For Jonathan Baldini (And For Las Vegas)

Sunday, it’s gorgeous,
Though I’m the last that should speak for us.
A qualified poet must be bleeding at least,
Not savoring this glory, this revel, this feast.
The air’s shot with gold, the grass is white-kissed,
A drinkable sky, tapped pink and bisque.
It’s gorgeous, though,
Gorgeous, you know.
Problem is, the gold drops fast,
Can’t find the words to make it last.
Sisters weep, brothers fly
To the other side of that drinkable sky.
Mama wants his skin, oh, so much;
He’s never not here, she just can’t touch.
Daddy doesn’t cry; he wails inside,
‘We’re still six, though we look like five.’
But the baby’s so soft, so full in my arms,
She smells like life wrapped around my heart.
And the sky explodes yellow, red, magenta, blue.
A royal way, a Prince’s avenue.
It’s gorgeous though,
Gorgeous, you know.
Then the world goes silent; Evil shows his face.
I’ll shield you with my body and outpoured grace.
It’s beautiful, that grace, that flesh for flesh,
Monday’s sky is gray, but this flesh is blessed.
Sky wasn’t made to stay that way,
It will gold and it will part and we will touch one day.

Keeping The Candles Lit


Before we had children, Andrew and I lived frugally but adventurously on our budget, listened to NPR in the evenings, strolled pillow-faced on Saturday mid-mornings to the St. Louis Bread Company in U. City for chocolate chip muffins and good coffee, exercised, flew to Chicago for Christmas, watched Masterpiece Mystery, camped our way to Rocky Mountain National Park, studied, and rang in the new year with champagne toasts and friends.

And then we had our firstborn, and those two people changed overnight.  The sweetness of this new phase, parenting, was so overwhelming, so charged with love and purpose, we didn’t miss the old life.  Of course, all new parents miss sleep.  And we missed the freedom to get up and go somewhere and browse.  We never browsed again.  That word drops from a parent’s life forever.

But still, we didn’t miss the no-kids days.  Because we loved the cherubs so much, and we still had some control even in the hairy days of the new human in the house dictating everything.  Then a second new human.  Then a third.  Even then, we had the ability to impose a grid on life that formed our days and ways.  The growing kids occasionally chafed at the grid, and now we are finding that though we meant well in forming our particular grid, we made mistakes along the way.  I guess we do our best at the time, making decisions with the factors and convictions in front of us, and then inevitably find that our earnest, horse-blinder determination could have been done better another way.  But that is only seen in retrospect, with the benefit of years and wisdom that I didn’t have back in the decision-making moment. In any event, right or wrong, the grid at its best was our attempt to listen to God’s voice rather than the culture’s.  At its worst, it was my lazy remote control for an easier life.

And then a moment comes when we realize that while it is good and God-honoring to create the family grid, the grid is no guarantee for a pain-free, perfect life for our children.  There will come a day when they don’t take their vitamins and go to bed at 7:30, when at midnight we are lying in bed waiting for the sound of the back door slamming. And until it comes, the heart hammers and the imagination does Oscar-worthy work.  There comes a day when their big-people tears show us our failures.  That is a good and humbling day because it drives us to our Savior in clear-eyed recognition of our need of Him.  We have no illusions of adequacy then; we just see that at our very best we are sinners.

The college-children years are a time of finding peace in the whirlwind of those children all on different trajectories, and very little time with everyone at the dining room table.  They are the years of having our hearts spread out on different continents, on airplanes, packing, planning, going, going, going.  And it is all good, and it is all completely out of our control. It is like our poor mama cat, Midge, the first time we bring the kittens down from their safe lair to hold them. They are all squawking in different locations and all Midge can do is dart from one to the other and lick them a little comfort.

The decisions kids make at the tender age of 17 are enormous; and we tremble and pray and look up at God and say, “In Your mercy, look at my child!  Protect her.  Protect him.”  And somewhere in there I realize I never had control to begin with!  These children, along with every molecule of creation, are His!  My job is and has always been not to control the grid, but to trust the heavenly Father of my children.  And even to pray the brave prayer my friend Nancy prays – Lord, I am not asking that You make it easy for them.  The grid is good; but it is not God.

So we breathe in a prayer for our peace and breathe out a prayer for their safety and growth.  And we cook and we keep the candles lit and we goon-smile when we hear their voices on the front walk.

There is a chapter in this phase of parenting that I don’t know yet, that many of my friends do know.  It is the chapter called, “Look what God did through your weakness!”  It is an amazing chapter.  I look forward to reading it.

(photo explanation:  the Scottish flag flies awaiting the Easter visit of our Covenant College students)

Pardon Me, There’s a Walmart in My Front Yard

Dear City Commissioners,

By some oversight the new Walmart is even now being constructed IN MY FRONT YARD.  I realize that choice piece of acreage just cried out for concrete and retail and progress.  I can even appreciate the chop-licking revenue anticipated in the form of jobs, surrounding-county shoppers, and satellite development around the mother ship.IMG_0687

But gentlemen and gentlewomen, we have called that land “the cornfield” for 18 years, though I don’t know if corn per se ever actually grew there.  It contained mimosa trees, a four-wheeler track, an abandoned home with a deep well hunkered down in a copse of pines.  We think the creature that ate some of our cats had its lair there.  A blackberry bramble spread thick and prickery and hard to get to.  Occasionally we would find discarded clothing which conjured illicit trysts, also undoubtedly prickery, which we didn’t tell the kids about.

We did tell the kids to pedal fast when passing the cornfield at twilight when they were first old enough to ride the neighborhood as autonomous free agents.  Pedal fast, I would tell them, because who knew what interstate vagrant, headed to Iowa or something, might lurk in the tall shanks of hay, waiting, waiting to pounce and steal their pocket money to buy a scrambled egg and coffee at Waffle House??  Honesty forces me to admit that my kids never had pocket money, and our vagrants are gentle and harmless.  But still.  The cornfield held its mystery.

Most of all the cornfield was green, green in that breathing, elemental way.  It was a green wall to our north that held our homes in its limbs and muted the world and blew cool, benevolent air down our streets, streets less and less wooded, less and less deserving of the name Woodland.

A sign to the Ave Maria Grotto once hung nailed to a tall pine at the edge of the cornfield, right on the corner.  In all our ramblings, day trip or longer, that sign was a welcome, you-are-almost-home, unload the babies and tuck them warm in their beds.  The pine came down when the Texaco went up and we regret we didn’t get the Grotto sign as a memory.  So, I guess I blame you, City Commissioners, that my children grew up.  Fair enough. Unfair blame comes with public service.

Well, it’s too late now.  The exposure is irreversible.  The once-green benevolence is now white-glare and backhoes.  I can practically wave to the operators as they crawl mechanically over the hills and ruts of cornfield dirt.  I will probably, in the not-too-distant future, be able to wave to the Walmart managers as they park in the back of the new mega store to punch in for their shift.  They won’t be the mimosas of the cornfield.  They won’t carry memories of my children on bikes in summer, free of me, and cicada happy.  But I suppose I will end up loving them just because they are there, and they are people.

Just please leave the rest of the cornfield alone.  OK?


A Neighbor