Thursday, August 29, 2013

Oh Lord you have searched me and known my love for thrift stores

We're back on schedule with all sorts of things, thanks be to God.  This includes, but is not limited to, eating dinner together, praying vespers (evening prayer) together, keeping house, waking up on time, heading out to the local YMCA each morning where I meditate and pray while simultaneously forcing my underused limbs to get back in some sort of respectable shape.

I love the way listening to the daily Pray-as-you-go podcast while I walk the elliptical centers and integrates my body, mind and spirit.  The lectio divina format help me listen to the Spirit with both head and heart. Wednesday's reading in Psalm 139 reminds me the creative, passionate Father God spares no vulnerability knowing his loved ones.  
Oh, Lord, you have searched me and known me.
The narrator asks: "How does it feel to hear that God knows you through and through? Reassuring? A bit scary? Too mysterious to grasp fully?"

Definitely mysterious.  In a good way.  And, why, if He knows me so well is it taking me so long to figure it out for myself?  I could use a little help, here, you know?

A moment later, the narrator asks: "What moments of joy do you recall when you were aware of God's hand leading you?"

And, no joke, I think about thrift stores.  Yes, thrift stores.   Somehow in the last two years when we've unmoored from the familiar landing of home, family, jobs, a large chunk of income, four kids at the table each night and actual, physical space it's been moments discovering a little piece of beauty for hardly any money that I feel anchored again.  
a gorgeous coral Brian and I found at an estate sale in our neighborhood, at half off the original price

Feathering our nest with a mixture of heirlooms and found beauty settles my heart somehow.

Brian's grandmother painted the vase of flowers, my uncle's father made the glass-cased bookshelf,
the owner of the magnificent coral was a Navy man who lived in our new neighborhood
for like fifty years and recently passed away

Like the day in June I had less than thirty minutes and fifteen dollars to spare but feel anxious to settle the kitchen in our new rental house.  The kitchen with only two drawers and four cupboards.  On my way to pick up my daughter I make the impulse decision to drive South Congress past a favorite vintage store.

Normally it takes me a half hour to find a parking space and at least an entire hour to just walk through the entire store, drooling over the unique, vintage collections all priced way over my budget.  Still with 30 minutes and 15 dollars and a need -- bordering on desperate -- to settle our home, I take the risk.  I begin to suspect Grace is at work when I discover not just one, but several open parking spaces directly in front of the store.

With a measure of self-discipline previously unknown to me I circle the store, steely-eyed for just the right piece to help our kitchen feel more like our home.  In the back -- all the way in the back -- I pick up this handmade cabinet.  No price tag.  When old school locker baskets cost $40 and wooden cupboards cost more than I spent on my entire house of furniture put together, I don't get my hopes up.  I walk back to the front of the store, wait patiently for the busy clerk and then wait again while he phones the vendor.

 A happy little flutter in my gut lights into hope. I think now it was probably the presence of delight from my good Father, waiting for me to recognize His surprise gift. A blessing from His Spirit affirming maybe -- just maybe -- I'm not a crazy woman, foolishly spending time and money on our little rental kitchen.

we drink a lot of tea

The clerk hangs up the phone: "It's $12. And that's really hard to believe."

I giggle and hand him my sweaty wad of cash.  And -- wonder of wonders -- make it to pick up my daughter at exactly the right time.

the white bookshelf came to me from my great aunt, Brian and I found the NY state sign
at an antiques mall when we were home last summer, the little cup was mine as a girl,
the knitting needles belonged to my uncle's mother

And this is the story I think about when the narrator asks the question: "What moments of joy do you recall when you were aware of God's hand leading you?"

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.

Friday, August 23, 2013

7 Quick Takes: back to school, letting go, and the new Tom Hanks movie trailer that stars my son's girlfriend!

Kendra and her goddaughter (!) at the pool Sunday evening.

My eldest child turned twenty-two this week.  Friends, I said 22!  Every year I think I can't possibly be more surprised that my children are getting older and every year I manage to be stunned.  And teary.

I need to hear I'm not crazy, aka, needed my mom.  Just before Andrew's birthday dinner, I sent her a quick note:
[my question]Do you ever stop feeling wistful on your kids' birthdays or does it just get worse as they get older?
[Her reply]The wistfulness, indeed, lasts for years--and, yes, it seems to deepen as they are on the edge of creating their own lives apart from the home you have created for them. But then, in my experience, it started to lessen with the joy I felt as I watched each of you create your own home--safe and lovely--with your own family.
Love and prayers are with you--
Gosh, I was sure hoping she'd say that.   

And we had a great time for this guy's birthday dinner.

Andrew, his lovely sisters and girlfriend
By the way, Rounders Pizzeria in Austin = really good, New York styled pizza.
It's the last weekend before school starts for the girls.  Alex has been back in Houston two weeks already, helping with orientation for Rice's freshman class.  What a difference a year makes.  Last year at this time I was a hot mess, both sons moving out for school the same week.  I'm still wistful at birthday time, but after a spell of everyone being back home a few weeks and our house looking like a dorm room I'm pretty OK with the guys living on their own.  

I'm still in pre-K, though, when it comes to knowing how to be a mom to new adults.  Brian's a natural.  I suppose that's how it should be?  Dad nudges out of the nest, Mom stands a few paces behind wiping tears out of her eyes.  Although, we both cried like babies when we said good-bye to our sons last summer.  

On the subject of kids leaving home, my friend David posted a link from the Washington Post this week:  Saying goodbye to my child, the youngster by Michael Gerson

I had to read it with one eye closed because my heart is still so raw.

In the spirit of the back-to-school / sending kids off to school season, here's a few places I've processed my own experience:

What I'd like my son to say to me on his 22nd birthday 
When his future steps into him 
15 seconds of applause (or, Our Boy Graduates From High School)

In the meantime this girl's starting her senior year of high school on Monday.  sigh....

And I'm getting ready to bake for the one of two days I bake each year: Pumpkin-chip cookies on the first day of school

Our youngest starts her sophomore year.  I think this is the first time in something like four years she's starting a school year in the same building she was in the previous year.  What a relief for a semi-boring first day of school! 

A few links worth your time today:
20 vintage photos of Austin:  So, this probably only interests my Texas -- specifically, Austin -- friends.  The image of the 1935 flood?  Wow. 
How to be a faithful friend during the hardest seasons of life by Kate Kelty at Take Them A Meal blog:  Might be the most helpful piece I've ever read about how to walk alongside someone who's living with deep grief.   
The Gospel in the City: While this brief message Brian gave last Sunday at Christ Church targeted our community's call to serve Austin, he gives encouragement to the capital-C church to serve whatever City they call home.
Have you seen the new trailer for Parkland? So it doesn't actually "star" Rebekah (Alex's girlfriend) but she is an extra in the movie and she did make it into the trailer. The gorgeous blue dress running in the hospital hall at 1:04 and 1:05 is, in fact, her. We'd be excited about this non-conspiracy theory JFK assassination film either way, but this makes it even better!


A beauty and grace-filled weekend for us all, dear ones.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What I'd Like My Son to Say to Me on His 22nd Birthday

Spring 1992

What I'd Like My Son to Say to Me on His 22nd Birthday

by Andrew Brian Patrick Murphy's lucky mom
My mother is scared of queen bees
She locked us into the bathroom one day. 
She was like, Follow me! Close the door! Quick!

I forgive her.
The time also she hollered obscenities, to make a point
but only the four guys on the street corner were listening.

I forgive her.
The bowl-cut when I was seven, I'm still holding
A grudge. But the time she yelled "Shut up!" over
our heads toward the beer-guzzling sonsofbitches --

There’s a mom I'm glad to know. She brought me
Into this world when she was still a child.  
when she was still afraid of the dark and being alone and

(bees!) unknown frights descending on her children. 
Every parent wants their kids to go further, be braver then them.

I killed a bug for her two nights ago, and for a hushed moment
I was like a child again,

righting wrongs, forgiving the past.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

7 quick takes: call me Roz, little libraries, good links, chandelier trees and more!

Leo on patrol in the kitchen

This week I took more hours at my part-time office assistant job, about 35.  A good reminder how exhausting it is to work full time, come home to make dinner, take care of the house and more.  I give a standing ovation to all you dear women who work full-time.  God bless you.

For my part I took a new role model:  

I'm pretty sure that at one time or another I've mentioned putting up some photos of our new house.  Here's the thing:  the day I unpacked our last box -- well, not that exact day, but a few days later -- our eldest son moved out of his house and had no where to store his stuff until he could get into his new house.  So we're back to boxes stacked willy-nilly and a variety of children sleeping in a variety of places and more toothbrushes in the bathroom than people in the house (how does THAT happen?).  Some day I'll get around to taking some photos, though.  Unless Brian and I become Cliff and Claire Huxtable.
I did manage to get a picture of one of our neighbor's front yards during a morning walk last week.  And, yes, I did borrow a book.  Best motivation for taking a walk ever.

Speaking of library books, I've been loving my book pile lately.  This is what I read last month.  Also, I'm grateful to Laurel Rudd for the suggestions she left me in the comment box on that post.  See, Laurel?

I'm happy I picked up War of the Worlds for the book cover alone.

I was pleasantly surprised by all the encouraging notes I received from the Upon 2 years in Austin post yesterday.  I felt like I might have been a bit too angsty about a subject that might seem trivial to so many who are used to moving a lot and living far away from family.  I underestimated the level of empathy and shared experience out there.

A friend of a friend from the same hometown moved here with her family the same month we did in 2011.  Her analogy (shared on Facebook) for the two year time span is pretty spot on:
"August marks two years in Texas. I liken it to an arranged marriage. The first few months I had a pit in my stomach; certain the move was the biggest mistake of our lives. Slowly, the place, or perhaps our life here, has wooed me."  
Yes ma'am.
Good stuff I've seen online lately:

  • The Trauma of Being Alive by Mark Epstein at the NY Times: "Trauma is not just the result of major disasters. It does not happen to only some people. An undercurrent of trauma runs through ordinary life, shot through as it is with the poignancy of impermanence."
Also, remember my friend Sharon who wrote a guest post for the mourning stories series during Holy Week?  She shared transparently about her family's experience as she battled cancer.  I'm thrilled to share her most recent update from her blog, Sustain Me: Notes on Cancer.

We are grateful with you and for you, Sharon!

We have the perfect tree to borrow this idea for our front yard.  Now if someone in our house could just become an electrician so we could make it work.


A beauty and grace-filled weekend for us all, dear ones.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

upon 2 years in Austin [a week late]

I wrote this on Sunday, August 11 and kept trying to find time to edit all week. Finally deciding to just go ahead and publish with my apologies for a teensy bit of naval-gazing.

House #1

Two years ago today, August 11, 2011, we drove the last stretch of a 1,650 mile trek from upstate New York to central Texas.  For three days our two-car caravan -- parents driving the front vehicle, sons driving the back vehicle -- zig-zagged west across the southern tier of New York state, south through the wildflowers and Bible-thumping billboards of Ohio.  After a leisurely lunch in the Over the Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati, we wheeled across the Ohio river into Kentucky, sleeping in Louisville one night and Memphis the next.  Our last day, August 11, we drove over the Mississippi River from Memphis into Arkansas.  Other than a few moments around Little Rock's skyline Arkansas was 500 miles of rice fields and trucks.  We almost missed the signs announcing we'd crossed over into Texas, our new home.

The several times we've driven this route, we've built up an unexplicable loathing for that bridge carting us from the streets of Memphis to the rice fields of Arkansas.  Today I wonder if that's because leaving the Tennessee border leaves behind the last vestiges of landscape that feel even mildly familiar to our northeast.  New York doesn't have blue grass, but it does have rolling green hills, doesn't have the Mississippi delta, but has the Hudson and the Susquehanna and the Chenango and the Delaware and the St. Lawrence.  New York doesn't have one single flat landscape.  Not one cactus, scorpion, longhorn steer or cloudless sky.  New York does not have brown grass and neighborhoods that burn down from drought-induced fire.  Cross the stark state line from Arkansas into Texarkana, Texas  could have been leaving planet earth for all our experience of 100+ degree temperatures, limestone and brown fields.  If it weren't for the ubiquitous McDonald's greeting us on I-30 nothing about that state crossing would have been recognizable to me as "home".

Even now, I feel silly saying so.  But in two years living in Austin, I know my best moments of my best days have been the ones I could close one eye and squint at a landscape and make it look familiar.  In the fall, it's the days I walk a sidewalk and find enough fallen brown leaves to crunch under my shoes.  I can close both eyes then and just hear home.  In winter it's the days my husband allows me to crank up the air conditioning so we can light a wood fire, close the blinds and pretend we're getting warm from some ghost of a howling wind.  Then I can close both eyes and feel home. Summer is unspeakable; we drive out of Texas like a mess of Austin's infamous Mexican free-tailed bats.  

field of April bluebonnets, Belton, TX

Ahhh, but spring.  Spring in Texas I wander around wide-eyed at the wonder of non-humid sunshine and squares of wildflowers quilting the entire sorry landscape with simple glad beauty.  Spring wins me over.  Spring keeps me here.  

Spring and the whims of an unpredictable God.  

When Brian finished his degree while I took care of four babies at home we predicted he'd get a teaching job in a school we'd stay in forever.  Looked forward to the years our children would pass through his history classes in middle school.  I picked out our first home in that small town of 5,000 neighbors and two stop lights almost entirely for the long staircase banister I could imagine our kids posing for their prom pictures.  At the time they were 4, 6, 8 and 10.  

Now we live in a city with 400 times more neighbors than our first house.  We took prom pictures of our son under the branches of a gnarly live oak tree.   New York state does not grow this tree.  New York's trees are intoxicated with rainwater and never need gnarl themselves around to suck up drops of water from arid soil.

spring flowers growing in limestone, Belton, TX

The first months we lived in Texas, Brian took to quoting Clark W. Griswold: "If I woke up tomorrow with my head stapled to the carpet I wouldn't be more surprised than I am right now." Two years in and this still sounds about right.

At a family gathering when our oldest son was  twelve, he prayed a prayer we've never forgotten:  "Thank you, God, that you are so unpredictable."  Yes, the God who surprises us led us through twenty years of marriage thinking we would be one sort of family and in the last three years has totally upended what we thought.

For starters, I said I'd never marry a pastor.  Now my husband spends every waking free hour completing a seminary degree and various requirements for ordination in the coming year, all while serving as Executive Pastor at Christ Church of Austin. Three words in his title alone surprise me as much as a staple to the head. There's the Pastor title and then there's Christ Church.  I grew up distrusting all denominations, flinging my non-denominational freedoms like some sort of suffragette.  Six months ago I was confirmed in the Anglican communion.  When my husband is ordained he will be an Anglican PRIEST!  Priest was almost a curse word where I grew up.

This is all so hilarious I keep forgetting to laugh.

Brian's confirmation, February 2013

So now we're Anglican and Brian's going to be a priest.  And we live in Austin. For years we lived with a community of people who loved us so well, we still can't believe they don't hang out with us on the weekends.  

Truth is they loved us well, but they could not name us in this calling. It's taken almost every single day of the last two years for me to accept this fact.  One of the men who loved us best laughed the last time I talked to him and asked why he'd never affirmed Brian as a pastor.  He still didn't see it  

Maybe for the same reason prophets get sent to caves to hear the still small voice, we got re-planted on the surface of the sun as a better option.  May our limbs grow gnarly sucking all the life-giving liquid out of this place.  And, in the process, adding to its beauty.

Quercus fusiformis : the live oak at the Alamo, San Antonio

I've struggled these two years feeling like we gave up too soon.  I'm pretty sure some of my closest friends in New York would agree with that statement. We were unemployed with four kids.  Maybe we should have stuck it out?  I'm pretty sure that community of friends and family would have supported us until Brian found some sort of income.  And, maybe Brian would have landed a teaching job -- even though half the degreed teachers we knew were underemployed or facing layoffs.  Maybe that shouldn't have mattered.  Maybe sticking with friends was the most important thing.  Maybe Brian shouldn't have offered up his ministry job on the layoff block when our church budget made a beeline for the red?  Maybe he should have rallied support, forced his way onto the payroll.  Maybe he should have thrown over a few tables like I often begged him to do during our sleepless, late night arguments.  

Maybe so.  Right this moment I'd be sitting in my favorite spot -- at the back of our sanctuary, pleading with God to make Himself known to us in our corporate worship. Maybe then I'd know that lunch would be predictable, our kids' weekend social life would be predictable.  I'd have a wealth of options to help me get them to all the places they needed to be during the coming week -- aunts, grandmothers, co-workers.  I'd be able to pick and choose my own set of unpredictable decisions.  Whose bonfire would we hang out at this weekend?  What cross-country social connection would I make through the amazing unseen world wide web?

Just that one decision. That one unpredictable connection opened the door for us to move to Austin.  I guess we're never completely free from the whims of our sovereign Lord.  No.  We did not give up too soon.  We would have had to slam the door in God's face to stay in New York.  This is the truth of it.  

While I write these words I'm sitting on the ninth floor of the same hotel we stayed in when we first landed here. I'm looking at a river green and brown and low.  This morning I walked alongside, straight under the bridge that houses for the summer those million and a half Mexican bats.  My head was down and I didn't realize I was walking underneath, reflecting on the two years we'd lived here and simultaneously trying to figure out why Austin in summer smells like bat guano. 

Kayakers and people standing on boards paddling themselves downstream make colorful slashes in the water.  Weird Austin people who behave like sunbathing in 106 degree weather is nothing.  I am not one of them yet.  Maybe never.  I mean who knows how long we'll actually live here?  Maybe our unpredictable Sender has plans for the other side of the world.  Or New Jersey.  This month He's sending one of my best friends and her family to Africa, via France.  I'm pretty sure she'll be surprised for a long, long time.  


The afternoon of our second anniversary in Austin a glorious, mundane Sunday afternoon. Our son and his girlfriend chauffeur us home, with a stop along the way at a local pancake house.  He's returning to Houston for year two of college, eager for new grace in a new year.  We pray blessing over the two of them, anoint their hopes with benediction and lemon poppyseed syrup.

We watch golf. Doze on the couch. Wait out the sweaty sun for our evening walk.  New friends moved into the neighborhood over a month ago and we want to welcome them.  I fill a paper sack with symbolic housewarming gifts:  bread (that no one be hungry), salt (that your lives be full of flavor) and wine (that your work and friendships prosper).  I add a bar of dark chocolate for good measure.  It's a tradition from Jews, Christians and fans of Frank Capra.

We walk the five neighborhood blocks to introduce ourselves, sit until dark on their front porch sipping the cheap wine we gave them, swatting mosquitoes and swapping our "moving to Austin" stories.  

"How long have you been here?"

"Two years.  Two years today, actually."

"And how'd you get here all the way from New York?"

We give the brief version because Brian's got an early morning flight and the mosquitoes are biting.  We include the painful layoff at our former church, the year Brian taught as a long-term substitute teacher knowing he was supposed to be a pastor, the weekend prayer retreat with good friends confirming we would not attempt to leave New York until all four of our children graduated from high school.  The time I just happened to listen to a sermon from my friend's church in Austin, the one where the rector just happened to mention the goal to hire an Executive Pastor.  The sending a resume on a whim.  The moving our entire family to Austin less than three months later. The three houses we've moved in two years.

House #3

Our short answer could have been, "The unpredictable God sent us here."

I couldn't have planned a better two-year celebration.  We hug good-bye, talk about our next get-together -- hopefully soon -- carry empty wine glasses into the kitchen.

And then Brian and I walk home.

Friday, August 09, 2013

7 Quick Takes: what I did on summer vacation video diary!

Taking a tour of Great Sacandaga Lake last week with my Dad as the boat captain.
Wish I'd had this picture for that poem I wrote him on Father's Day.

Here's 7 brief snapshots into our summer vacation. If you've followed this blog long enough you know that each year we spend a week camped out in some corner of the northeast with all 22 of my siblings and their families. Also, if you're reading this post in email, click through to the actual post and turn up your volume.


Vacation video #1: "In Three Words", edited by my sister.  During our family reunion/vacation we sneaked around behind the scenes to create a video recap/birthday card for my parents.  My mom's birthday was the Friday we were together, my dad's at the end of August.  (pardon us for a few inside jokes)

Vacation video #2:  In which my 15-month-old nephew nabs the frog that my older nephews and niece were "babysitting" on the beach.  Just after I stopped recording, the kids try to revive the frog who seems to be in shock. Eight-year-old Griffin says "Someone breath air into his nose!"

Vacation video #3:  Have I mentioned that our family likes to stage elaborate events during our week together?  This year included a Murder Mystery that my sons wrote and directed - Murder Mystery: 80's Prom Edition.  Part of the fun was shopping at Goodwill together for our costumes.  My mom found me this PERFECT retro-wear.  Also, my character Hazelnut Shines played the former child star who is tired of being known for her memorable gig as the "Sheri Shoeshine" Girl.  Here's me re-enacting my one line:

Vacation video #4:  We celebrated our THIRTEENTH ANNUAL family vacation dance party -- in an air conditioned room for the first time ever, thanks be to God!  Here's a tiny -- and ridiculous -- clip:

Vacation video #5: Our first weekend in New York we enjoyed watching our nephew (on the Murphy side) marry his long-time sweetheart Lindsay.  I'm not sure why I didn't get more video during the reception but here's a few seconds of the groom kicking it up during the reception:

Vacation video #6:  A few months back my grandparents moved from their own home to an assisted living center.  They began giving away some of their belongings and my son Alex knew he wanted his great-grandfather's banjo.  When the kids were little (and even when they got big) Grandpa was always good for a few rounds of picking  out old tunes while the kids danced around the living room.  That's the backstory for this video and Alex's serenade our final night of family vacation:

Vacation video #7: A beautiful finale for our week together, Alex and his 10 and 8 year-old cousins play and sing "Blessed Be Your Name".  Please notice the four-year-old cousin accompanying on his own air guitar:


A beauty and grace-filled weekend for us all, dear ones.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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