Sunday, June 19, 2011

Loving Cotton Balls

If I asked you what a church basement smelled like, could you conjure it? There are some places that inexplicably but universally smell the same, among them: Borders bookstores, school buildings, and church basements.

The first church experience of my life was attending Vacation Bible School at Sandy Lake Baptist Church in Mahtowa, Minnesota. I would wait in the back of the sanctuary until the children were dismissed by grade level, never quite knowing if I was supposed to go with the grade I had just finished or the grade I would be entering. Somehow, I joined a line. Then we walked single file down the steep and narrow staircase to the basement.

There are three things I learned in Vacation Bible School at Sandy Lake Baptist:

  1. What a church basement smells like

  2. Celery + Peanut Butter + Raisins = Delicious

  3. Don't puke on your cotton-ball-lamb-craft because you will not be allowed to make another one.

In the main room there were long rows of folding tables surrounded by long rows of folding chairs. We sat down and were instructed how to make a lamb's face out of a paper plate by gluing on cotton balls. I'm sure this had something to do with Jesus, but as indicated by #3 on the aforementioned list, I missed this part because I was suddenly sick...right on my half-wooled lamb.

The teacher rushed me to a sink. My lamb was thrown away. I sat back down feeling much better and asked for another plate, but for whatever their reason, they wouldn't give me one.

I am not an expert in love, and I am not perfect in its execution. But here is what I know:

  1. Love helps a third grader get in the right line.

  2. Celery + Peanut Butter + Raisins = Delicious

  3. Above any program, schedule, curriculum, neat craft: you learn about love by being loved.

  4. And love always (always, always) finds another plate, another cotton ball, another bottle of glue, and another minute.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Loving Buick Regals

I hate Pizza Hut.

There are several reasons why. First of all, in sixth grade my family let me take one of my friends there. The pizza gave me diarrhea so we had to keep stopping on the way home. My friend thought it was gross and made fun of me at school.

In high school I went again because someone from work was having a going-away party. No diarrhea, so that was great, but as I drove home a car slammed straight into the driver's side of my red Mustang. My head cracked the window.

I will never forget the sound. Then the adrenaline rush, I actually felt it, a physical surge through my stomach and head. Next I had this thought, “I am going to kill whoever gets out of that vehicle.” As I drove away in my limping car, my illusion of control was shattered. You are not guaranteed safety. You can be minding your own business in the far lane of two, and a 81 year old man without a drivers license can miss all the stop signs.

Sometimes to talk about love you have to talk about betrayal. It hits you like a 2001 Buick Regal and there is nothing you could have done to prevent it, control it, or predict it.

There was a time once, in a garden somewhere, when love was perfect. Then we left that place and that possibility.

To love is to risk.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Loving School Supplies

Every July, I would start asking my mom if we could go school shopping. Every July, she'd tell me we had to wait until August. It was agony. I felt about school supply shopping the way one feels about Christmas. The almost painful anticipation was too much to bear. As the leaves started shifting from green to gold they would whisper to me, “It's coming.”

On some incredibly lucky day in August, we would begin the 45 minute drive to Duluth in my mom's red Grand Am. Just us. The first decision was what to do first: clothes or supplies. Never being much for delayed gratification, Target was almost always first. I'd cut through diagonally to that back corner, wasting no time reaching the Crayola-Five-Star Promised Land. Once I arrived, time no longer existed. Up and down the aisles with the List. So many delicious decisions to make. I'd watch it all line itself up on the conveyer of the checkout and be overwhelmed by satisfaction.

After a lunch break, the clothes shopping started. Straight to the mall and straight to Walgreens where the “shopping candy” was purchased. Store after store trying to find the right jeans and “tops,” all the while looking for that one incredibly special and elusive outfit called, “First Day.”

Bags and bags later we would collapse into the car. My hair all messed up from trying on clothes and my mom with a headache from the store lights, we'd start the long drive home. Once we were there, I would lay out all my supplies and pack my backpack for the first time out of what would be six or ten different times throughout the summer. And then, it never failed, my mom would ask me to put on a fashion show.

I would go into my room at the end of the long hallway, my mom waiting in the living room, and I'd lay it all out. Which shoes, which jeans, which shirts with which? I'd decide “First Day” first, but I'd save it for last. Then I'd strut down the hallway. Once in the living room, I'd spin. My mom would say, “You look just like a model,” and then to my brother, “doesn't she look just like a model?” The day she said this, I was wearing a black t-shirt that had a Campbell Soup can on it.

Love gives you time to pick out folder-notebook color schemes. It knows what matters even if it doesn't know why. Love always asks for a fashion show, headache or no. Love applauds. Delights. Invites you to spin.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Loving Sleep Talkers

My husband talks in his sleep.

I learned this early in our marriage when I woke up to him standing on the bed, holding his cell phone for light, urging me to look at the trail of ants across our ceiling. There were no ants on our ceiling.

I used to be much more aware and concerned about his nightly exclamations. It didn't take me long to learn to just go back to sleep. Although, when I stay awake and listen for awhile it can be quite entertaining.

One night I woke to his voice. It was nothing out of the ordinary at this point, so I was about to drift off again. Then I actually listened to what he was saying:

“Kylee, you are so beautiful. I love you so much. You are everything to me.”

He wasn't talking in his sleep. He was awake. He was talking to me in my sleep.

Love is this moment of waking to realize: it has never stopped. It didn't care if you heard. It didn't care if you weren't aware. It was. It is. Love rejoices over you for no gain to itself, whispers to you not out of need but out of fullness. Love can't hold it in.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Loving Cats

When I was growing up in northern Minnesota, my grandparents had a dairy farm. And on this farm, they had a quadrillion inbred cats. Each day, out of large dented tin buckets, my grandma would pour the still-warm milk into large dented tin pans. Then she'd call to them like only my grandma could call to them, “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.” Like a song.

They would come. They would come from everywhere: cats from under the calf barn, cats from the stories of hay, cats from the pasture, cats still warm from milk house. My three-foot-tall rubber-booted self watched them slink and slither and surround us. Watched them lap up the milk with their rough pink tongues. Watched my grandma move among them, scattering the three pointed cat food with a skilled hand, singing her song of welcome. I can smell it still: all of it in its many layers of smell.

On the farm, the mother cats would hide their babies. A few lucky times, I found them, these small nests built into the square bales. Six or so kittens cuddled together in their cumulative warmth, eyes still shut, they wobbled on their thin soft legs blind.

Sometimes their sweet blue eyes would be sealed shut by a white crust. I'd reach in, so carefully, so slowly, and scoop the kitten up. I'd unzip my pink sweatshirt and tuck her inside as I slowly made my way to the milk house.

I'd enter the warmth and find my grandma, who would take the small kitten from my young hands and hold it in her own. She'd wet a paper towel and gently, slowly, surely, wipe away all the crust until the kitten's eyes could open. “Make sure to bring her right back where her mom can find her,” she'd say, not as gently.

Love is loving cats that come and go and fight and die and multiply and won't stay named. Love is pans of warm milk. Love is singing, "Here. Here. Come and be full." Love is the invitation to the milk house, and gentle hands wiping away what is sure to return.