It’s Easter, and This Veil’s Torn for You

It is no state secret: I am 31 years old and smitten with marshmallow Peeps.

Before the chicks went on tour year-round, signing pumpkins and snowpeople onto their act, spring was the one season that these sugared beauties made a showing. And there was something sacred in this, something symbolic. Something decidedly, deliciously, Easter.

Photo Credit:  katiescrapbooklady  via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: katiescrapbooklady via Compfight cc

I’ve been thinking about it, this idea of something being “decidedly Easter.” There’s the bunny-man at the mall, sure, and Cadbury Cream Eggs. Bonnets and ruffles and gingham. Jelly beans. And yesterday, Sid the Science Kid aired its Easter special, the one where teacher Susie leads the 4-year-olds on a rock hunt around the playground. Tuckered out, the kids plop down and paint daisies on their stones, a small nod to spring. And then the episode sputters to a stop. Easter, it seems, is just a proxy; a cute little op for teaching the three families of rock: igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary.

Later that night, my husband and I are pushing grilled chicken and sweet potato around our plates, and I look up.

“What do you think of, when I say Easter?” I ask. “Don’t overthink, just quick, what sort of images, symbols? Don’t say Peeps.”

He shrugs. “I don’t know, maybe a rock rolled away?”

And I think of Sid and his stones, and shake my head.

So close, and yet, so far.

.:.

I dance too much around it, maybe; I am politically polite, so worried about pleasing. But today I feel the need to just come out and say it. To dish my faith on a plate and be the mean mom who makes you stay at the table until you take JUST ONE BITE.

Until you taste and see that Easter is not about eggs or honeyed ham or marshmallow bunnies (though those are all wonderful hangers-on); it’s about Jesus’s work dying, then rising.

Really, that’s it.

Easter is the epicenter of the Christian faith, the hinge on which all hope swings, because let’s face it: If Jesus really is who he says he is, and really did what history says he did…if his promises can be cashed at the bank and eternity tendered to those who put blind belief in him…then doesn’t that just upside-down everything?

Doesn’t everything suddenly change?

And if we’re honest: isn’t it this change that keeps our arms always pushing him back, content, instead, to paint flowers on stones?

.:.

I am driving to the gym when the image comes to me. A veil torn.

It’s not the quintessential Easter icon, like the rolled tombstone, or blue-sashed savior, or the lilies trumpeting resurrection songs. But there it is: the temple veil, a curtain sliced clean from top to bottom.

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. And that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” (Matthew 27: 51, 52)

You need to see this veil, because it’s important. It’s not so much a curtain as it is a wall, shielding off the most sacred spot in the Jewish temple, the Holy of Holies. Even the high priest could only enter here once each year, on the day of atonement. And even then, it was no trifling matter: the priest had to wash well, put on special clothes, create a cloud of incense to blur the sharp holy of God.

That veil? It guarded God’s dwelling place; it sealed off a perfect Father from his fallen, filthy children, and it’s such a literal picture of God’s purity, his inability to stomach our swill.

And yet.

As Jesus hung on his cross—right before he hung his head and willingly gave up his spirit—he cried, “It is finished!” And that veil—which some experts say was a whole hand thick and 10-men tall—just ripped in two.

The heart of God, open to men again. 

.:.

I think of Easter, and big churchy words like resurrection and salvation and forgiveness and eternity sit right there on the tip of my tongue. How do we begin to unpack them on one Sunday morning?

But maybe we don’t have to. Maybe we can just look at the veil, because it says everything.

My body, broken for you. This veil, torn for you.

Do you see it? Do you see how Easter is all about intimacy?

I need no priest besides Christ; He has brokered the deal, bridged the Grand Canyon gap between me and God. I can now talk to my Father on the way to the grocery store. I can fist-shake my prayers, bringing him my honest doubt. I will daily screw up and he’ll wash me, patiently patting me dry a thousand times, his mercies fresh as my morning coffee.

This is grace, I think, that I can walk up to God and fiercely know that He sees me scrubbed clean and set right. Not because I am, of course, but because I trust Christ to be perfect for me.

I can’t seem to shake this today. The veil’s embroidery, threads of purple, scarlet, blue, cleaved clear from top to bottom. Like gaping veins, the fabric bleeds, falling open.

There we are in Eden, doubting God is really as good as he says, thinking maybe he is holding something back.

Oh, God, the cosmic killjoy. The grand patrolman, always wanting to fence us in and clip our wings.

And we bite into this lie, regretting it instantly. We cover up, we put on clothes, we hide—and we are found out, and sent out.

There are weeds and groans and all the empty striving.

Day after day, we keep pulling on fig leaves. Sure, they’re more modern facades; maybe we hide behind fancy jobs, or a florid vocabulary, or 3D mascara, or carefully coifed Facebook timelines. The well-groomed lawn, the freshly lipsticked selfie, or the toddler who, like a good puppy, so dutifully comes when he’s called. (Usually.)

Isn’t it all just a grand game of dress up? Preschoolish pretending, trying to appear more polished than we actually are?

We want cover, we need cover. We suck it up and suck it in. We edit and skim-coat and make-believe it’s all ok.

But then there’s that veil, hanging open.

Come in, it beckons. Be known…fully known.

Do you see it? It’s an invitation back into the garden. 

It’s a welcome mat shaken and spread out, begging us to taste and see and enter into a kind of life that is truly life.

So wipe your shoes, friend. Shuck your coat. The spotless lamb is bleeding, it is finally, fully finished, and God says we get to come back.

For good.

 

“What Adam had, and forfeited for all,

Christ keepeth now, who cannot fail or fall.”

–The Hold-Fast, George Herbert

In Defense of Inconvenience (& Good Coffee)

My husband is climbing up onto the roof, eager to see if our plumbing vent stack is plugged by fall debris or a kamikaze squirrel.

From the desk where I’m sitting–one that’s shoved up against a bedroom window–I can watch him scale the ladder. He does, and he walks by, befitted in work boots and a knit cap.

He waves, maybe a little annoyed at my supervising, but I just smile back, clutching my coffee. He drinks in mid-March air, and I sip, too, some mongrel drink that’s somewhere between latte and cappuccino.

Maybe it’s a wet cappuccino?

Whatever it is, I’m happy to be in here with the velvety thing, and not tromping on rooftop.

And definitely, not hanging my nose over sewer pipes.

As he stomps, above, I start thinking about coffee, and how maybe it’s one of my love languages.

How I got here, this marriage of me and coffee, I’m not perfectly sure. It had something to do with waitressing at Perkins till 11 p.m. those college years. That, and those 8 a.m. classes, burning the wick at both ends. Enter coffee, like a knight on horseback, and I just about got down on a knee and proposed.

I love the drink.

Too much maybe, my dentist says, mentioning something about Crest strips last time I saw him. I nod, but know that as far as vices go, mine’s a good one. It gets me out of bed, for one. And it keeps the synapses fit and firing…or so I like to think.

Either way, coffee is now one of my things. For Christmas, I tell relatives: Give me beans, a better grinder, a monstrous mug. I am no purist—I don’t need single origin or certain-region. I am happy with a blend. It can be perfumed to smell like bananas foster, or hazelnut, or blueberry cobbler.

I don’t care. I just like coffee.

And I like the idea of coffee, too. It’s not gluggable; it’s for the sipping, and it’s slow. I don’t know about you, but I need more slow in my life lately. That’s why, since January, coffee and I have taken another step forward…or maybe, a step backward, depending on how you look at it. I guess what I mean to say is that me and coffee have slowed way down.

It started when I returned a Christmas-gift cappuccino maker (leaky seal at the portafilter), and used the store credit to get something more old-school: a Moka Pot.

Have you seen one? It’s this cheeky stovetop carafe, all angular and aluminum. The Italians invented it back in the ’30s, and many still swear by it today. The pot’s got a small bottom chamber where you put cold water, and a filter basket that nests on top for your grounds. You then top that off with a teensy screw-on kettle, and that’s where the espresso burbles up after about nine or ten minutes on a burner. The gadget’s steam-driven, and if you do it right, it’ll even produce a scraggly crema. Sure, the sticklers call it “poor man’s espresso,” but it’s strong and sludgy, and it makes a nice, jolty base for the hot milk I whisk up and pour over top.

I know this sounds like a lot of work, and I won’t lie: it is. But it’s worth it. I tell you this as Sherpa of sorts; you can trust me, because I have loved coffee all different ways. Fast-food, Starbucks, smoky lit coffee bar. Grind-at-home, grind-at-store, grab Maxwell House at CVS on Christmas morning because it’s the only place open and we are clean out. Keurig K-cup, French press, good old fashioned auto-drip brewer.

And now, Moka.

Why? For precisely the same reasons you might think I shouldn’t: Because it’s fussy and slow.

Wonder of wonders, I am actually enjoying the twelve minutes it takes from start to sip. Turns out, I really like deconstructing my pot and washing it, toweling it, and leveling my basket of grounds. I like stacking it all up and twisting it tight, setting a timer, lighting the stove. I like the way it looks, with the blue-flame twitching below the carafe, and the way it smells, as the center column huffs faint and chocolaty just before the espresso starts spilling out, a coffee fountain right there in my kitchen.

I like all of it.

And, of course, I like handing my husband a cup after he’s come in red and cold and runny-nosed from the vent pipe exploits, on the roof.

.:.

This is what I’m learning about rituals: They can’t be rituals if you don’t put some skin in.

Sure, some say rituals can be one-press-easy, but those aren’t really rituals: They’re habits. (And oh, coffee habits abound. I know. I’ve lived and loved them, and I’ll probably slide back into one, someday…)

But coffee rituals? Real rituals won’t mix with rush.

Maybe that’s because rituals are a kind of ballet, a million lovely little steps. They’re a kind of music that puts you in the mood. Whatever they are, rituals are always expensive, at least in terms of time. They’re always hungry, thirsty things, demanding your attention, your fingers fluttering all over them.

But I am finding that for all their neediness, rituals play fair. They reciprocate. They pay you back, and in the way you need most: by helping you slow down. And in doing this, I think they also help you to savor…to wake up a little, to start to see and taste things you might have slowly tuned out.

I think without rituals, stuff gets stale. We get stale. I think we stop being able to respond.

This is why I’m enjoying this season of nerding out on my coffee. My moka. I realize not everyone has twelve spare morning minutes, and I’m trying to be grateful for mine, because really, it’s about so much more than the coffee for me. It’s about my tempo, in general.

Truth is, there are just too many things right now that prod me to move faster, hurry up, and skip a few steps. I mean, just about everything. I have a toddler, which is as good a risk-factor as any for succumbing to the spell of 2-in-1 shampoo, and toothpaste with the mouthwash mixed in, and that striped peanut butter and jelly spread in one jar. Also: Drive-thrus. Single-serve mac and cheese for the microwave. And the new Cybex machine at the gym that claims to burn twice the calories in the same hour.

This is why I am firm about my morning moka. Because it’s a protest.

It’s not a cup of coffee: It’s a call to arms.

We get so goofy about shortcuts. So giddy about speed. And this is why coffee makers now work like can openers.

And it’s a shame, really, because I’m learning you can only appreciate something as much as you’re willing to put your good energy into it.

Maybe, even, only as much as you’re willing to wait for it.

On Tantrums and Immovable Truths

And so it begins. We’ve arrived for a stint in a fine little town that I’m told all toddlers pass through.

Tantrumsville.

Oh, joy. More often than I care to admit, I am finding myself standing alone in the laundry room. Door shut. Just me, the hampers, the whirring of the dryer, and thirty soul-sweet seconds of gathering my wits. And let’s be honest: Thirty seconds of beseeching.

Dear God, have mercy. 

Loan me some of your patience while we’re waylaid here. Mommy’s run low on munitions. 

And please. 

Let our stay be brief.

Photo Credit:  timlav  via  Compfight   cc

Photo Credit: timlav via Compfight cc

The most recent Event took place in Cracker Barrel, just this past weekend. We’d finished a fairly mellow dinner of Reubens, chicken tenders, and, much to Patrick’s delight: chocolate milk sipped through a big-boy straw.

It was a good meal, all around, largely thanks to four under-pigmented crayons and one of those triangle brainteasers stabbed with golf tees. Patrick had been cheerful, and had kept things relatively clean, minus the small lake of chocolate milk beneath his high chair. Really, overall, a solid dining-in-public performance.

As we pile our plates and get up to leave, my husband and I are beaming. I swing Patrick’s sweet little hand and head toward the register in the attached gift shop. We are such good parents, I think, as evidenced by our docile progeny, the one gently fisting my finger.

And then it happens. Blinded by our parental pride, maybe our sated stomachs, we see a display of toy cars. And, well, he’s been so good. Why not? Let’s give ‘em a look.

And so we do. Chumps that we are, we make the classic beginner move, squatting down and inspecting a couple vehicles, even making the “vrrrmm, vrrrrmmm” engine effects. I flip one of the coupes over, scan for the sticker. $9.99. Too much, especially since they’re not built to suffer two-year-old play. After a few more minutes, we make beginner move number two: We tell Patrick it’s time to go.

Evil parents that we are, we ask him to park the cars back into the bin.

You can probably imagine the mayhem, the barbaric injustice of it all, as we fail to coax him away. I take his hand, give a gentle pull toward the door, and he suddenly loses his spine. Like it’s been yanked out. He wet-noodles to the floor, a human puddle. So I scoop him up. And the moment I do, he springs to life, legs kicking off me like a Bandalooper against a building.

“Patrick, you have dozens of cars back home,” I announce. Like maybe logic will prevail. I say it overly loud, so passersby know there’s a real impetus (however tiny) behind this tirade.

My arms are insufficient, so I hand him to my husband. We are a moving circus with an angry acrobat, all the way to the car. We pop the door, trying to wiggle the kid into his seat, but alas: He’s deployed his third and final tantrum trick, Stiff as a Board. He’s a steel beam, and we can’t get him to bend at the belly. Which means we can’t snap the buckle. Which means the mom and two kids whose vehicle, as luck would have it, is parked right next to ours, are huddled on the sidewalk. Waiting to leave. And Mom’s decided to bide time by delivering a sympathetic soliloquy, the whole Oh, how we all have been there.

And it’s helpful, but really, it’s not.

*

Driving home with the (finally buckled) baby in the back seat, still sniffling and hiccup-breathing over the tragedy of Not Buying the Cars, my mind slips into a fit of curiosity. I have come to the humbling realization that when God refers to us as children, maybe he’s not exactly conjuring up the Precious Moments picture, you know, of us with the big puppy eyes. Of our relative smallness, fragility, and sweet naiveté.

Maybe, I think, he’s referring to all the bleeding out that parents do daily. Maybe he’s talking about all the loving that goes into kids who are not always logical, not always thankful, and who overly emote when they can’t get their way in the gift shop. 

And almost immediately, I arrive at this: I am that child.

I am the wet-noodling, Bandalooping, plank-in-the-carseat kid who is indignant over my alleged injuries.

My pants are in a pinch, too often, too, because I don’t walk out with a particular blessing.

I miss the ongoing miracle of God’s provision and protection and attentive, all-the-time love because I am too busy hiccup-sniffling in the backseat. I am the angry little acrobat, demanding all the goodness I think He, by some strange contract, somehow owes me.

I conceal it better, maybe. Less theatrics.

Maybe.

But this, I’ve decided, is why parenting is such sacred and humbling stuff: In the weariest moments, when the patience is poured out and sure to run dry, I find myself living out a beautiful, messy picture.

A picture of God’s bewildering and undeserved favor toward me.

Oh, how he loves us.

I Rode His Tail. I’m Not Proud.

Going to the library is a misnomer.

Because it’s a veritable playroom. Stocked with train sets, a puppet theatre, and enough wooden blocks to construct a small city, we’re in business. Kids swarm to low tables, with Hobbit-height computers. Toddlers channel King Kong, their oaf-like walks and excitable arms threatening the four-foot tower that’s just been constructed by two proud preschoolers.

Photo Credit:  orsorama  via  Compfight   cc

Photo Credit: orsorama via Compfight cc

Yeah, there are books here. But Patrick particularly enjoys the puzzles.

I, on the other hand, come for the chance conversation with another adult my age. The library is practically an agora for mommies during the pre-nap, pre-lunch window.

We stay for almost an hour, my little lad flitting purposefully from puzzle to puzzle, like he’s pollinating. While we’re inspecting the Lego bin, a bespectacled woman with a kaleidoscope shirt and curly hair opens the story room door. Kids disappear in so fast that I swear they’re sucked in, like water rushing down a drain. In mere seconds, the room’s energy flatlines, again library-quiet. Patrick and I mosey over to the small computers. He picks up a mouse, holds it to his ear, and says hello. I laugh, and play catch up on emails, worried I must have missed something urgent. I haven’t. So far, it’s all stuff I can handle tomorrow.

Peckish for a good book, I hoist the munchkin on my hip, and we scale the stairs. I’ve been gravitating toward business books lately, who knows why. But a quick survey and most feel dated; when I come to one that promises to help you “master MySpace,” I’ve officially lost my appetite.

We zip up our coats. Patrick is a puffer jacket with legs, and I mush him into his car seat, like I’m kneading dough. He looks like a human marshmallow, like he can barely move. I feel bad. But it’s cold; the air has a mean bite to it today.

We hurry home. But the sun starts warming the car. Paired with the thick coat, and nearing naptime, it’s a recipe for disaster; I need to haul, or he won’t make it to his crib.

But the car that’s now in front of me is glacial.

Hurry, dude.

I crane my neck, and can’t make out the full face, but the guy is short. And his temples are frosted grey. I’d guess seventies.

And he’s still doing ten under.

I have a soft spot for older drivers, in theory. Not in practice. I try to be patient, but it’s open road, I’ve got a toddler on the verge of what promises to be a deliciously long nap, and I’m pushing it. The driver slows…maybe he’s turning into that condo plex.

No. Slower still.

Well, maybe the second entrance.

Another fake. Now we’re creeping. Come on.

The elementary school? I brighten. Maybe it’s grandparents’ day? I could forgive that.

No.

And the next driveway, the car drifts right, slowly.

Tentatively.

Unsure.

It is a cemetery.

*

I am the world’s most awful human, I tell God. Go ahead, say it.

Say it.

There is only one good reason seventy year old men go to the cemetery alone on Monday mornings.

They are missing their other half.

I think of my husband, forty-some years from now, drawing up the courage to slowly butter his toast and pour his coffee and try to eat his breakfast. I see him pulling on his coat, his scarf, his hat. I see the hesitation as he picks up his car keys, the dread as he grasps the handle to open the door, and watch as he sits down, buckles up, and makes this terrible visit to my grave.

And I pray some impatient young mother, worked up over a delayed nap that might or mightn’t happen, isn’t riding his tail, rushing him along, silently telling him to please hurry it all up.

*

I know we all have moments like this, where we come face to face with our hearts and realize how ugly, how inward, we are prone to be.

Don’t we forget, daily, that other people have worries, dinner plans, prayer requests, hugs waiting for them at home?

It’s all too easy to buy the lie that we’re the stars of our own dramas, that everyone else is only an extra:

Monday Library Outing, starring Patrick and Mommy, as themselves; with special guest appearances by story-lady in the psychedelic blouse, other mommy who spoke only in sing-song (a real life Disney princess, with her heap of blonde hair), and, of course, sweet-old-man barely inching along.

It’s all too easy to forget that other people are actually making movies, too.

And we’re just the extras in theirs.