Manna, Again

I noticed today that I've written so few posts this year, that my Christmas letter is still at the bottom of the page.  


I keep thinking that at some point I will have something good to share, something exciting to share, something different to share.

But the limbo continues.

Every week at church people come up to me to ask for an update.  And they are always disappointed.

Imagine how I feel, I think.

And so, fundamentally, things are still the same.  David is still looking, I am still praying, the kids are still hoping that at some point their parents will wake up and return to the present.  But life also goes on in its dependable, inexorable way.

Caleb's science fair came and went.  The snails were examined under his microscope and then met their ignominious end in my large soup pot.  His conclusion?  Plastics are very bad news, especially if you're a mudsnail.  Not so great for humans either as it turns out, and so we've started a slow, steady purge.

My painful root canal came and went, thanks in part to a friend who intervened at just the right moment.  I was nearly out of my mind with pain and had lost all ability to reason well.  By the time the endodontist saw it, I had a very nice abscess coming along.  I begged for death.  Instead he prescribed two hours in his chair and a round of antibiotics.  Delightful, with more dental work coming next week.

David's surgery came and went.  Without complication.  Thank heavens.  He has been happily eating whatever he wants for two weeks now with no problems whatsoever. 

David and I came and went back east for second interviews and a "get-the-wife's-approval" trip.  We found a charming community, six inches of snow, a job that David was made for, as well as a terrible longing to be settled and employed.

Other job opportunities came and went, a few of them more painful to see go than others, but we move forward believing we are being led to "the right place."

I had a few speaking assignments that also came and went.  One day I went to the temple with such a long list of things I needed help and inspiration on, I thought the Lord would turn me away at the doorstep. 

I'll be honest.  Most days I vacillate between terror and calm, fear and faith, abject discouragement and happy optimism, and all that before I've even had my shower. 

But it's the limbo, the monotony, the waiting, the every-minute slow crawl of the clock towards the unknown future that is the hardest.  It's given me new appreciation for the children of Israel who complained that yeah, the Lord was providing for them, but couldn't he please provide something different.  And this makes me humble and repentant. 

And also, acutely aware of the miracles.

A couple of days ago I was standing on the banks of the Susquehanna, a river I never imagined I would have the opportunity to see in person.  A couple of nights ago I was eating dinner at a tavern in Delaware with some of our dearest friends in all the world, stunned to be sitting across a scarred wooden table from them.   A couple of mornings ago sat on a 727 next to my husband and as I watched him preparing for his upcoming interviews I thought I had never loved him more, that maybe I was just beginning to understand marriage for the first time in my life.  It was a revelation.  And a couple of evenings ago, as I knelt next to David in a strange hotel in a strange town on the other side of the continent and begged for blessings, I remembered Nephi's words that the Lord is mightier than all the earth, then why not this, and I felt the sure witness of those words as strong as I ever had before.

None of which would ever have happened without leaving the fleshpots of Egypt in the first place.

I see that now.

There is no other way, afterall.

Cue George Michael

It's Thursday morning and David is already on his second phone interview of the day.  He takes the jet back into cold country later today for more of the same, sans phone.

I told him we really ought to buy him a coat.

He keeps shrugging me off.  A little bit of denial, or a little bit of hope...depending on how you look at it.

It will be my job to pack his bag and spend a few hours on my knees and keep the home fires burning.  This weekend that home fire includes nudging Caleb to get a running start on his science project write-up.  He's been feeding and cleaning and praying for snails for nearly fifty days now.  Almost time to put them under the microscope and find the results.

Please be results, I pray.  Because let's be honest, it could go either way.

What are you worried about, David asks in the middle of the night.

Nothing, I say.

That at the end of fifty days and forty quarts of spirulina algae and hundreds of gallons of distilled water and 600 miles of driving and a bazillion hours of research...that there will be nothing, except the same 240 snails he started with. 

Nothing.  And then what?

That at the end of four months and dozens of phone interviews and sixteen different airports and hundreds of discussions and thousands of tears and a constant prayer...that there will be nothing, except the same hope and faith we started with.

Nothing.  And then what? I whisper.

Keeping the home fires burning will also mean keeping Ethan glued together, more or less.  He's had a rough couple of weeks.  Weeping before school, weeping after school.  I got a phone call one day from the nurse because he was weeping during school.  We've talked and talked.  And he learned a new word:  "concerned"... because he was worried that he said "worried" too much.

One day he came home from school.  I could tell he'd been crying.  He gave up his stiff upper lip as soon as he saw me.  He cried for a while and then he asked, "Mom why don't grown-ups cry as much as kids?" 

I smiled.  Because we all know the truth.

This morning David reminded me that growing up is hard.

Oh, believe me, I know.

I've been doing a bit of it myself.

Growing up.  Finding faith.  Being Believing.  Banishing my worries and concerns, in order to trust.

Faith is hope for the thing not seen.  Not seen yet, but true, but sure, but there. 

At the Gate of the Year

The Kansas City airport, early 2011

I am writing from the middle of the country.

It is charming out here, even in the dead of winter.  Nearly everyone you meet wishes you a "blessed day" and there are cows and rolled hay bales on the hills behind our hotel.

I am here looking for places to fry up the bacon, as it were.

And I'm sorry to admit, it's a little bit scary to imagine cooking bacon anywhere other than where you've done it for the last ten years.  I am not quite as brave as I had imagined.  (That is the trouble with an active can even deceive yourself.  Woe is me.)

When we arrived in Kansas City, we had to rent a car and drive out from the city for a while.  The lady at the rental car agency gave us a blue Toyota Corolla, the very kind of car we owned when we were first married and just starting our adventure together.  Back when nothing seemed scary except being apart.  Remember that?  When we got in the car we grinned at each other.  David said it was like starting all over again.  Trouble is, it's not just us any more.  There are four other people in the equation now.  Four people with hopes and dreams and futures of their own to worry about.

It can be overwhelming.

Last night I couldn't sleep for all the fear and worry.  David and I stayed up late.  Happily, this morning, everything looked a little more cheerful by the light of day.  I told David we can't have any more discussions late at night.  He just looked at me.  Because our late night discussions are never his idea of course.

All morning, as I passed the cows on the hills, and the bare oaks and maples, and frozen ponds in this little midwest town, Minnie Louise Harkins' poem was running, running, running through my mind. 

And it was some comfort to my terrorized heart.  Bless you, Minnie Louise.  It gave me back a bit of the courage that has ruthlessly abandoned me, and tenderly prodded me to do my best "to trod gladly into the night."  That's right, not just trod, but trod gladly.

How'm I doing?

I haven't cried once all day.  

I told you I was a wonder.

At the Gate of the Year

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'

And he replied,
'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'

So I went forth and finding the Hand of God
Trod gladly into the night
He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone east.

So heart be still!
What need our human life to know
If God hath comprehension?

In all the dizzy strife of things
Both high and low,
God hideth his intention.

Scouring the Country for Bacon

On Sunday morning I packed David's bag.

He was headed across the country to bring home the bacon.

I got a tutorial from my dad (the expert) on how to pack a business suitcase and arrive without a single wrinkle.  I was pretty brilliant at it.

I picked David up late last night.  He was exhausted and smiling and wrinkle-free.

As we lay in bed Saturday night I asked him if he was nervous.  He said no.  But when I picked him up last night he had a cold sore.  (A sure sign of stress, a dead give-away...but I didn't let on.)

He also had a mind full of things to say and process, a carry-on bag full of laundry and dry-cleaning, and a camera full of pictures of a quaint downtown, rolling hills, houses with trees out front, and even a barn or two for me.

I expect this will be our new kind of normal for a while.  Me packing and praying and picking up.  Him exploring the country's various airports while sporting new cold sores on his handsome, not-nervous face.

I cried a little when I dropped him off on Sunday.  Overwhelmed a bit, I guess, that he would do all this for us.

Even if he wasn't nervous.

Not one little bit.

[This morning when I served cold cereal for breakfast Savannah said, "I thought Dad was bringing home bacon."  Ha!  I'm still smiling about it.]

The Dense Forgettable Middle

My blog has been sadly neglected--for a million reasons that have disappeared into the minutia of daily life.  

For the record, I had things to say.

I was going to write a funny post about when David read aloud a chapter heading in the Book of Mormon that said, "Moroni is angry with the government."  And Olivia said, "Wow, just like us."  And we laughed our heads off.  Ha.

I was going to write a tender post about how my youngest girl got braces and grew up just like that, and my oldest girl had her first Evening of Excellence and I wondered (again) where the time has gone.

I was going to write a charming post about how David and I watched the season finale of Spooks and how good it was and how if you haven't started watching this show yet then you really ought to and how this was the best season yet.  And how even now David checks every day to see if there is an episode we missed somehow.

And of course I was going to write an obligatory post about how its finally cooled into the 70's here and so my kids have taken to wearing scarves and mittens and trying to see their breath in the morning.

But instead, you've got me where I am today.

Aggravated.  Introspective.  Repentant.  All at once.  Bear with me.

A couple of weeks ago (and just in time), my aunt sent me a link to this poem by Gregory Fraser. 

Essay On Criticism

It's hard not to think of yourself sometimes
as a passing mention in the dense
forgettable middle of a Russian novel,

as the brief description of a minor
character's gesture, the offhand reference
to a body of water, smell of rye bread.

The plot would falter without you,
the grand style momentarily flag,
but you could just as easily be scratched.

Still, you can't help seeing yourself
as the brash initial sentence, those ambiguous
final lines, or dialogue choked through sobs.

Perhaps it's not so awful to settle in
to a small remark on a peddler's
mule-drawn voz, glint off a samovar.

Then again, there's always the chance
of a critic (diligent, not unbeautiful)
prepared to make more of you

than any could imagine. In such a case--
you Aside, Casual Comment--propose 

on the instant, latch on till The End.

I know.

The perfect words in the perfect order to say just what I am feeling.

I have been feeling harassed.  And here is why.  (I'll just say it then.) 

David's unemployment has taken over my life.

I imagine I have that same look on my face that he always had when I was throwing up non-stop for the first five months of my pregnancies.  When my mothering took over his life.  When he had to earn all the money and then come home and feed and bathe all of us because I was too sick to do it.  When he wondered if it was ever going to end and if he'd ever get his real wife back. 

Yes, I imagine I have that exact same look.

It is everywhere.  The unemployment, I mean.  Sometimes I think I just can't talk about it any more--that I can't discuss the pros and cons of this health system or that hospital,  or whether or not we could live in Wichita or Sioux Falls or Kalamazoo, or what this position or that position will mean to his long-term career plans, or what color tie he should wear to his interview.  And every morning when we wake up and every night when we go to bed, it's still there, waiting to be talked about again.  The job.  The one he lost, the one he wants, the one he applied for, the one he's interviewing for, the right one, the wrong one, the golden one.

Sometime last week I asked David, "What do you want to do for Christmas this year?"  He just stared at me.  Flummoxed.  Because that is not the topic at hand. 

And sometimes, between David and his job and the kids who never stop needing (heaven help me), I wonder if there is any space left for me in my own life.  And I start feeling and fearing that my brash initial sentence has disappeared amidst the tiny details of everyone else's life.  That I could just as easily be scratched, as it were.

But what I remember this morning (this is the repentant part) is that in those dark and horrible days of pregnancy, I could not have survived without David.  He was the only thing moving the plot along in our lives.  We would have ground to a halt without him. A sad and ignominious end.

And this morning I wonder, did I say thank you enough?  I doubt it.  I was too nauseated to say anything but, "Help."

Here we are in the dense forgettable middle.  Where you can't see the forest for the trees.  Where you are afraid you might have lost the thread of the plot and you can barely see the outline of your own life. 

And yet, I propose to latch on until The End.  Because even in the dense forgettable middle, I am not too dense to see that I am needed.  To see that he is too sick with worry to say anything but, "Help."  I have not forgotten that he did the same for me once or twice, four times if we're counting.

This is what the covenant means.  That in the dense, forgettable middle of life, we do not forget.  He holds my hair back as I vomit.  I hold my tongue as he talks.  We hold on to each other, to The End.

Never Fully Dressed

Eventually, it's going to come back, I tell myself.

The happy, I mean.

The heaviness is going to leave my heart and my head and life is going to return to normal.

Something really good is going to happen again.

At some point, it's not going to take superhuman strength to leave my bed in the morning and superhuman resolve not to want to crawl back in there and have long talks with FPM in the middle of the day.

Eventually, it will be fun again.  And funny again.

(Admit it.  That picture is already a little bit funny, right?)

But as of today, one month in (exactly), it still feels like I banged my head on an open cupboard door.  I'm a little bit surprised, a little bit hurt, a little bit mad, a little bit ashamed of my own carelessness, and I still feel a little bit like swearing or a little bit like crying.  Dang, that smarts.

Mortality is hard.  As you know.

A couple of weeks ago, at the end of the day, I told David, "Guess what?  I didn't cry once today."  He said, "I did."  Which made me cry of course.  On the first Monday of unemployment, David put on a suit and tie.  I laughed when I saw him.  Overdressed and ready to impress.  Yesterday, he wore his pajamas the entire day.  Today, the same thing.  And yesterday, nearly a whole month away from one of the worst days of his life, David sat on a chair while I folded the socks and the rags, and still teared up while he talked about it. 

And so yesterday, because I just couldn't stand it anymore, I wore Savannah's bat clip with the googly eyes in my hair the entire day.  (When Ethan came home from school he asked, "Did you get a haircut?"  I said no.  He said, "Something's different."  Also a little bit funny, right?) 

And after dinner we watched Hocus Pocus.  On tap next:  The Addams Family and Wait Until Dark.  My older kids are still debating if they're ready for the latter one.  I've got my fingers crossed because there is nothing quite so fun as the scare in that movie.  (I'll be honest, I get a little bit giddy just thinking about it, despite everything else.)

And then today we went in search of these. 

And in a couple of days we are going to carve them up and drink apple cider and stuff our faces with homemade donuts and Hungarian "ghoul"-ash and pumpkin soup and we are going seriously celebrate this minor holiday.

Because even though things aren't fun, we're going to pretend they are.

Boo to you, mortality.

The View From Space

Last weekend when we went camping, when David and I were the only ones awake in the tent and the night was filled with soft snuffles and deep breathing and a whole lot of quiet, I tried to say how I was feeling.

It was nearly impossible.  (Bear with me.)

I tried.  And said sentences about just how much space was really up there, how up here on this high mountain, spinning around an axis, you could almost catch the breeze of the universe as it spun past.  It was like sticking your head out a car window, but with stars and milky ways and supernovas streaming past.  All that was above us was the deepness and vastness of space!  I felt so exposed and vulnerable. 

And yet at the very same time, I could hear my children breathing beside me, dreaming birthday dreams, melted smores smeared on their cheeks and cool mountain air on their eyelids.  I felt charmed and blessed, I felt endowed with the greatest gifts that vast universe had to offer.  I felt completely known and seen and watched by heaven, like maybe this night with my little family was just what heaven had in mind when they did all the work to create this mountain.  

It was a jumble.  It was a feeling...of being both big and small at once.  I could picture myself from space, our very blessed tent just a tiny dot on a globe turning its way from dark to light, slowly, slowly.  I waved.

David uh-huhhed beside me and put his face in my neck, his way of saying he had no idea what I meant, but he likes my company anyway.

I felt like I was on the very precipice and in the hand of heaven at the very same moment.  I lay there in the dark, feeling the slow rotation of the earth underneath me, unaware of the changes that were just a few rotations away.

Last Saturday, Olivia didn't wear make-up.  This Saturday she wore both mascara and lip gloss and the tiniest bit of light blue eyeshadow.

Last Saturday, Olivia had the hairy, happy legs of a child.  This Saturday she had the smooth, freshly shaved legs of a young woman.

Last weekend, Olivia had never been to a young women's meeting at church.  This weekend, her first beehive activity made it onto her "list of highs" around the dinner table.

Last Friday, David was late getting back from work and so we got a late start and set up our tent in semi-darkness.  This Friday, David and I went to a movie in the middle of day because he had no where else to be.

Last Friday night, we packed the car with the campstove and sleeping bags, and spent the night howling around a campfire.  This Friday night, we cleaned out David's office and loaded the car with ten years of memories and work accumulation, and spent the night sobbing into our Oregano's meatballs and making lists of states we'd always dreamed of living in.  (It was some consolation.) 

Last week, David and I had separate work spaces.  This week, we are sharing.

Last week, David had a job.  This week, he doesn't.

I have had the same feelings that I had that night in the tent.  So acutely aware of the vastness of space...aware of the gaping maw, the loss of the ground under my feet.  And an even deeper awareness of the gracious hand of heaven that is watching over us and providing a new way in the darkness.

One of my very favorite scriptures is in the book of Luke:

If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? 

Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give good gifts, through the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

I have said that to myself a hundred times since last weekend.  Our Father in Heaven does not give evil gifts.  I am a witness to the absolute goodness of his gifts.