you thankful for?

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Neighborhood block party (three leg race)

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More neighbors

ninos of the neighborhood

ninos of the neighborhood

Day 16: a hard day

I was updating my post today because I read over some past entries that were pretty poorly written. I am a bit of a perfectionist and I can’t stand to read something where I used a run on sentence or the same modifier over and over again. As I was reading over things I was thankful for I was still a bit unsure what I would write about today.

I’m not going to lie…today was a bit rough to think about something that I’m thankful for. It’s ironic because the purpose of this project is to shine on the things that are great in life, my life! I wanted to do this for my own benefit mostly because I struggle with perspective. I’m a bit of a pessimist and don’t always see life as a grand adventure. People who are the grand adventurers are usually not close friends of mine either. They just remind me how lame my own shoddy perspective is… and they just bug me a bit.

I also believe it’s ok to be honest about how unexpected life can sometimes be and to really have a sense of humor about it. In my world it’s ok to laugh about the fact that kids can be amazing and annoying as all get out or that I’m watching my butt and thighs get older and more southern bound with each passing year. You really have to laugh about your body, aging and raising toddlers or you will develop hives and a serious drinking problem. So instead of seeing the glass half full I choose to sarcastically laugh my way through the  incidents that creep into my day.

Today was a day that Matt and I got a lot done on the house and there really was no reason to NOT find anything worthy of being thankful. But for some reason I just couldn’t think of anything. Maybe I was just so busy today that I really couldn’t think of anything. Maybe I just wanted something more profound to write about. I did have a lovely time over at Shane and Tiffany’s for brunch. They cooked the entire meal and that is something I’m not use to; going to a friends house where we are served the entire meal. We didn’t even have to make or bring anything. It was great! Super restful and refreshing. I am thankful for that.

I just wish I could have savored the moment more. I was too busy trying to keep my kids from bouncing off the walls, something Shane was for sure provoking! They love Shane because he plays hard with them. So there are quite a few things I feel thankful for today: the brunch, Claude watching our kids while we downsized our house, a clutter free home, ice cream and homemade hot fudge followed by Horton Hears a Who and finally, sleeping children. Lots of great stuff today.

My dilemma is that I’m still a bit wound up and unrested. This thing about thankfulness is tricky because you really have to focus and remind yourself that awesome things are happen to you during your day and you have to engage with the process. It brings that butterfly feeling inside your tummy when you really acknowledge what you have that is great and wonderful. It can actually relax you and drop a bit o’ dopamine in your cerebral cortex causing you to feel in love or at least in serious like with the world around you.

So I wouldn’t say that I failed today but I would say that I want to really engage more in being thankful rather than just saying, “yep, I sure am thankful for chocolate. Mmmmm… This chocolate sure is good and… chocolaty “. I’m on a mission to allow a thankful heart to bring joy and life to my soul; to deal with that cranky perspective and give it a good kick in the arase. We’ll see how tomorrow goes.

What are you thankful for?

Day 15: they love my kids

I have a group of friends that meet up for dinner and conversation every Thursday night  for almost three years now. Since Chloe is two and a half it’s been since just before she was born. There are about 9 of us and it sometimes ebbs and flows with the number but usually it’s 9 of us. Our group is expanding now that two of the couples are having babies. For the longest time it’s just been Matt and I with the kids running around as the BBQ is grilling meat for everyone to eat or a pot of Indian Biriani Chicken is cooking up a sweet ass meal for all of us to enjoy. It’s only been ‘son’ and ‘daughter’ running around the kitchen, chasing someone’s dog or cat down the hall barking or hissing while pandemonium ensues. They have been the kids of our bunch, so to speak; the miniature mascots.

It was suggested, by me, that our Thursday night group take a break for a few weeks of meeting together since everyone seems busy and the momentum seems to die at times. My first thought was, “our kids are going to be so sad”. Our weekly get together is something that Matt and I, for sure, look forward to as being our rest and refreshment but our kids also have fun playing with their older friends on those nights.

Thursday night is a time where inevitably you will see someone slinging Oliver over their shoulder like a 40 lb. bag of pinto beans while hearing Chloe in her guttural cackle following close behind saying, “get me, get me!”. They are the life of the party while the adults talk about Obama’s plan for the economy or why it’s OK for gays to adopt children. The cerebral adults are sitting sedentary at the table  talking about life and it’s happenings while our children spin and sweat while running back and forth down an obscure hallway or after an unsuspecting canine. Oh to be young again!

Tonight, while present for one of our weekly dinners, I realized that I am completely thankful that our children are loved, not only by their family but by their extended family; their village. I look forward to the day when David teaches Oliver kung fu (praying mantin style) or when Danielle or Brandy teaches Chloe about music or sewing. They are investing love and inspiration into our children in the sweetest and most loving way. Our children are a part of our friend’s lives, intertwined into their hearts and I am thankful that it’s not just Matt and I whose faces they see every day, week after week.

Parents are their children’s  life blood and emotional sustinance but I am thankful that we are not their only worldview; their only perspective. Our kids are deeply loved and cherished by a community of quality people who just so happen to be highly attractive and creative individuals with a deep sense of integrity and godliness. They are being cared for and raised as dignified and dearly beloved little humans.  We are very blessed to be a part of a group of people who love our kids so much.

It takes a village…..

pumpkin patch

pumpkin patch

David showing Oliver the Iphone

David showing Oliver the Iphone

Chloe is Scott's darling

Chloe is Scott's darling

I don't really know what is happening here.

I don't really know what is happening here.

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Day 14: Madiba

mandela in prison

mandela in prison

I’m not even sure if anyone, other than my husband, is reading this project I have been posting but I do want to stay on top of the writing. Lately, I keep falling a day (or two) behind. But no one seems to mind, I guess.

So the other night Matt said that I should get out of the house for a bit because I was pretty fried on small children by the time he got home. That was just one thing to be thankful for. But as I went out with my book, A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, I was really moved by the chapters he had spent in prison. Thirty years, man! That makes my season of raising small children and the anxiousness for living other parts of my life seem like such a booger in comparison to thirty years where his freedom was totally taken away.

Anyway, he is, by far, one of my favorite and most inspiring individuals. I was able to see him while in Amsterdam for an outreach in 1999. He came to visit the queen and, totally by accident, I stumbled upon the ceremony which was held in one of the public squares. I really didn’t know about him back then and as I walked through town where the massive crowd gathered I asked what all the fuss was about? “Mandela is here” someone said. “Oh, right. That Nelson Mandela guy” I said, a bit unaffected.

I am still surprised by the  knowledge in world affairs that I did not possess during my teenage years or even my early twenties. I knew he was one of the public figures who had led the struggle for freedom in SA but until my husband and I went to study in SA in 2005 I wasn’t really aware of the gravity that this man’s life brought with his appearance in Holland that day. 1999 was just a few years out of the apartheid emancipation so the situation in SA was still pretty fresh.

Fortunately for me I ended up watching the entire ceremony but it really didn’t effect me much, in sad honesty. But while I was reading this book the other night for my Tracie-date I remembered that I have actually seen this man up close. I’ve looked at the person who had gone through so much adversity, to say the least, in his labor for the freedom of his people. I’m super thankful that I stumbled upon the crowd that day and that I lived to see a liberated South Africa. Sounds really silly that this is what I’m thankful for. Maybe it just sounds intense and altruistic. I am more writing that I saw a person that I now admire when, back then, I would never had thought of him as any sort of hero. It’s funny what comes into our lives when we least expect it.

Day 13: the struggle

Recently I have been connecting with old friends through Facebook and it’s been refreshing to catch up after many years of no communication. Some of them are friends from Tacoma, WA, some are old Maui friends and some are friends from the church I use to attend in WA. What I appreciate is the humanity that I see in the lives of my old friends. For the past 17 years of being a Christian or Jesus believer I have been a bit disappointed in the lack of transparency and authenticity that one doesn’t find much in most circles of believers. “How’s your week been?” “Good! And yours?”

I have usually worked myself out of a faith crisis during any given year but there was one season of life in particular that I found myself a bit desperate and in need of a listening ear. I wasn’t even sure if I could muster up the faith I needed to cry out to a living God. So I vented anywhere I thought was safe. Usually my frustrations and tensions were met with the typical answer or comment. “You see, Tracie, you just need to worship when you feel the way that you do.” Or my personal favorite, “God’s grace is big enough to carry you through your trial, just reach out for it”. Reach out for this!

My friend Philip says that everyone needs to go through a faith crisis at least once in their life. It’s crucial for your values and it’s healthy for the soul. The last sentence is my own personal belief. There is something about doubt and the dark night of the soul that binds us in the human experience. It is humbling and it takes away the arrogance of the common believer to think that we have all of the answers to give and the ‘heathen just need to receive it’.

As I’ve gone through my own faith crisis, and it was a crisis (we are so indoctrinated with the idea that doubt is sin and when you freak out you really don’t know where to turn), I’ve become more compassionate for the ‘outsider’ who questions the goodness of God in a world of pain. I’ve come to embrace the tensions of living a life of faith while taking a road that the evangelical church may not be promoting or advocating, such as voting for a democrat or hanging out and celebrating life with friends in a pub or at my house on a Thursday night. I’ve never really fit the conventional mold and at times it has been isolating and confusing, kinda like that feeling of having a dark grape juice stain on your white shirt but no one tells you it’s there they just stare at you.

All that to say I am catching up with old friends here and there who have gone through the ringer in terms of their personal faith and piety and it makes me feel fresh and alive. I am thankful that we struggle. It gives us authenticity in our journey with Jesus. He’s not intimidated by our questioning and, at times, our mistakes. Look at Peter for crying out loud! I love the fact that Jesus hung out with ragamuffins and sinners as his posse of choice.

I guess I’m thankful for the struggle of old friends because I too have  had intense seasons of questioning and have feared that I may have been bordering on unbelief or disillusionment! I’m thankful, not for any mistakes friends may have or are presently making, but more that they think and ponder; they wonder what the crap all of this life stuff is about. It bothers them to have dilemmas, ie why do the weak and vulnerable suffer the most while the smug and arrogant walk away with millions? That one has kept me staring at a dark celling for hours in the wee hours of the night among other dilemmas such as slavery, the history of Africa pre and post colonialism, human trafficking and hurricane Katrina. Pick and dilemma, any dilemma. I’ve spent hours of mind space trying to find the goodness and grace of God in the middle of it.

A single thought always brings me back out, even if my season of crisis lasts longer than I anticipated….In the center of real life pain that you can read about on any sort of google search about Africa or the Middle East there is a God who loves, dreams and hopes for humanity. He’s real and we know it but don’t always know it. I’m thankful that He’s ok with our freak-out moments and He’s still awesome in spite of our weaknesses. I feel alive that we wonder and doubt. It means that we’re alive. We’re real!

I have come to resent the shallow answers for very deep issues we face today. The death of a friend’s daughter recently was waxed over with a slew of Hallmark grieving card statements that really blew. “God took her away to a better place” “Now you can relate to those who grieve and give them the gospel”. I personally believe that Jesus wept!

Even though dilemmas suck I am certain they make us more mature if we will keep walking the tension while loving honestly and pursing our hope in Christ even in the midst of our pain and confusion.

What are you thankful for?

Day 12: U2

Yes, you read it correctly. U2.

Tonight after the kids went down I was puttering around on YouTube, which I rarely do, and came across a few U2 videos from back in the day. I was watching Pride, In the Name of Love and New Years Day, along with Sunday Bloody Sunday. Super old school stuff. I was cracking up at Bono’s new wave mullet and his tight black jeans tucked into his black rocker boots. Don’t forget that rock star pose he ALWAYS did in his videos or a his live performances; the squat while arms crossed, looking up into the sky.  Super fun!

I also got really teary watching and listening to a few songs. I have always respected these guys and been profoundly moved by their music as well as the cause they are standing for. The first time I heard about Apartheid in South Africa was from a comment Bono was making at a live concert in the late 80’s. I have always been impressed with the way they use their rock-star-ness to bring awareness and action to the common person.

It was 2005 and a long dream of mine came true. No, I wasn’t kissed on the cheek by the lead singer. I saw them live in Milwaukee. It was real live coolness…super bad ass! Yep, just said ‘ass’ too! It was after the Jubliee tour but still just as moving. On a set of lights you would see all of the countries in Africa moving or scrolling up and Bono kept mentioning AIDS and basic living issues in these destitute areas across the world to us. When he sang Beautiful Day and Yahweh I really cried. I was hoping the people next to me wouldn’t look over because I was a mess. Yet, it was moving beyond words to share that experience with so many people. I was one of the first people in my little section to stand to my feet, clapping and dancing. Then others around me soon joined it. That night the band certainly rocked the place!

Today I have this vague memory of a rock concert that was more like a cool meeting place where some music just happened to be performed. There was a lot of spirit in the room that night as people heard songs from their teenage years and maybe even felt compelled in the place of compassion for shared humanity  as they heard more about the developing world.

I am thankful that these guys exist and that they speak a language that moves me and that isn’t complete crap! Not only are these boys tenaciously passionate and intense, they are quality and artistic… the’re good!  Their words seem to invoke some sort of blessing or movement in people. I can’t really explain it but if you dig them then I’m sure you are aware too. They aren’t just about Rockin’ Your Body ‘Til the Break of Day and I’m pretty sure they never wrote anything as crap as Thong Song. I’m really impressed with how long they have been a band with the same members and even though they are total rock stars I still respect how they present themselves to the world. I am completely thankful I have been there to see it live.

Take a jog down memory lane and remind me what you are thankful for: