Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Grandmother's Prayer

I saw her out of the corner of my eye, walking in with her family. The years had hunched her over. She was pushing a walker, and her daughter-in-law gently helped lead her to their seats. I'd seen her before in church. I knew her husband had died not long ago. She hadn't had the walker before, and I wondered if she'd fallen, or if she'd had some other recent medical condition that warranted it, or if she was just weakened due to age, or grief.

We had just arrived ourselves and were standing in the back. The music was starting; people rose to their feet. We moved just slightly out of the way to let the family pass by. That's when this woman spotted Anna. She raised a gnarled hand slowly up towards my daughter's face. "Will you?" she asked. "Will you please pray that my grandson will talk?"

Her grandson. I will call him "Sam." Every time I look at Sam, my heart is full. Sam is severely autistic. He is, in fact, the one person I've met who most reminds me of my brother. I remember when they had him in the toddler room when he was seven because there was no way he could sit through a Sunday school class. These days he either sits in church, or has a helper who will bring him downstairs.

Sam has gotten overwhelmed and become close to violent. He sometimes flaps his hands and makes unconventional noises in the middle of church. His stepmother and father are unfailingly patient. They work with him to get himself under control, or leave if he is becoming too disruptive and help him settle himself in the foyer or downstairs.

Anna didn't know the story or the family. She looked confused but answered sweetly, "Okay..." and tossed me a sidelong glance, for help or clarification.

In a split second a hundred things flashed through me. Memory; hurt; hope; longing. I saw my brother running out of the nursery before the helpers could stop him, yelling unintelligible things, running down the side aisle of a long-ago church, and flipping off the lights so the congregation went dark. I heard the questions that had run through my mind, for so many years..."Why?" Not just "Why him?" but more -- "Why the prayers that go unanswered?"

In an instant I thought of the wishing and praying, of watching the years go by and seeing things go on just as they always had; of well-meaning people; of ministers who tried to make God's role in all of this something much bigger or much smaller than it actually was.

I wanted to tell her...oh, I wanted to tell her I knew what it was like to wish things were something other than they were. To feel overwhelmed by something so overwhelming that you think, "If he would just talk, this would be better."

I didn't want to say in some ways, maybe I, half her age, was more jaded than she, still pleading for prayers. I didn't know how to describe that somehow along the way, after wrestling with God and faith and everything I believed and didn't, I'd come to a peace. Some might call it a resignation, I suppose, but I would say surrender.

I don't know the why's and never will, but I know this isn't the end of the story. I know my brother, Sam, so many others, are no less loved by God. Their lives are of value. They are teaching people lessons that need to be learned. I know in the grand scheme of eternity, these days will be like one grain of sand on a beach that stretches endlessly.

But there was no way to say all this. I stepped close as the woman passed by. Up to her ear I whispered, "I have a brother who is severely autistic. I understand." She looked over at me with hopeful eyes, and walked on.

I will pray. I'll pray that Sam finds words; that he is able to better communicate with his family. And I pray that his loved ones will be able to come to terms with the tension, with that grand gulf between what they see, and what they believe.
There's a better place
Where our Father waits
And every tear
He'll wipe away
The darkness will be gone
The weak shall be strong
Hold on to your faith
There will come a day

- Faith Hill, There Will Come A Day

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


"First graders have to have grit. What is grit?
Grit is when you try and try and keep on trying until you get it right."
- Ethan's class play

Over the weekend, prepping for Anna's family birthday party, I wondered if we were trying for some sort of record on things that could go wrong.

On Friday, I forgot about the huge pot of sauce heating up on the stove (Anna requested her favorite, Italian food) and managed to so thoroughly burn it that we had to throw out not just the sauce, but the blackened pot as well.

While baking Anna's cake I couldn't understand why the instructions were telling me to grease, flour and put parchment paper in the pan. I couldn't ever remember doing all three. Maybe I should've remembered that I can count on one hand the number of times I've baked cakes, because, you know, I'm not very good at it. So of course the cakes stuck to the pan, and we ended up having to throw them out (after shoving a few warm handfuls into our mouths).

Friday was the last day of school for Ethan, and I thought we'd celebrate summer vacation by making a little fire in the backyard from this "bonfire log" we'd bought at the grocery store. Our log lit for 20 seconds and died. We wondered if maybe we were supposed to surround it with kindling like a real fire, only it was too dark to look for wood. We did find some sumac branches, and learned quickly that burning sumac smells an awful lot like pot. I can only imagine what the neighbors were thinking. Never mind Ethan's cries of "There's too many mosquitos!" Which of course there wouldn't have been, had we gotten an actual fire going.

At one point, though, before the mosquitos had gotten too bad, as I was throwing matches on the darned log and Dan was looking around for some paper to light, Ethan curled up in his chair to watch and said, "I'm proud of you for having grit, mama. You're not giving up!"

"Grit" was something they'd been talking about in school and particularly in their first grade play. The kids had learned that one of the ways they were "Extraordinary First Graders" was by showing grit; perseverance; determination.

The next day I prepared round two of the sauce and the cake. When Dan came home he set about replacing the spray hose in our kitchen sink, which had sprung a leak. Only, as so often seems to happen in our 75-year-old home, one minor problem turned into a large one when the parts he bought didn't work with our sink. And then he accidentally broke something.

Saturday ended with parts all over the kitchen, and the sink not being usable. I literally had to rinse off a few dishes in the bathtub.

Sunday morning, party day, Father's Day, and instead of coming to church Dan had to buy and install an entirely new faucet. Just before I prepared to frost Anna's cake I managed to spill scalding hot water all over me. As I stood there, holding an ice pack on the burned splotch while attempting to frost with the other hand, I could feel it simmering. Grit. That was it. I wanted to shake an imaginary fist at the Universe. You will NOT stop me, I wanted to shout. I bit my tongue, vowing not to whine, yell, or cry.

I realized, and I know I've written about this before, that never mind the first graders, that I was the one who needed a larger dose of grit. I've heard it said that many people on the autism spectrum have difficulty persisting when they can't figure something out, of not liking that feeling of trying and failing. Again I will say then maybe I'm a little spectrummy, because I have always been one to throw in the towel, to throw up my hands, to let my emotions overtake me and just say, Forget this.

But no. I frosted the cake. We went to church. Dan fixed the sink. We put the kitchen and the house back together again. Everyone came over and we had fun and it was not in the least hyperbole when I told people it was a true miracle that somehow, this had all come together.

The next day at Big Y I saw those darned, supposed-bonfire logs. I noticed the advertising display ("Just one match is all you need!") and started to feel indignant. No one was going to stop me from my fire, darn it. It was time to dig in my heels again. I marched up to customer service, kindly explained the situation and asked for another (free of charge) log to try.

At home that evening, as darkness fell, this log lit with one try. The flames shot up the way they were supposed to. We roasted the last of the marshmallows and saw the first fireflies of the summer. Stars came out, but we didn't want to go inside. The night was so big; the summer stretched out like a ripple in a pond, endless; full of promise.

Some things come easily, and other times the gift comes when you sink your teeth in like a bulldog and determine that you're going to do your best to make something happen, to keep the better attitude, to choose the higher way.

First graders may need grit, but so do 40-year-olds. We all have those days and those moments when we need to remember to never, ever, ever give up.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Symphony

Miss Parsons saved me from having to repeat my first year of school. I was a very shy, very young kindergartener, and when she came in, new to teaching, in her early twenties, halfway through the year when my other teacher went on maternity leave, all was right with the world. Her gentle manner drew me out of my shell and put me at ease.

Mrs. Dougal used to read us Judy Blume at the end of the school day. One time she excused herself to go out into the hall and confront another (very difficult) teacher who falsely accused one of my classmates. She had a heart of gold and made every one of us feel special.

Mrs. Paul. Oh, Mrs. Paul. The one who encouraged my two loves, writing and music. She would pass mimeographed sheets down the aisles and sit down at the piano, some 5th grade afternoons. We'd sing "Memories" and "Rainbow Connection;" "Stuck on You" (Lionel Ritchie!); "We are the World." We read and read and wrote and wrote. Mrs. Paul, who took time out of her summer to come to my going away party before I moved to Springfield.

There was Mr. Christie in high school band, who made me first chair clarinet and made me feel as if I wasn't invisible, lost in a class of 500 students; Mrs. Danton, who everyone loved to hate because she was so strict, who, thanks to said strictness, made me learn to type well and, in honors English, to write better. There was Ms. Keenan in AP English, 12th grade, who always seemed to be perfect, until the last day of class when she brought in a poem she'd written about an embarrassing moment, and I thought, "Wow, she knows what it's like to feel insecure, too."

My teachers have impacted me in positive, unforgettable ways, large and small. And as we've reached the end of yet another school year, I can't properly express how grateful I am for the teachers my own kids have had, thus far in their school careers.

I know things won't always be this way. I had my share of "dud" teachers. We will have our moments, down the road, I'm sure. That's all the more reason to celebrate now.

I think of some of Anna's teachers...of Mrs. Richert who had the bathtub in the classroom for the kids to read in and a plethora of creative ways to approach almost any assignment...Mrs. "B." who poured out her heart, soul, and love on every first grader...of her main teachers this year, Mrs. Tica and Mrs. Bristol. I'm feeling a bit of an ache here, because we recently made the difficult decision to transfer Anna out of the only school she's ever known to a large, public middle school next year, and I wonder if I was able to properly convey to them "thank you"...for working so hard and so creatively with so few resources; for their willingness to meet at any time to talk about Anna's progress, and to do whatever it took to help her in areas where she was struggling.

And Ethan's teachers. What can I say? Sometimes I just want to look heavenward and whisper, "Thanks." When Ethan started school at three years old, I wasn't ready for him to start school at three years old. I felt full of question marks and fear, which grew when we learned he wouldn't even start out in a regular pre-K classroom but an autism classroom. From the beginning, starting even back when we had therapists coming to our home, they saw things in Ethan I couldn't yet see. They had hope. They knew his potential when I was completely devastated by the only version of autism I knew, from childhood. Ethan's teachers have taught me to better believe in my son. They've shown me how smart he is. And yes, they've often encouraged me to relax and let go of the worry about him just a little bit.

And so, to Mrs. Vincenti, Ms. Shoop, Mrs. Daves, Mrs. Mullen, Mrs. Butterick, Mrs. Rumrill, and so many others, on this last day of school, thank you.

One of my hands-down favorite movies is "Mr. Holland's Opus." The film spans thirty years in the life of a musician who takes a job as a teacher just to make ends meet until he makes it big composing a symphony. Only, over time he becomes so engrossed in helping his students and in bringing music to life for them that his dreams, his symphony, begin gathering dust. On his last day of teaching students from over the years gather to thank him for his impact.

"We are your symphony, Mr. Holland," says one. "We are the melodies and the notes in your opus, and we are the music of your life."

It's funny, but I think of all of the teachers I've had over the span of decades, and my kids' teachers, in the same way. If our lives are a symphony (a beautiful thought indeed), each teacher is a little part of the grand theme that makes us who we are. There's something from each one of them instilled in us that we will always have, that we'll always carry with us. Sometimes they are teaching not just subjects but life lessons. Perseverance. Grit. Trust. Belief. Confidence. Sometimes they teach us to see.

I hope they know. I hope they know how valuable they are.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Bus

So Ethan's been taking the bus home from school this year for the first time, and it's been a bit of a bumpy ride.

While some of his teachers last year thought the bus would be a good "social opportunity" for him, I had my doubts from the start. To their defense, the bus HAS been a good social opportunity: which also means it's exposed some of Ethan's social difficulties.

Our first issue came back a while ago when we made the mistake at home of teasing Anna about some of her "crushes." It was all good-natured fun, but we didn't realize Ethan was really paying attention until we started to hear about him calling a certain girl on the bus his "girlfriend." Then he mentioned he kept trying to talk to her, but another boy kept trying to "protect" her from him.

And so we put a lid on all of the girlfriend talk and I had a nice little conversation with him about respecting boundaries. I thought everything was well and good...until a few months later, when the principal called to say that boy from the bus claimed Ethan said he was going to kiss his girlfriend on the last day of school.

We had another conversation about all of this, and a few weeks later when I checked in with Ethan he told me now that he was not bothering the girl anymore, this same "friend" on the bus who was supposedly so concerned about the girl was now constantly trying to MAKE him bother her. Apparently this had been a great source of entertainment for him, and now he was bored.

So then I got on the phone with the principal again, because Mama Bear's gotta stick up for her kid.

There was the day another boy got mad and apparently started punching him a little because he'd asked to sit where Ethan was sitting, and since Ethan didn't want him to he just ignored him. "But mama, that's all I could do is ignore him," he said, obviously repeating a rule he'd heard somewhere. Of course, he forgot the part about acknowledging the person's request first.

Last week Ethan had a different bus driver, and one day he pulled up and beckoned me over to the bus. He proceeded to rip into Ethan in front of three other wide-mouth little kiddos, about how they were talking about "sex" and that my son had started it.

My jaw almost dropped to the ground because I'm not sure Ethan has ever heard the word, and I knew, I just KNEW, there was no way he was spearheading a conversation about sex in the way the bus driver thought.

We got back up to the house and I sternly asked Ethan what was going on. "Someone said this girl went to the principal for saying a bad word," he explained. "So I asked which bad word. I said, 'Was it the S word?" That's what I said. I don't even know what sex is," he said matter-of-factly, kind of rolling his eyes. "That's not a bad word!"

I could picture it all laid out in front of me. Ethan asking if the bad word was the "S" word (thanks to our bad words conversations) and some other kid thinking he was talking about sex.

I could see how already, it is very, very easy for Ethan to be misunderstood. Even by bus drivers.

The worst was the other day. Ethan got off the bus and was sitting on the front steps with me as I asked him how things were going on the bus.

"People are always telling me be quiet, or don't talk to me," he said.

I tried to get out of him why, who, when, and most importantly, what had he been saying, when that happened? He told me he couldn't remember.

In the next breath he was telling me sometimes some of the kids said that to other kids on the bus, too, not just him. And then he asked for Wii and didn't look traumatized, but still -- it broke my heart a little.

I thought of the few years of my school career that I took the bus...of cool kids in the back and people snickering at me as I sat hunched with a book or scribbling furiously in the "book" I wanted to publish someday. I hated the bus.

Today our plan is for him to pay very close attention to when the kids say "be quiet" and report back to me.

No matter what happens or doesn't happen, I'm feeling very relieved right now that he only has five more days to ride the darned thing until summer freedom arrives.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

"No More Pencils, No More Books..."

The kids don't want to go to bed because it's still light outside. Anna's already thrown out a ton of old school papers she lugged home in her backpack, and Ethan reported someone from the town library just came to talk to his class about the summer reading program.

Yup, it's that time of year again. School's almost out, the kids are so excited they can't sleep, and I'm embracing the summer with an arms-open-wide, unbridled optimism that can only spring from not actually having lived out a day of summer vacation yet.

Does this happen to anyone else, every year? When the calendar flips to June and the kids start having their end of the year awards ceremonies/pizza parties/field days, I can hardly contain my own excitement. There's so much we could do! I always think.

Never mind the already-on-the-schedule swimming lessons (two sessions), vacation bible school, trips to Maine, and weekends away with grandparents. There's also everything we haven't done or want to try again. Yes, June is blossoming with good intentions. They usually start in the back of my mind with an excited whisper: What if we...

...figured out how to make s'mores in the backyard? Chased fireflies? Camped out under the stars? Found stroller-friendly state parks and hiking trails? Found a new beach? Bought a Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine (I saw them at Target!) so I could relive my childhood? Figured out how to make a tree fort? Ate breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast? Went to a drive-in movie? The list goes on and on.

And then, of course, there are the goals. Goals like this is the summer The Kids Are Going to Do More Chores, or Ethan's Going to Read Every Day or (I'm trying to hold in my laughter) I Will Finally Organize My Entire House. In June, with the cool mornings and fragrant flowers and nothing but blue sky, I feel I can take on anything. Even Pinterest crafts, God help me!

Social media doesn't help. How many articles have I already seen on 52 Inexpensive Backyard Activities for Your Kids or What to Put on Your Summer Bucket List or How to Make Socks that Blow Bubbles or The Best Organic Smoothie Popsicles?

Yes, I've got grand designs for the kids, as far as new things they should tackle this summer. Workbooks to keep their skills fresh. New chores like cooking dinner one night each week and maybe learning to do laundry (Anna). What better time than when they don't have homework and can't complain about being overburdened by the demands of school?

When? I ask. When will I learn?

This is what happens. Summer begins and we go to the library to sign up for the Summer Reading Program. Only now everything is logged online, and I can never remember how to get on, and always have issues logging the kids' books and end up on the phone with the library and can't understand why we can't hand them a darned pencil scratched list of their books. And we miss the big end of the summer party because we're on vacation every.single.year.

I try a couple of Pinterest activities, 75 percent of which backfire because I'm either inept or shouldn't blindly believe in everything I read on the internet. Every time we attempt to go to a summer concert on the green, someone needs to get to bed early or decides they want to spend another hour playing with the hose instead. The kids have a great time in Maine but we never make it to the new places I wanted to check out because they just wanted to jump off the dock.

We get the overpriced workbooks and Anna complains unendingly while Ethan wants to sit and complete the entire book in one sitting, even if that means scribbling through each page without exactly understanding what he's reading. The kids will cook dinner for a while until I realize, darn, this is more work. A lot more work. And why do I want that at a time when they're already bickering every 3.5 seconds and trashing the rest of the house without even trying?

We will have unexpected adventures and blazingly hot days and clich├ęd conversations that involve the whine, "I'm boooored." We'll limp to the finish line...and three weeks from school's start I'll remember how happy I was to have my babies home all day when summer started and how happy I will be to see them return to structure, to the classroom, to not every moment breathing down my neck (homeschooling moms, God bless you).

I'm not sure why I can't stop myself from indulging in the feast of sky-high summer expectations. I could get all deep and say it's because I feel as if I need to provide my kids with a spectacular, over-the-top childhood. Or because I miss the days myself of having a whole blank slate of summer stretching before me, and want to live vicariously through my children. In truth, I think it's just human nature, plain and simple. Although the thought of having nothing to do all day but read and read a stack of books, preferably under a big shady tree with a glass of lemonade as if I'm in one of those Country Time commercials, sets me off into a glassy-eyed reverie.

I know, down deep, that it wouldn't hurt to tamp down the expectations a little, because in reality, we don't need all of this. There is nothing to prove. There is nothing to perfect. There's just loving my kids, attempting not to lose my temper too much, and doing my best to stay in the moment. Even the bad ones.

We may not cross everything off our bucket list (or even make one). But we'll do stuff. We'll visit a museum (especially if I find a Groupon). They'll splash in warm puddles. We'll go out for ice cream and blow bubbles. We'll take walks and maybe climb a mountain (if we can find a babysitter). They'll build blanket forts that Chloe will collapse and they'll complain but end up rolling around and tickling her, reveling in the sweet sound of toddler giggles. We may not camp out under the stars, but maybe we'll (as we did the other night) venture out for a few minutes into the night and fight with the Hartford lights to find a few sprinkled across the sky. And when we do, we'll walk back through the muggy darkness, serenaded by crickets, feeling immensely satisfied.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Baseball Season: It's a Wrap

Ethan's baseball season wrapped up yesterday, and it went better than expected.

Things were a little sketchy, to start. The first thing I heard when we arrived at Ethan's first practice was the coach barking that if anyone threw the bat after hitting, they were going to have to drop and give him push-ups.

I wasn't even sure Ethan knew what a push-up was.

Then the coach yelled they were going to have to run laps around the field if the kids didn't "hussle."

I'm all for high standards, but these boys are only six and seven-year-olds. When he told one of them to go to first base that first day, the little guy walked over to third instead.

I figured, as is often the case when Ethan participates in extra-curricular type activities, that I should give the coach a heads-up about Ethan in case the kid gets distracted by the scoreboard in a nearby field (he loves keeping score!) and was suddenly screamed at to "drop and give me 10."

And so as the guy was loading equipment into his van after the (hour and a half long!) practice I casually mentioned that Ethan was on the spectrum and might be a little less social and a little more distractable than the average kid, and might become upset extra easily if he, say, was having trouble hitting the ball. I hate to say it, but it felt a little bit like Mom Insurance, like I had to let him know my kid wasn't just a "brat" if he acted out in these ways.

He kind of smirked and nodded, and I got the distinct sense that he may very well have been thinking that he was tired of all these mamby-pamby diagnoses and that the kid probably just needed some hard and fast discipline.

The day of the first game involved tears, rolling around on the floor, and proclamations that he "didn't like baseball and only wanted to play soccer," so you can imagine our surprise when sometime between the afternoon and the conclusion of the game, Ethan had decided he loved baseball even more than Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. That's a LOT of love.

And so things progressed fairly well from there. Ethan wasn't overly chummy with the boys on his team but wasn't an outcast either. His fielding skills improved and he was one of the better hitters of the bunch. The coach continued to yell (we won't talk about that disastrous day Ethan somehow couldn't find his hat and held up the game), but I've got to stay this boot-camp mentality didn't leave Ethan mentally scarred. The games still weren't really "official" baseball (no real score or outs, just batting around the order, and just an hour long) so they were manageable. As much as I love baseball, I dread next year, when the kids start pitching and they actually play by the rules. We're going to spend a lot of time on baseball fields.

Yet, I can't really dread it, for so many reasons. I wasn't sure Ethan would be able to play on a regular sports team without a lot of extra support. Sports are good for him: they take him away from the screen and expand his mind (along with getting him moving). They build his confidence. And they help him to adjust to all manner of personalities, including zealous coaches who may lose sight of the fact that this isn't Major League Baseball.

He's may not be the best player on the team; he may not be tossing the ball around on his own in the backyard; and he's not out there dreaming of playing for the Red Sox (who could really need some help) when he grows up. (Ethan's drawbridge operating aspirations are still going strong.) But he wants to play again next year, and he is looking forward to playing soccer in the fall.

That's more than enough for me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Still Blooming

Our yard is a mess.

There's no other way to put it. We live on a half-acre that borders a thin patch of woods in the back. A good portion of it is a hill that gets a TON of sun. The soil is dry and dusty and water just runs down the hill rather than into the ground. As a result, I've been told the house's former inhabitants spent a lot of time coaxing grass to grow, to no avail.

Poison ivy tries to sneak in on the top of the hill every year. The evergreens and swamp maples in the same area have overgrown branches that sink low to the ground, creating magical secret hiding places if you're a child, or a bit whimsical, but to everyone else it probably looks sloppy.

Our garden is no more (too much work and money for too little results) and both pricker and sumac bushes have tried to overtake it.

Mowing the grass really means mowing the weeds. Each fall we could rake 200 bags of leaves (mostly from trees that are in the woods, not our yard), if we ever had time to rake all 200 bags of leaves.

Many times I just do what I can and let it go. But there are times when I am out there, doing my best with limited resources and limited time, pulling up weeds that will grow back again, when the sense of futility overwhelms me.

What's one sumac tree when there are three more that have sprouted?

How can pulling up pricker bushes until I draw blood really matter, when I can't truly get them all? Sometimes, the roots are just too deep.

There is a mountain laurel bush in our front yard, near the garage. A few years ago we noticed the leaves looking sickly, yellow and spotted. The bush barely bloomed. While I'm not completely sure if this was the connection, upon closer inspection I saw the bush was being choked by some kind of long, tendril-like weed (it might be Oriental bittersweet, I'm not sure). It had wound its way around the inner part of the mountain laurel, up the center and onto the top, where it was beginning to bury the leaves.

Last summer I stood out in the sweltering sun and began taking out my aggressions on the plant. I ripped, pulled, and cut. Great heaps of it fell to the ground. I got out the step ladder and pulled some more. Only -- I'm short, and the bush (and the weeds all around it) were too tall. I got most of it, but had to leave a clump at the top. It's the type of thing I could've asked Dan to do, only, with his limited time he's got to stick to things like mowing the weeds.

Defeated, I glared up at the bittersweet. I did the same this spring when it sprouted to life. I got to work tackling the sumac again this year; the prickers that are winding their way everywhere.

This is like your life. The thought popped into my head as I pulled another weed but missed the roots. That's why you're frustrated. Because there are no quick solutions; because things aren't neat and tidy; because sometimes you struggle with the same things over and over again and can't ever seem to completely root them out.

Here is the thing, if you are one (like me) who has grown up in the Christian faith, grown up in churches and with Bibles and preachers before Sunday dinners. There have been well-meaning people who have turned the practice of Christianity into a quick fix for your troubles. Just do A, and you'll get B. Just believe. Just have faith and God will perfect you. Do this. Do that. It's simple.

Only, while Truth may be simple, the process of walking out your faith, your life, your shortcomings, of turning something quite unlovely into something beautiful and of use, is not simple at all. It's dirt under the fingernails. It's sweat. It's tears. Not because I have to work to earn anything, but because I am still human, and I live with a fallen body and mind, and I live in a fallen world.

It's a world of sunlight and thorns, wasps and butterflies, of flowers that stink (marigolds) and magical weeds (Ethan calls gone-by dandelion puffs "wish flowers." I love that).

The other day in the rain I caught sight of the mountain laurel bush, leaves glistening, cradling the drops that wouldn't stop falling. The darned bittersweet had sprouted more than ever, right in the center. I was going to have to engage in more pulling and tugging.

But it's still blooming. The thought came in a flash.

I marveled at the light pink blossoms, almost pentagon-shaped. They were everywhere. This beautiful thing, choked by the tendrils, was blooming in spite of itself. And the leaves? My work had not been completely in vain. The sickly leaves had returned to their normal color. I may not have completely rooted out what I'd hoped to. But I'd helped.

I thought of those verses we'd talked about in church lately, where Christ followers are urged to "be perfect." Ha! At face value, that seems like such a joke. But digging deeper, I found that perfect means something different than what I was thinking. Perfect means being fully and spiritually mature. It's about being perfect in the way we show love to both friends and enemies. It relates to acknowledging our imperfection and striving for something beyond ourselves: knowing in this life we can never reach that point, but not stopping in our tracks and refusing to grow. As one commentator, John Eadie, wrote:

"One may be perfect in aim, and yet be far from realizing it. The perfection referred to was such a progress as vividly showed defect; such a stage in the race as revealed most painfully the distance lying still in front; such light which, as it grew, served also to enlarge the circle of darkness round about it."

I have more weeding to do, outside. Always. The sun is shining today. Maybe I can get out there with the sun on my back after days of rain and instead of cursing the weeds, I can work, and I can rest. I can remember there is something beautiful here, beneath the weeds, when I keep working to unearth it. There is something more beautiful to come, but in the meantime, I can admire the blossoms.