Sanctuary

Let this home be

a sanctuary

where all who enter feel peaceful

and safe.

Let these young souls

be grown

on Mama’s bread, Daddy’s music.

Let their feet grow big

beneath soft, worn quilts.

Let them find me in the morning

in that hand-sewn apron

they made me for Mother’s Day

some years ago.

Let them outgrow their shoes

and grow into their opinions

inside walls that are stained

with their scribbles and scrapes.

Let them know the grooves

of these floors

like they know

the look that I give

when they’re noisy in church.

Let this home be

our sanctuary

that lives within us

as we live within it.

And when they come back

years and years from now

let them find that

same peace

same love

same feeling

that says,

right here —

you always belong.

 

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I can see her there

I can see her there, stirring that pot of something bubbly, just like me, on this summer afternoon. I can see her in her old, worn apron, wrapped tightly around the front of her waist. She is chopping cabbage in the steam of cooking stew with a restless blonde toddler winding around her left calf.

I can feel her gentle hand on mine as I plop spongey bread dough into a ceramic pan. She sings with me softly as I rock my plump baby, his hair sweaty from my hot chest. I can feel her next to me as I dig my hands into the earth, unveiling potatoes as golden as sunshine, wiping dirt from their skin and my brow.

I can hear her whisper as I walk down the road in the evening with five children in tow, the small one on my hip, the oldest running ahead. The dog panting to the rhythm of our footsteps against the gravel.

She was a mother to my mother and her mother’s mother and the one before her.

She is the woman, who hundreds of years ago, still woke to the cry of her baby and put him to her breast. Fell asleep with her hand in the palm of her lover’s. Answered the whine of her young ones, “When is it time to eat?” Cleaned dirt from the floor and the cheeks of her children with her spit and her thumbs and the purpose of her heart. Giggled with her girlfriends as they cleaned up after mealtime. Begged God to protect these precious souls in her home.

I can feel her beside me, pulling me up, cheering me on.

For in all that has changed, nothing has at all.

Coffee with my honey by the sunny window

Coffee with my honey by the sunny window

It’s a standing morning date

My legs draped over him like a familiar, comfy quilt with the worn seam that you don’t want mended

His smiling eyes, they speak to me a language only we know

A language learned slowly, syllable by syllable

starting that first night in December when the air turned cool

Coffee with my honey by the sunny window

Same place, every day by the always-smudged glass

and the toy-spotted rug and

the barstools where children and crumbs like to gather

Ten years we’ve been walking this road hand in hand,

yet I am always in awe

of the way prayers are answered.

I reach over in the night

to touch his shoulder while he is sleeping

to make sure he’s still there, still real, still mine

to say thank you in the darkness for the man

who is my light

Coffee with my honey by the sunny window.

The vow of stability

Originally written in 2015, reprinted in honor of Mother’s Day

Over red wine and herb chicken and a gaggle of loud children, a girlfriend recently shared insights from a marriage retreat she and her husband had attended.

One anecdote from a talk she heard stuck out to me in particular: that Benedictine monks take a distinctive vow when joining the religious order. Along with obedience and conversion of life, they also take the unique vow of “stability.”

I found that so intriguing — like a vow to not be moody? Well, yes, I suppose that could be part of it — but it refers to stability in a much larger sense.

One Benedictine community describes the vow this way:

We vow to remain all our life with our local community. We live together, pray together, work together, relax together. We give up the temptation to move from place to place in search of an ideal situation. Ultimately there is no escape from oneself, and the idea that things would be better someplace else is usually an illusion. And when interpersonal conflicts arise, we have a great incentive to work things out and restore peace. This means learning the practices of love: acknowledging one’s own offensive behavior, giving up one’s preferences, and forgiving.

Now, I’m no monk nor do I live in a monastery, but I found the vow incredibly apt in the context of family life.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day — a beautiful day that threatened rain in the weather forecast, but that instead flooded our newly planted Viburnums with golden beams of warm sunshine until nightfall. Three generations of family — grandparents from both sides — sat around our heavy, homemade farmhouse table and shared stories, stabbed salads and scooped vanilla icecream drizzled with warm caramel sauce.

And as stories of mothers past and present were shared, I glanced up to the large picture frame hung by the diningroom window. It holds four generations of couples — great grandparents on down. Scanning the faces, I found myself thinking about the unique vow that the Benedictines take.

The vow to stay together. To grow together. To work things out and restore peace. The promise to be like a towering tree where branches grow out and roots grow deep and where the stability of one generation gives strength to another. The vow to endure. And though the environment may be tumultuous at times, to be steadfast. [“Stability” is derived from the Latin word stare, which means “to stand,” “to stand up” or “to be still.”]

And of all the things my mothers and my mothers’ mothers and their mothers alike passed down, it is not just the Blue Danube china hanging on my wall or the old buffet table below it that has transcended generations. Rather, it is their clear vows of love that have sustained future generations.

The family really is a proverbial tree — where the stability of the roots affect the whole big thing. For even the love of a single mother carries forward for generations.

“Everyone knows that a good mother gives her children a feeling of trust and stability. She is their earth. She is the one they can count on for the things that matter most of all. She is their food and their bed and the extra blanket when it grows cold in the night; she is their warmth and their health and their shelter; she is the one they want to be near when they cry. She is the only person in the whole world in a whole lifetime who can be these things to her children. There is no substitute for her. Somehow even her clothes feel different to her children’s hands from anybody else’s clothes. Only to touch her skirt or her sleeve makes a troubled child feel better.” – Katharine Butler Hathaway

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Feed the mama

Feed the mama

red potatoes from the earth

yellow-orange butter from cows on green pastures.

Give her books to devour

with ideas she digests a syllable at a time

to see how they taste.

Feed the mama

friends in the afternoon

cups of coffee, babies nursing

girl, I’ve been there, too

Give her letters from her grandmother

love poems from her true love

hand-written in the steam of smudged shower glass.

Tell her sit down a moment —

those dishes will wait

patiently, even

if you give them a chance.

Feed her

moments of quiet where

all she can hear

is the longing, hopeful prayer in her heart.

Give her a corner to craft in;

a garden to dig

a bathtub to sink in her toes.

Feed the mama

the soul food of generations

stories of her heritage

the inheritance of her past.

Give her the hands of women

who have been there before her;

helping her up,

cheering her on.

Feed the mama

a diet of wholeness

with what nourishes her body,

and the baby at her breast;

the tired toddler at her knee;

the growing boy at her side

who looks more and more

like his Daddy each day.

Feed the mama —

plant her close by the water,

with roots that grow deep and firm in the stream.

Give her sunshine on her cheeks,

a Spring rain shower on her shoulders

as she walks barefoot to the mailbox

on a Wednesday evening.

Feed the mama,

take care of the caretaker,

for she is what she eats

and she gives what she is.

Feed the mama,

feed her well,

let her be full of love.

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