Saturday, June 28, 2014

Because sometimes hiding is the only solution

Every surface houses strewn art supplies, vegetables piled in containers, books, gardening tools, toys, discarded shoes rarely in pairs. A lone week home from camp and we destroy our space in short-order. Today I mostly feel solidarity with Caden's purple angry minion. His crazy eyes feel familiar. 
I swing on our cheerful yellow bench, door closed to the bickering inside that I cannot stem no matter how many consequences I dole out, nor how often I reward and praise when they choose peace. Life around here brims a complicated balance, a delicate tightrope walk between the hard and messy that spills through our doors and the everyday messes behind them. 
Adam slices vegetables and fruit, adding sugar and vinegar. He preserves the bounty from the garden in jars with lids screwed on tight, marked with dates in red sharpie. Digging and watering and pruning and picking, proof that perhaps seeds planted will produce something worth saving one day. 
He cuts tomatoes up into guacamole and salsa to share with the neighbors. We lose a chicken only to find her lifeless one morning inside the coop. Death and life and gunshots and laughter ring out in waves that crest and fall on our hearts, while we pray not to find ourselves hardened by the relentless pounding. 
The kids paint with their fingers and with brushes, Caden scribbles small on every single page of the coloring book, causing Jayci to wail that he wasted the whole thing. We gather books for the library, and Jayci picks out her "very favorite ones" to share with her friends. I smile and try to encourage her generosity, even when I feel the compulsion to tuck the best books back on our own shelves, far from prying hands and fingers-stained-with-cheetos.
Lest you think the mess hasn't spilled into every corner, rest-assured that the piles extend even to the tops of cabinets next to the cactus. I prickle and bristle; Adam and I poke at each other with gentle and pointed accusations over who-cleaned-up-last, who forgot to switch the laundry, and which team deserved to win that last World Cup game. 
The broken spills in, and I cant help but wonder if we were more "effective" when we could get kids out of their environment and into the safety of the suburbs, even if only for an hour. When we were comfortable and they were not. I turn over again and again the thoughts that perhaps we fumble them farther from God than closer. Perhaps we fail them with words that make God seem middle class and white. Or we fail them by introducing them to other boys who arguably may not have the best influence, or getting them jobs that maybe only serve to provide more spending money for fancy shoes and drugs.
One boy yells you're too hard on me, while another whispers about those who think we aren't hard enough. We spin and flail, certain the pendulum of tough love and grace has somehow found itself tangled in the mess of vegetables and crayons strewn across the counter. We look for peace, and cling to hope, to ordinary reminders of a Savior who must be present. Even, or perhaps especially, in our mess. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Reading, Links, and 365

Good reads (links):
What the gang wars and the mommy wars have in common
How to raise a pagan kid in a Christian home
Can you have a church without a prison ministry?
The Theology of Dependence
More good reads (books):
I just finished Cinder and Scarlet, which are the first two books of a young adult series based on fairy tales with a futuristic twist. So basically, Cinderella is a cyborg. I found myself surprisingly into these books, and will be getting the 3rd book of the series as soon as I'm not on camp property in the middle of nowhere. 

I am also currently reading Playful Parenting and The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, and for my fun reading I just started The Good Luck of Right Now (by the same author who wrote Silver Linings Playlist; it's weird, but I like it so far).

Also, I really thought y'all were going to get all on board with my library idea, and that my reader-friends would send books etc. Come on guys!
I realize I really need to stay more on top of this 365 things . . . I haven't been doing as great a job with it this year (unlike two years ago), so you'll notice lots of gaps where I missed/forgot days. Also, I only upload them here like once a month so it turns into a major overload. I would blame summer and all-of-the-heat and all-of-the-children, but we know that's a poor excuse since this phenomenon began long before the summer-time.

So there's the last month in a nutshell (or in a very-long-photo-montage). Hope you all are also having a beautiful sun-soaked summer. 

*Links to Amazon are affiliate links . . .

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Camp Grace and the living is easy

You may or may not have noticed that things have been particularly quiet around here lately, a result of spending the last week and a half at Camp Grace. Last week we brought a whopping 46 kids from our neighborhood (all of whom lived within a few blocks of our house), and this week Jayci and I are here with 15 more. Adam and Caden are spending some boy-time together doing things like working in the garden, hanging out with the neighborhood kids, and whatever else Adam does when I'm not around to make him do the dishes and wear clean shirts.
Hopefully when I'm not at camp (next week), I'll have a little more time for doing things like writing and such. For now, we're enjoying the sunshine and water games and lots and lots of basketball. Also, peach ice cream.

Have I mentioned how much I love being at camp? And it's not just because we get the chance to get all the kiddos out of the hood and into the lake . . . Mostly (if I'm honest), I am grateful for my children's entertainment 24/7, and also all of their meals provided by someone other than myself.

This is our 8th summer at Camp Grace, and only our 2nd summer not working here in some capacity. So it feels a little strange not being a part of the inner-workings of everything, but I am grateful for the ways our sweet friends and counselors love our kiddos and serve them and point them to Jesus.

*As usual, a big thank-you to Accent Decor for sponsoring all 65 (plus 15 more for older kids week) to come to camp. And to Renovation Church for letting us use your buses for transportation, and to friends and family alike who helped us wrangle kids and get them to and from camp safely.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hammocks, WIC offices, and traveling libraries

I lay in the gently swinging hammock, Sing for Me resting in my lap, peering through the trees to the wide blue sky above, white clouds like spun cotton candy stretch through the openings between leaves. The wind tousles my hair, and the sound of rustling breezes through branches remains unbroken except occasionally by boats or jet skis and laughter. We spend the weekend kid-free at the lake, celebrating a dear friend’s thirtieth birthday. But as I lay in the hammock, each time I emerge from my book, the sole thought occupying my brain is this one: if money cannot buy happiness, then it can at least purchase freedom. It looks like wide blue skies spread over an afternoon nap in the hammock. Room to breath, to think, to relax. Food when I want it, how I want it. Cheese dip and diet coke in abundance.
Last week, Zack’s mom hands me her appointment slip for the WIC office, marked for 11:30, and we arrive promptly at 11:25. We wait in line to check in at the front desk, before settling ourselves into blue molded chairs on the immunization side of the room. This half of the space boasts mostly empty seats in unbroken rows of faded blue, with a half-wall separating us from the rest of the families waiting for WIC aid, though we can still see the blinking red letters and numbers marking who’s being served. Time ticks by, marked mostly by the blaring of the television through Dinosaur Train to Franklin to Peep to Sid the Science Kid.

Chairs fill and empty again around us, filled by people with stories as varied as the shades of their skin and the number of children in tow. Babies with feeding tubes in abundance remind me of early days with Caden. We take turns bouncing and carrying Zariah, her tiny fingers curl around mine, and she giggles and scrunches her nose. I see her gaze lock on my earrings; I take them out, slipping them in my pocket before she can grab them with her small fists.
One hour passes, and then another. I sigh loudly and try to get myself comfortable in the chair. Taking Zariah from Zack, I walk and bounce with her until she sleeps nestled in the crook of my elbow. A few families arrived at the same time we did, and I watch as their children form easy friendships, running breathless loud laps around the rows of chairs. I try to imagine my own children sitting beside me, certain they join the raucous group. When the clock hands sneak towards 2:30, I ask Zack’s mom if perhaps she should check and see if they’ve forgotten her. She did, after all, have an 11:30 appointment. I try to hide the frustration and indignation in my voice, acting for her sake like I have nothing better to do than to sit at the WIC office all day long. She smiles at me and pats my arm: that’s just how it is for us Becca, she tells me. My brow furrows with indignation and I pull out my Kindle. I try to block out the sounds of crying babies and yelling children and laughter and my own growling stomach, hoping to escape into the realm of my book. Zack’s cousin moves to sit next to me, drawn of course by the strange force that entices kids to any electronic screens in the vicinity. Disappointed by my “vintage” Kindle, she watches my eyes instead. I feel her eyes follow mine as I read line after line, burrowing myself into the world of Parnassus on Wheels.

How do you read like that? She asks breathless, and I snake my arm around her shoulders. I read a lot I tell her. The more you read, the faster you’ll get. I wink and she smiles, settling her head on my shoulder while I continue delving into my story: “When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue — you sell him a whole new life.”

I close my eyes and imagine turning the front lobby of our office (which, remember, is just the church building a few doors down from our house) into a library for the neighbors and kiddos. I could stock it with my books, doorways to other worlds. An escape without alcohol or drugs. A tumble down the rabbit hole into places where everything brims with possibility.
I am snapped from my reverie by two girls who run past in clanky high heels. Arrayed in Sunday best, they push a boy bigger than Zariah and smaller than Caden in a stroller. He laughs hysterically while they run, his face lighting up in a grin. His grin dissolves in wails when they stop; and so they pick-up-the-pace again, his hands clenched in fists he waves in the air as they whiz past.

As the clock rounds three in the afternoon, I wonder how much it would cost to pay for Zariah’s formula and baby food myself. My stomach growls and I offer to take Zack and his cousin to get some food. Surely they’ll call you the minute we leave, I laughingly remark, we push open doors and lift faces to the warm sun. Snacking on French fries and sipping diet coke, we get back to find Zack’s mom and Zariah unmoved, their number still un-called.
Finally she talks to someone and they take her back to a small cinder-block room, measuring Zariah’s weight before returning her to the still-warm curved-back chair she just left moments earlier. And again we wait, until finally when Dinosaur Train plays for the second time today and minutes tick ever-closer to four thirty, she gets angry and demands her vouchers right-this-very-minute. I breathe a sigh of relief when we get them and can leave the stale air of the window-less space behind. The dressed-up girls still run laps, and the baby with his feeding tube still shrieks in his stroller. So too does the chocolate-skinned mom who has packed her children coloring books and carrot sticks. And the dad with dread-locks down his back, alongside the parents with twins and matching tattoos on their skinny freckled arms. We arrived at around the same time as them, and I wonder what happens to those who don’t demand what they need around here. I half-smile at them in sympathy before strapping Zariah gratefully in her car seat, hopeful I might make it home in time for dinner.

I think about time and how society assigns value. Whose time we consider important, and how much I am willing to pay for the freedom of stolen minutes and extra hours. And I am grateful for settling into the upside-down Kingdom, in which the last will be the first. The Kingdom where the ones who find themselves left waiting will not be disappointed. Where grace abounds and mercy rains on the ones who lay on hammocks beside a lake, and the ones who sit in WIC offices alike. For the kiddos who run under brilliant sunsets at camp, and the ones who spend their summer repeating the third grade. Where our value cannot be determined by salary or net worth, but by an identity as the beloved children of a King.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The DIY Front Porch Makeover

I've been wanting to re-do our front porch for, well, basically forever. Or at least since we moved in (three years ago almost). Until last week, we have had white wicker furniture on our front porch which a friend gave us for free, it had pink cushions with strawberries on them, and every single piece was falling apart, mostly a result of all the kiddos who sat in them, climbed on them, jumped from them, and picked at them. I was forever cleaning up pieces of wicker furniture. Until I rose up and declared no more. Or until Adam told me that for my mother's day present this year, he was finally going to make me that swing I had been begging for. Swoon. DIY front porch makeover
He made it himself (of course he did), using these plans. Then he screwed some things into the attic with the help of some boys, and now all-of-the-teenagers can safely sit on it at once without fear of crashing to the ground. And then I said: now paint it bright yellow. So he got some special paint, which is actually a stain (see below for more details)yellow DIY porch swing with chevron cushions from Target
It's a perfect place for chatting, just ask Ashton and Caden.
Yesterday, we finished off our front porch make-over by painting our front door bright blue. The boys all hate it, they said it clashes with the bright yellow swing. Look, I told them, it's cheerful and you WILL like it and tell me continually what great taste I have. Or I wont give you any more Fiber One bars.front porch makeover with bright blue door and yellow swing and hanging baskets
He also (of course he did) made this coffee table from pallets. It took him approximately twenty minutes I believe. Then he sanded it lightly on the edges and put some polyurethane on it to prevent the children from getting splinters. Thoughtful AND handy!DIY pallet coffee tableDIY front porch makeover with window boxes, pallet coffee table, yellow swing and turquoise door
I painted the sign as a much-needed front-porch reminder. Because when I come out to sit and relax and discover hot cheetos wrappers and empty cups and also many empty freeze-pop wrappers, I whisper grace abounds until I am less irritated and can swing on my bright yellow bench in peaceful harmony again. Bright blue door and "grace abounds" hand-lettered sign
Adam also made some window boxes, which he insisted needed more finishing and more paint and more perfection, but my girl Shannan just sent me this book; so I reminded him it doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful, and he hung them anyways. DIY white window boxesDIY front porch makeover 
The two chippy-paint vintage chairs we found on the side of the road for a song about a year ago, and they are probably my most favorite find/thing ever. Perfection in the form of chippy turquoise chairs, right? The tray is from Target (obviously). Turquoise tray and chippy vintage chairs
I painted the sign free-hand, which only took me about 700 hours or so. I work nearly as quickly as Adam. 

But I'm pretty happy with the finished product. Grace Abounds, hand-lettered sign
As a matter of fact, this is a much better depiction of how our front porch usually looks.
So that's our new front porch! Thanks for visiting, be sure to stop by any-time for some diet coke or coffee, or perhaps some of the fancy infused-with-fruit water Adam has been making lately. Also, if you are hungry while you swing, please feel free to eat some of our garlic, we've been pulling it from the garden in droves. Adam tried to hang it inside to dry. Y'all, I cant even
Paint for front door and bench: Benjamin Moore (we had them match the blue to the tray, and the yellow is called, aptly, bench yellow). 
Throw Pillows and Tray: Target 
Chippy chairs: side of the road
Planters and Pots: Accent Decor

*linked up with the Liz Marie Blog


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