An Open Letter To The Angry Young Men

Dear Angry Young Men,

I don’t question that you’ve got pain.  Were you bullied?  Ignored by women?  Did your parents abuse you?  Were you always a bit lost in a crowd?  I don’t know your particular pains, but I’ll tell you right now, every single one of us carries wounds.  Your wounds don’t make you special, they make you normal.

I don’t understand the twists in your thinking, how your autobiography is being written in your head that you think going out in a blaze of blood equates glory.  Because the watching world doesn’t see your victory or fame, we see a coward with a gun mowing down precious people.  We see crying parents and schools with police tape around them and coffins way too small.  This is your glory?  This is your grand finale?  To crown your pain with the pain of others?

I’d ask you to take a walk with me.  Somewhere quiet and I’d give you paper and I’d ask you to do this:  let your pain spill right out, right on to the paper.  Fill up the margins, write right off the edges, spill.  I’d ask you to scream out your anger at the top of your lungs; every slight, every insult, every dark thought, every abuse, every insecurity, all of it.

When you were done, I’d ask you to be quiet.  In that silence I’d whisper to you:

You are loved.

You are precious.

Your pain is real, but it isn’t the truest thing about you.

Your anger is deep, but you are deeply, profoundly, loved.

God made you, dear one, He made you, He sees you, He grieves your pain.

There is more in your story and the center of the spokes doesn’t have to be this gnawing rage and bitter fatalism.

What if you told the Author of Rage and Violence that you didn’t want to be his puppet anymore?  What if you thumbed your nose at him and dared to live as though life were worth living until it actually is?

What if you disappointed that prowling Lion who wants your destruction, by telling him to go home to Hell, to find another lackey, that you’re through with being a slave?

That God is leaning-in and waiting for your half-hearted prayer, the smallest request for help, ready to send a legion of angels to fight for his dear son?

That God loves you enough to allow you to decide between great love and black hate.

I would whisper those words and I’d pray.  I’d lay out your ink smeared papers in intersecting lines, a cross, and I’d tell you about Jesus who forgave everything done to Him, even though He’d never done a wrong to anyone.  How He died for even the ones who were killing Him, how great His love was.  How forgiving the people who have hurt us opens a valve down at our feet so our anger and hurt can drain out.  That the valve has to be left open because some wounds seep and seep all our lives.

I would smile a little and tell you that you can’t see it now, but if you choose life you’ll never believe the joy that will grow tall and wide in your soul.  I know about that, see.  I was suicidal as a teen and I couldn’t see beyond the horizon of my pain.  I thought the pain was all there was and all there would be.  The Devil loves to lie.

Dear angry young men, be slaves no longer to blinding rage and lashing pain.  It gives the Devil so much satisfaction that he’s duped another one.  He’s thrown a black blanket over your head and told you it’s always night now, and sometimes you have to be sensible and brave enough to yank his tricks off your head and believe the light around you.

You are more than what you’ve suffered, you are loved.

Black Toothpaste, I Kid You Not

I can’t stop licking my teeth.  They’re so smooth, so clean.  Charcoal toothpaste.  Move aside Crest and Colgate and even Tom’s of Maine.  You’ve never made me so fresh-from-the-dentist clean before.  Why charcoal?

It’s not from our barbecue grill, I assure you, not the same stuff.  It’s activated charcoal which is a handy (and potentially life-saving) thing to have around.  It’s kept in ambulances to deal with poisonings, anaphylactic reactions to allergens, and snake bites.  Think of it as a toxin magnet; it busily goes through your system adhering the bad stuff to itself and sweeping it on out.  Oh, and it’ll take your worms out too, as a side job.  And it whitens the teeth.  Go ahead, order some online, I’ll wait.

I looked at several recipes for the perfect paste on natural living blogs and took some of their ideas and tweaked them a bit.  Here’s my version, which is tasty, slightly sweet, and minty:

Charcoal Toothpaste

1/4 c. baking soda

1 tsp. salt (I like unrefined salts for their minerals and texture)

1 tsp. activated charcoal (you can find this loose or in capsules)

2 generous T. of coconut oil (or enough to make a paste of your preferred consistency)

6 drops of spearmint or peppermint essential oil

packet of pure stevia (optional, though if you have kids or prefer a bit of sweetness, this will be an easier sell…not that pitch black toothpaste is unappealing…ha!)

-Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the rest, rubbing together with the back of a spoon or with a pestle.  Plop it into an old baby food jar and prepare to dazzle your family. Only a pea-sized amount is needed, so just dip the tip of your toothbrush in.  You may want to teach them all to spit into the trashcan if cleaning up black spittle isn’t your cup of tea.

The best part for me?  No more gagging on foam.  Yes, one of my top pregnancy side effects is gagging while brushing because the foam tickles the back of my throat.  Oh, and the slick clean teeth and lingering minty freshness.

I also made deodorant and eyeliner today.  Because I can.  Happy Thursday to you!

Just One

IMG_1075 It was one of those taking-stock days where my hands settle on their thinking spots on my hips.  One.  Just one life on this terrestrial ball and then a gallop through time-without-end.     One.

There’s something about stepping back from the tapestry that makes you notice the threads dangling, the ones that didn’t quite get woven in.  They made a good start and then were left.  Dropped.  Those projects that were started with enthusiasm and then an interruption happened and a malaise set in, followed by apathy and then a bit of shame.  It’s unfinished presence rebuked every time eyes settled on it, so it was packed in a box until later.  There it waited, like a sin unconfessed, out of sight.  When the itch to start a new project began, the skeleton in the closet would rattle it’s bones in indignation.

The dress was started back before all the babies came.  White cotton with tiny blue flowers.  It could have doubled as a Little House On The Prairie costume if you added some puffed sleeves.  I was in a stage where I thought maybe I should start making my own clothes and dressing as romantically as I wanted to.  It got half done.  And then it sat.  Ten years.

I lifted that dropped thread and I resolved to have one less skeleton banging about.

It was hard.  Some of the pinned pattern pieces had gone missing in the interim, some things had been cut a bit wrong and needed reworked.  Three hours later the dress was done.  I slipped it over my head and pulled the long zipper up the back.  It looked about ten years behind the times, but done.  I wondered as I turned side to side before the mirror if it could be redeemed with a chunky belt or something.  No.  It was done and it made me look quasi-Amish.  I’d donate it to a favorite thrift shop, where no doubt a conservative lady would happen upon this homemade dress and see potential, high-necked, low-hemmed potential.

That thread was woven in.  It didn’t bring any blessing into my life; it brought an expenditure of yardage and a pattern.  Hours of work.  Guilt.  More work.  Then being given away.  Not all the threads have to have clear meaning.

For the second time today I paused below the peonies cascading over the stone wall on the way to the bus stop.  I buried my nose in the petals and took a deep scent drink, closing my eyes and hoping I didn’t inhale an ant.  I’d already smelled them this morning and there wasn’t really a reason to smell them again.

I grabbed a cluster of honeysuckle as I walked.  When we got to Main Street to wait in the hot June sun for the kids’ bus, I shared the honeysuckle nectar one bloom at a time with Henri.  He seemed amazed that these little flowers were sweet.  A man passed by on a bicycle and looked over his shoulder at me, standing there sipping from flowers like a bee, and he winked a wink full of meaning that I wished I didn’t understand.  My eyes shot down to the sidewalk, down to the strewn petals, sucked dry.

Just one life, this side of the grave, and I smelled the peonies deep again because it struck home that I don’t know how many more breaths I’ve got, or how many Junes.

The truth is, I don’t know how big this tapestry is going to be, how far done it is by now.  But I want to make it beautiful, I want to make it finish well and be whole.  To work in even the odd threads, the ones I can’t figure out, the ones I can’t see adding anything to the finished work.  The thing is, I can’t even see the whole tapestry at once; it’s like I’m an ant crawling over a Van Gogh piece; I see colors and patterns but not what they’re supposed to be.  I can’t step far enough away.

Reuben had been doing handstands on the sand.  And then he wanted to stand right on his head.  For a few brief seconds to look plowed right into the earth like a missile.  Meaningless maybe, maybe not.  Odd thread for sure.  But woven in, just like the honeysuckle nectar on my tongue while the June sun beat down.


Perfect Toxicity And Healing Rattiness

My whole yard is full of medicine.  Plantain a-plenty, comfrey, violets, chamomile, onions, dandelions, elderberries, rose hips, and such.  Down at the stream the offerings are burdock, dock, black walnut, watercress, jewelweed, and stinging nettle.  Useful herbs for making tinctures, compresses, healthy salads, teas, and salves; they abound everywhere, naturally.  Unless you blast your yard with herbicide that is.

Then you get grass.

Unblemished wide swaths of it.  Oh, and neighbor envy.  And probably a good measure of pride.  I get it; I have this intense urge to roll around on such lawns and enjoy their carpet-like uniformity.  I would much rather play croquet there than on my own weedy turf.  Less chance of getting stung by a bee as there’s no clover about.  Wait…no bees?  No bee food?

My yard is alive.  There is a veritable ant highway across the walkway.  There is the regular helicopter-like thrum of the bumblebees.  The birds adore the wild patches and the plump grubs and worms.  The bees delight in the clover and bee balm and you should see the spiders in the fall (shudder).  The compost bin wreaks of life, earthy organic vitality being slowly wrought into rich soil.  Things grow here like mad.

“You must really have God’s ear”, says Bob, our elderly neighbor as he looks out on our gardens.  I laugh with him.  He’s lived on this block forever and had gotten used to seeing the place looking less, um, lively.  pa

The front lawn was a mat of zoysia grass, which I’ve heard works pretty great in Florida and could see works pretty miserably in Pennsylvania.  It was green for three months out of the year and promptly turned a sad brownish-yellow for the rest of the year.  Apparently a traveling salesman had come through selling a miracle grass and if you look around our town you can see who was duped by their sad, sad lawns.

Being that I’m anti-herbicide, we had to peel that zoysia grass right off with a skid loader; scalped the whole front yard.  The neighbors had a good laugh when I planted two unpromising-looking sticks in the dirt.  Now those elderberries are about fifteen feet high.  Grapes stretch across a trellis beside them, a white nectarine tree just beyond the strawberry patch.  Artichokes mingle with mints, rhubarb with the roses.

Tonight found me popping off chamomile flowers and filling a small glass jar with them.  Every diaper cream had failed poor Henrik’s irritated bottom, and the chamomile that I’d raised from seed over winter was finally ready to harvest.  My bees darted past as I worked and bugs crawled over my feet on their way to somewhere.

In the kitchen I poured olive oil over the flower heads and set it aside.  The chamomile oil wouldn’t be ready for another two weeks, but I was glad to have it started.  Some backyard medicine is fast, some slow.  Comfrey is fast; so fast indeed that if you chew a leaf up and apply it to an open wound, you’d better be sure there’s no debris inside, because it will heal shut right on top of it quickly.  Onions are fast.  As soon as a child complains of ear pain I reach for an onion.  Cutting it from roots to tip, I remove the innermost part, which is the perfect size for inserting into the ear canal without risk of it slipping in altogether.  I heat the onion piece over a burner, nestled in a spoon until I can smell it’s aroma.  Into the offended ear it goes, topped by a damp warm washcloth and a heating pad.  Within minutes they’re fine.

My comfrey patch healed a serious muscle tear in my back within one evening of alternating cold and hot compresses of comfrey tea.  My nerves have been soothed by drinking lemon balm tea which is aggressively trying to take over the tea/herb garden.  Mosquito bites are attended to with a chewed plantain leaf or a dollop of lavender oil.

I’m certain my “medicine cabinet” looks a lot different that most people’s.  There’s charcoal powder, essential oils of all types, homemade salves, witch hazel, glycerine, bentonite clay, a big chunk of beeswax.  But most of the medicine is outside, growing and contributing to the ecosystem.

Okay.  I know this won’t make you put away your herbicide/insecticide, nor will it make you forsake Neosporin and Tylenol and such.  Most of you are probably quite happy buying pharmaceuticals at Kmart and keeping your lawn pristinely uniform with neonicotinoids (present in aforementioned sprays, which happen to kill honeybees and other pollinators who are absolutely essential to our very way of life…don’t you like peaches and apples after all?).  Anywho, I realize my lifestyle holds as much appeal to some as eating a shoe.  That said, maybe this could inspire just a few nutty types to see weeds in a new light, to see in the rattiness a bit of healing, to see in the perfection a bit of toxicity?  Maybe?

No?  I need some lemon balm tea…


Don’t You Know What Causes That?

It’s the first of June and I can smell summer.  Henrik is just below me, sitting in a basket of Lincoln Logs, industriously and determinedly throwing them out onto the floor.  He’s too young to have the weight of consequence bothering him; no idea that messes made mean messes that need cleaned up by the mess maker.  He pants with exertion as his chubby fists fling another handful of logs.

It’s strange, the variety of reactions you get from people when you share that you’re having your fifth child.  I’m sure you can imagine the tenor of the remarks.  Head shaking.  Eyes rolling.  Eyebrows lifting in silent disapproval.  Laughter.  “Better you than me!”, “Don’t you know what causes that?!”, “Oops?!”, or the perennial, “You guys are nuts”.  Some think we are carelessly making a gigantic mess, like Henri flinging Lincoln Logs.  I think the most cutting remark I’ve heard has been when my children were acting up one day and it was whispered, “And you want more children?”.  They laughed, I didn’t.

silence2 Then there’s my favorite response, “Oh, that’s wonderful.  I grew up in a big family and my siblings and I are so close.  There was always someone to play with.  We made such great memories together, and even though we didn’t have as much as our friends did, we had each other”.

As I write, Reuben is out on the front walk singing Amazing Grace and punch-dancing.  I kid you not.  My life, and as you see, my writing, is peppered with humorous interruptions. And now Reuben is standing beside me with a strawberry from our patch, taking a bite, and dramatically exclaiming “SO JUICY!” while he swivels his hips in delight.  Back to my train of thought…

I make no claim that big families are better ones.  Not in the least.  Your decisions and/or physical limitations are your business, not mine.  Likewise, our decisions to have a big family are our business, not particularly yours.  Imagine me coming up to a small family and snorting derisively saying, “Don’t you know how to make kids?”.  When people make negative comments about the size of our family, I’m seriously tempted to call the children over, line them up before the commenter, and saying, “I’m sorry, which of these shouldn’t we have had?”

We all choose our chaos.  Really.  Some people with two kids are WAY busier than we are; schedules packed with cello lessons, rugby, clubs, and PTO meetings.  Some industriously set about making an ever-better version of themselves by striving to maximize their personal potential (marathons, French lessons, career advancement, plastic surgery, etc.).  Some immerse themselves in ministry.  Some faithfully keep up with a dozen tv shows each week.  We choose.

We chose wash lines full of diapers, always making at least a double batch of every recipe, NEEDING to garden and can in order not to empty our account at the grocery store, NEEDING to make most of our food from scratch to stretch our food budget, wearing secondhand clothing, sleepless nights with sick children, and, for me, having my body stretch out to gargantuan proportions every couple of years.  But this is not flinging Lincoln Logs across the floor heedlessly and carelessly.

We are building something.

Memories of boys jumping on our bed wearing underwear on their heads.  That first breathtaking look into each newborn face.  The wonder of seeing these chubby toddlers stretch up into leggy kids every time I blink.  Seeing Reuben holding open a door for an elderly couple with a huge proud grin on his face.  Sledding.  Hiking.  Walking streams together as the sun slants down.  Mother’s Day homemade cards with all their love coming out in crayon hearts and misspelled perfect words.

Henri 184 Gifts.

work8IMG_4615 Yes, we know what causes this.  Apparently we know very well.  Yes, it certainly does look like my hands are full, sir.  They are full of very, very good things.