Fashion and Flesh

Granted, I had style on the brain.  I don’t often, but I was right in the middle of reading “The Lost Art of Dress:  The Women Who Once Made America Stylish” by Linda Przybyszewski (which I beg you to spare me from pronouncing out loud).  To then immerse myself in the visual shock that is the varying degree of near nudity at a U.S. beach, why, that is a recipe for some strong opinions.

The book, ah I adored it.  The history of the Dress Doctors, ladies who guided American ladies from the late 1800’s through the early 1960’s into thrifty, dignified, elegant, and beautiful sewing and assembling of their wardrobes.  They guided women into lovely suits that made men take them seriously in the new areas of employment that were grudgingly being opened up to them.  They showed farm wives how to sew attractive house dresses from cotton seed sacks.  This was no shallow endeavor orbiting around the whims of haute couture.  They gave patterns not just for clothing, but for beauty, modesty, dignity, and frugality.

Linda gathered up all the lost wisdom that the sixties booted out in the name of liberation, such as:  how to age gracefully and beautifully through choices in colors and fabrics that flatter the aging body, what cuts and colors are best for which complexions, how to use a few basic garments to make a wide variety of attractive ensembles, how drawing attention to the face, via a scarf or another accessory is far more effective at engaging people than putting the interest down at your feet via cute footwear, that a balance must be struck between revealment and concealment; too much revealing at once negating the effect hoped for, etc.

To go from this engaging read to the parade of bikini-clad bodies from toddlers to elderly women caused a bit of cognitive whiplash.  One elderly lady in particular struck me.  She had a rather nice shape, one could tell that she had cared for her body and that it still served her well.  But she wore a bikini, which revealed between the patches of fabric the undulating waves of wrinkles and spilling skin across her belly, sagging down to half cover the bottoms.  The whole of her beauty was stunted by the sight of that unruly swath of skin.  The Dress Doctors would have been shocked that she would display herself this way, not because of their own sensitivities, but in reaction to how the woman had violated her own dignity.  While part of me cheers her for not caring and wearing what she wanted, another part said that she had lost by her liberty.

The Dress Doctors would encourage us to emphasize our best features and minimize our flaws.  Beautiful eyes but pudgy arms?  Wear a color that draws out the color of the eyes and wear a little bolero jacket over sleeveless outfits.  As I gazed out over the beachgoers today it was painfully clear that these hints are needed more than ever.  The fashion houses here fail us.  The magazine covers too.  Here we need the wisdom that used to be common knowledge, the advice that would lead us gracefully through life’s bodily stages in dignity and beauty, rather than a mono-style of endless youth.

So, read the book, will you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  And me?  I am downright inspired.


And Then There Was Today

There was yesterday, sitting in the evening light chewing on dripping honeycomb fresh from the hive and feeling the breeze cool my sweat-soaked shirt.  Sophia and I sat, half peeled-out of our bee suits, chewing wax and guzzling cold water, smiles on our faces.   We had seen both queens; one which I helped the queen-less hive to raise by bringing in egg-laden frames from the strong hive, week after week.  I was satisfied.

We’d been through a scare the evening before on a walk; Edison tripped and landed on his wrist awkwardly, causing great pain.  A cast again, really?  Just, please, no.  I had him soak it in the cold stream.  Returning home I wrapped it, tucking a steeped comfrey leaf (knit-bone herb) inside.  If it still hurt the next day we’d take him in for x-rays.

All day yesterday he improved, using his arm more and more normally.  This morning, he had no pain left at all.  We ran some pre-trip errands and then the crazy started.

Three times as I worked at Mt. Ever-Laundry came piercing shouts and cries from my outdoors-romping boys.  Reuben stubbed or broke his pinky while playing with a basketball.  Hot tears and worst fears all over his dirty face.  Ice pack, a homemade splint, taped digits, and googling of “difference between stubbed and broken”.  Again the assurance that if it hurt the next day we’d take him in for x-rays and such.

Then the hollering panic of Edison with his first-ever bee sting.  More ice, a dollop of lavender essential oil, then a paste of clay and lavender oil to dry it out.  The cries subsided fast (thank you, lavender!), quickly replaced by what we call “jibber jabbering” (the non-stop talkathoning that excited children do) about bees, what their stingers look like, the possible motivation of the bee, etc.  My ears nearly fell off.

I sprayed poo off of the cloth diaper, folded another load of laundry, put two meatloaves and potatoes in the oven, and started hacking away at heads of cauliflower and broccoli, willing the evening to wind down all nice and quiet.  The aioli sauce filled the kitchen with garlic goodness, and supper was served amidst candles and a tenuous peace.

We set up a collapsible drafting table that we’d scored at Goodwill for $6 and laid out a puzzle on it, all pulling chairs up to the wide workspace, and tried to put the puzzle, and our day, back together.  It was while I washed the dishes that the final screaming cry rattled through the wavy glass windows.

I found Edison sprawled across the sidewalk, having tripped over a log piece that has time and again been moved about the yard for “creative purposes”, and having landed directly upon the previously injured arm.  I was about 30% compassion and 70% anger right about then, and it came out in my frustrated response:  “Just what in the wide world do you think you’re doing?  Do you want a cast?  Can you please JUST STOP HURTING YOURSELF?!?”

His pitiful whine/cry/lament accelerated to a higher pitch and I gathered him up and hauled him into the kitchen which was feeling more like a triage unit.  I washed away the dirt and examined his arm gently, though my face masked none of my irritation.  Soaking, wrapping, clove tea for both boys to help them sleep and ease their pain.  More cold cloths.  More whispered prayers.  One mama wrung clean out.

When Dustin arrived from his side job at eight, I motioned towards where he could find his supper and crashed into the couch to type out my day, to let it drain out my fingertips, right into the keyboard, and flung out to you, that you may commiserate with me.  Or at least shake your head at me.

When Henrik cried out, having been awoken by Ed’s crying, I just told my husband, “I’m done.  I’m.  Just.  Done.”  He soothed him back to sleep and I sank deeper into the couch.  There was today and today is closing like a chapter that a child rumpled and worried into crinkled pages and sticky spots.  Tomorrow may find us getting casts on limbs right before we head to the beach, or awakening to healed pains and wiping those worries off of our foreheads.  We’ll see, but it is just one bad day, and I can still breathe thanks to Him who saw it all and holds us all.

An Eggshell, A Nest, and A Lovely Sound

“And how many pregnancies?”

“This is my sixth.”

“All carried to full term?”

“All but one.  One miscarriage.”

A nod.  Fingers flew over the keys and I looked around the small examination room, so very familiar to me.  Only once did these pastel rooms hold pain for me.  Two days after Father’s Day, 2012, two years ago.

That day my face was barely holding it together; I was tears and heartache with legs.  The nurses kept the questions low and few; this was no bubbly visit this.

I remember a great deal of tenderness that day; the midwife who checked me held my hand as she laid out the hard truths, that the baby had died, that the bleeding would take a while, that these things happen and that it wasn’t my fault.  Oh how my soul howled, how it beat at the air with clenched fists and rage.

Just the day before, when the bleeding had begun, I had walked out into the yard.  There I found a broken half of a robin’s egg.  The little one had left, and it was one of those double-meaning moments, like God whispering in a simple shell that my little one too, was elsewhere now, with Him.  Dread swept on over.

In the days that followed I tore the floor out of our dining room.  For me, grief holds a hammer.  I pried out ugly tiles and poorly-installed oak tongue and groove flooring, hacked through crumbling layers of sub flooring, and exposed at last the 100 year-old wood floor underneath, looking like a porcupine with thousands of nails poking up.  For days I pulled out one nail at a time, tears dripping down my nose and making wet circles in the dust.  My husband sanded the floor and varnished it and there was some redemption in the energy of grief.  I stopped crying every day.

I was out walking in the yard two months later, unknowingly pregnant with dear Henrik, when I found a perfectly formed nest.  Again that recognition of double meaning; life would again dwell within me.  When the pregnancy test was positive I cried the unmanageable cry of joy/pain/grief/fragile hope.  I was scared, scared to love again, hope again.  I felt guilty about the joy; how could I be happy when my other baby had just died?

They call them rainbow children; those ones born after a child loss.  They seem to bring healing with them, hope, and help usher joy back into the house.  The promise after the storm and torment.

IMG_0544 I just know to call him a gift, God’s merciful gift.

As was his brother or sister who passed right from my womb to God’s hands.  Not just a sorrow, but a gift, someone I’ll embrace one day with bright joy.  Gabriel, or Gabriela, which means “stands in the Presence”, can show me around.  Part of my heart lives in Heaven now, this very moment.  I don’t know what God does with my requests, that a hug be sent to my baby from mama, that He tell him/her of my love unending.

The heartbeat fluttered at a quick clip as the smiling doctor said, “Well, that settles it, you’re pregnant!  Good sound to hear?”

“The most lovely of sounds.”

Of Dreams

I can fly and there’s nothing I like better.  A big wave is coming, shifting the horizon up a mile into the air; we’ll all die.  I’m in a play and don’t know the lines and a cold panic sweeps on over.  I’m in a school and can’t find my classes, nor my locker, nor remember what the combination is.  I find my childhood toys all scattered in a stream bed and I try to gather them up and save them.  Dreams.

Senseless, terrifying, prophetic, wild.  I think it’s where our hopes, our fears, our thoughts run about in story form in a frolicking subconscious.  Sometimes it feels like an autobiographical comic strip that got cut-up and rearranged in chunks that make no sense next to one another, but in dreams you accept whatever is glued on to that piece of paper.  Continuity is optional.

Other times I feel like I’m not writing the story at all, but I’m seeing something I’m supposed to.  I feel embarrassed to say it, but I’ve had a number of prophetic dreams.  In Chile I had a dark, dark dream.  One of the worst.  In it a woman was giving birth and as the baby was born the mother nodded to the midwife you promptly decapitated it with a knife, then another baby as well.  Dark blood flew and my soul convulsed; awakening me in a cold sweat and wild with horror.  The next day in our town of Puerto Montt, Chile two newborn babies were found dead in a trashcan, umbilical cords still attached.

Another time in a dream I saw a married man among our acquaintances making sexual advances on a woman who was not his wife.  I was shocked and repulsed and heartsick.  One month later he left his wife and children for his mistress.

Why I saw these things I don’t know.  I don’t tell people about them (until now), because there isn’t a neat and tidy way to understand dreams and where, or with whom, they originate.  I only know that they change me and they make me listen hard for the message, if there is any, in the dreams I remember.

This morning a monstrous black snake fixed it’s eyes on me.  Big as a python with a huge head, it coiled itself in moving loops as big as hula hoops and sped across the grass at me, it’s eyes never wavering from mine.  I remember thinking, “Oh no, why me again?”  I must have met this snake before.  And then it’s mouth was on my arm, fangs sinking deep.  Such pain, such deep pain.  With my free hand I dug my nails in and tried to pry that clamped mouth from my arm.  I got the head loose and crushed it against the ground.  It shape-shifted then, became a baby rather than a snake, and I loosened my grip in horror, letting my hands fall away.  I awoke, sweating and scared.


I thought while I showered, while I tried to rinse off the horror and terror of that dream.  The snake was evil incarnate, I knew that; evil has a stare like no other.  I’ve come through many attacks in my spiritual life, thus the sense of repetition.  And evil does shape-shift, when you’ve almost gained victory over a certain sin, it can suddenly seem not so bad after all, almost a pitiable thing, like the baby, maybe even in need of protection.  That’s my best attempt; time will give it layers.  I don’t easily forget dreams like that.

It may seem a strange catalyst, but the dream about the two babies fueled my passion for fighting infanticide, exposing abortion for what it really is, an unspeakable horror.  It gave me a gut-level, marrow-deep conviction about the sanctity of life.

Dreams about others falling into sin (and later seeing those things come to pass) have given me an alertness and vigilance in my own spiritual life which otherwise may not have been there.  I have a feel of how close we are to the ditches on the path and how attentive we must be to where we place our steps.

I don’t claim that all dreams have meaning.  I think some are just the subconscious colorfully breaking wind.  But there are others that leave a mark, give a message, reveal something to us.

What about you?  Has a dream ever changed you?  Have you dreamed prophetically?  Do you have a recurring dream that you’ve figured out?


Faith Like Perfume

It’s four days into summer break and it’s been four days of rain and gray.  Which keeps all the four inside with me with no open spaces to vent their considerable energy.  I directed some of that energy into cleaning projects.  While de-junking the boys’ room we unearthed three library books and a bevy of orphaned socks.  We had a great shoe trying-on-athon and managed to part with the scrappiest of broken velcro sandals.  School papers were purged and backpacks cleaned out, and I felt I could exhale a bit.

I can’t sing any worship song these days without blubbering.  We’ve visited many churches but have yet to find that peaceful certainty from God that “this one” is “it”.  Oddsfish though, in all this uncertainty and bumbling, my faith is strengthening.  I feel it like a firm floor beneath my feet, sure and steady.  It comes as the whispered assurance daily, “You are held.  God knows.  He is in control.  Trust.”

It isn’t logical; that my faith would be stronger in the midst of disconnect with the Body, disconnect with our beloved vocation of overseas missionary work.  But so it is.

I’d always heard that perfume is made of potently stinky (and disgusting) ingredients.  That smelled full strength they’d near knock you over, but at a certain dilution they round out a sweetness, a freshness, a zing.  In there is castoreum, a product of a castor beaver’s genital scent sac.  Or musk, a sexual secretion of the male musk deer.  Or ambergris, which is, simply, whale vomit.  But put together, at the right dilutions, in the master hand of a perfumer, something altogether surprising and pleasant is made.

So in the oddest of ways, via suffering and flagging hope, disappointment and heartache, my faith and trust in my heavenly Father have grown.  This is both a mystery and a grace.


Kim Who?

I’m like an old person shoved inside a 34 year-old’s body.  Actually, no, I’m sort of like an eighteenth century person.  Yeah, it’s that bad.  I type here on a laptop, but I’d rather write by typewriter.  Or on some beautiful paper, with a goose quill pen.  By candlelight.  Ahhhh.

“What time is it?”, demanded an elderly lady of me as I sat in a waiting room.  “Um, I don’t know,” I said, glancing at my wrist as if to prove that, indeed, I really didn’t have a watch.  I could see she was waiting for me to whip out a cell phone or some other IGadget to give her the information she wanted.  I scanned the walls for a clock.  She continued to bore through my skull with her stare.  “Uh, I’ll go ask the receptionist.”

I’ve been laughed at when I’ve asked a clerk where the nearest pay phone was.  She just handed me her cell phone the way I would hand a tissue to someone who had sneezed into their hands.  Like, here, let me rescue you from your unfortunate lack of foresight.  You poor thing, don’t leave home without it next time!

We don’t have a television either; haven’t for nigh fifteen years (except a TV in Chile which didn’t get any channels and was used for watching movies).  So when I read the news, the headlines that I guess are supposed to grab me with intrigue merely leave me saying, “Kardashian?  Is that a name or a type of wool?”  All that I’ve gathered about her is that apparently she is famous and everyone wants to know more about her.  Does she sing?  Is she a celebrated writer?  Is there a reason she’s famous?

So, I’m halfway through Twelve Steps to Becoming a Hermit I guess.  Especially when I went off the Facebook grid.  If you someday find this blog deleted or stagnating, you’ll know I graduated and can be found meditating on top of a pole.  Please bring me food, I’ll probably be hungry.

time2 I love this picture.  Simplicity.  Utility.  Craftsmanship.  Peace.  Beauty.  Handmade things in handmade places, natural light, and quiet.

I can’t handle TV.  The jarring, jazzy nature of it.  News of a brutal murder followed by a peppy, and incongruously sexy, ad for laundry detergent.  What?  And all this celebrity gossip; was it somehow forgotten that these are flesh and blood people like us?  That they have feelings and sorrows and souls?  The “newspeople” picking them apart remind me of carrion birds; their laughter grates.  How does this entertain?  Is this the new coliseum?  I remember years back when friends of ours showed us an episode of American Idol, where some poor soul sang off-tune and were, predictably, chewed-up and spit-out by the sneering judges.  I felt sick.

I have no stomach for the killing of souls, sneer by sneer.

So, yeah, I might be a little backwards, but forwards isn’t looking all that great.


Just. Walk.

IMGP4158 Sometimes my kids make squirrel herding sound easy.

What is it in kids that makes them zigzag back and forth while walking, makes them climb every set of steps, and tip toe across low retaining walls, and swing around the sign posts?  What makes them take a dead stop right under your feet or walk backwards or make mad dashes that knock a sibling over?

We walked home from a church gathering tonight and as usual the children were scampering everywhere, catching lightning bugs, wrestling, and carrying on.  Sometimes this makes  me smile the benevolent smile of a content mama.  Other times it makes me cranky and weary.  “JUST.  WALK.  FOR.  THE.  LOVE,” I’ll bite out between clenched teeth, like enunciating would soften my words too much.  Some days I just can’t handle one more moment of exuberant wildness.

This pregnancy has been a rough one; lots of exhaustion and nausea, probably exacerbated by taking care of four other high-energy little ones.    Not trying to complain, but it helps to frame why my reserves of patience and good humor are running on fumes.  But just here is a place where deep change can be wrought.  Just here where the world would say, “Yeah, see?  THAT’S why I’ll never have that many kids.”  Just here where suffering is taken to be an altogether horrid and avoidable thing.

I get cranky when I fast.  My temper grows short and I feel like a walking ball of irritation.  How does a grumbly tummy cause such a sour attitude?  Because we are mind, body, spirit, not divided in neat boxes but smeared all through and through.  A sad thought produces our eyes to drip.  Embarrassment flushes our face red.  An empty belly makes us hangry (hunger-angry).  But I don’t avoid fasting because it’s unpleasant; I know too well the humbling that chastens my heart as I see my sins so very un-masked, so very laid-bare.  Because we feel we are awfully good and nice when we’re well-fed and feeling super.

Suffering, if not run from, if borne well, can serve our souls.  Through it God trains and breaks our whining flesh, making us stronger from the inside out.  He causes us to know our selfishness, our self-centeredness, our weaknesses thoroughly.  Knowing them, we can watch out for the rearing of their ugly heads.  We are awake.  Pain awakens.

The breaking of the alabaster box and the anointing of the Lord filled the house with the odor, with the sweetest odor. Everyone could smell it. Whenever you meet someone who has really suffered; been limited, gone through things for the Lord, willing to be imprisoned by the Lord, just being satisfied with Him and nothing else, immediately you scent the fragrance. There is a savor of the Lord. Something has been crushed, something has been broken, and there is a resulting odor of sweetness. –Watchman Nee


If thou art willing to suffer no adversity, how wilt thou be the friend of Christ? –Thomas à Kempis


We all know people who have been made much meaner and more irritable and more intolerable to live with by suffering: it is not right to say that all suffering perfects. It only perfects one type of person …… the one who accepts the call of God in Christ Jesus. –Oswald Chambers


But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. –C.S. Lewis

My husband has little caches of Aleve all over our vehicles, our home.  When he gets a twinge of headache, he pops a few.  He doesn’t want the pain, so he avoids it.  He has no patience with his wife, who flatly refuses to do likewise.  “The pain is information,” I say, “My body is telling me something.”  So I’ll go lay down, drink water, be quiet.  Both choices are valid, but not when we do the same spiritually.  When we categorically avoid doing things which might involve suffering.  When we don’t listen to the pain, nor to the God who permitted it to cross our paths.

I walked a mile with Pleasure
She chattered all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow
And ne’er a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me.

Robert Browning Hamilton

So when the squirrely children have worked on my last nerve, when I can feel anger pouring up my throat, and feel my tongue poised, ready to strike, just there, I can breathe a prayer past all that black, a prayer that God would help me, enable me, fill me, that He’d give me the grace to suffer well, to love well, to persevere.

And God smiles, ready to help.