There are five massive screen doors in the open living area of what has been our off-and-on home here in Maine.  On a clear morning, the warm glow from the maple trees on the lakefront and the ethereal, bright rays of dawn pour into this glass room in yellow and green shards, beginning at the earliest hour and somehow continuing to channel prisms of light deep into the evening.  Even when I am right here, asleep on the very couch I sit perched upon now, I dream of this room. 

In reality, this cabin is made up of about one third glass, with the remainder composed of v-match, vertical pine panels with a slightly tinted polyurethane finish.  It is bright and open and is life-giving in the way of an enormous, tight hug.  On my first night back here in early June, what must have been hundreds of insect wings beat frantically against the dark expanse of wire window screen and the resulting sound was that of a pounding torrent of rain, rather than the quiet presence of the still, cool evening breeze that moved into and through the room where I sat. 


I dare say it is the single most comforting thing on earth.  It is as soothing as a lullaby, as essential to our souls as oxygen to the lungs, and as impossible to pin down as an easterly wind.

I’m realizing more and more that home isn’t a specific place, a particular building, or even an individual set of circumstances.  Home is like a rhythm that only your soul will recognize, like a melody that you hear with your ears, and only upon its hearing can you identify it as the song which has always existed somewhere inside of you.   From the very first note, you feel your footsteps fall into place with the beat, as if the music was born at the very same instant that you were.

This past Saturday night, after putting Milo to bed, I found myself, as usual, doing a late night exercise circuit:  walk; squat; pick up a wooden car; repeat.  When I had finished, I stood in our open living room, did a small, but very stylish wiggle, and declared myself the LUCKIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD.  You see, on this particular day, one of my very favorite friends, Jenn, entered into her new big wedded adventure, and it all took place in my seasonal backyard.  It was a day full of frenzy and running from place to place like a sugar-pumped six-year-old in a room full of puppies, and yet, also a day of incredible beauty and peace and – you guessed it, my favorite buzzword – community.  It was community at its best: purposeful and hilarious and exceedingly life-giving.  Saturday was also, as Craig said multiple times throughout the weekend, a terribly frighteningly day to be a spore-producing plant, but since we only eat ferns in the spring, and I only occasionally make my bed in the moss, it was nothing other than an enchanting day sandwiched between two very magical ones, filled with greenery from the forest, and I cannot imagine anything on this natural earth more perfect than that.

Due to our relational overlap with dear Jenn and her husband, Jacob, it was also an opportunity to welcome a number of friends back to camp.  I think of this group of people as something like our own personal traveling circus, like the band getting back together.  Every individual falls into place amongst the rest, and we each become a unique part of what feels to be one single working body. 

In this community of people, I hear my melody.  They sing my song.  They beat out my rhythm, and my feet follow suit.  But they aren’t the only ones.  This isn’t the only place.  The expression of home has a wild, wandering voice.

During my first trip to the red rocks of the dry southwest, I heard it.  Hidden amidst the mossy pines nearest the southern shore of Heald Pond, I sense it.  In the tiny embrace of my son, I recognize it.  In the gaze of my fellow adventurer, my husband, I am enraptured by it.

As much as this particular room, with its bright warmth and its air thick with joy and memory, would beckon me to label it the ultimate definition of home, I cannot.  I am afraid that if I give in to the notion that home is one certain atmosphere or one specific structure, I will lose something precious.  I will have surrendered myself to the unnecessary reality of loss, to the weight of grief at a house sold or an empty nest, or as I know it, a little cabin in the woods seen from the rear-view mirror.  I will attempt to turn my ear, rather, to listen at each fork in the road, because the sound may come drifting as a working collection of feelings and faces experienced in blueberry pancakes, or mist on the river, or the giddy chortle and short-bitten fingernails of my sister.  I will listen for it in the daunting truth that for each of us, our best and most dear friendship may still be yet to come.  I will seek to embrace its elusiveness, it’s mystery and it’s unpredictable nature.

Our move-back date occurs next week, and I know that I won’t be ready for it until it’s happened.  Or rather, until I’m back in New Hampshire, and have gotten a large enough quantity of hugs to remind me that it is a place that is also good, that it is also mine, and that it is also home. 

The expression of home is as impossible to pin down as an easterly wind.  

This room is not the only room. 

My sound of Home:
Artist: Sleeping At Last
Album: Atlas: Space II – EP


My Laundry-Folding Napoleon Complex and Other Matters of Pride

I am, in general, a rule follower, and a fan of both uniformity and procedure.  I like to keep my pens with their caps on or their buttons unclicked.  I like a neat car, and folding my t-shirts in thirds, first horizontally, and then vertically.  If you have ever been sweet and generous enough to help me with fresh laundry, I’ve probably – no, definitely – revisited your work later.  (You can ask my husband, who has gradually taken to folding mostly his own clothes.)  I dislike a messy bed, even when the sheets are in the wash.  I like the soothing silence of our town library, and can hardly handle the cacophony of camper songs in our summer Dining Hall, which is a more insurmountable occupational hazard than you can possibly imagine, unless you've witnessed it yourself.  When I worked in a juvenile group home, residents had to line up in silence and then count off in order to transition from building to building,

and I loved it.

Hello, My name is Michelle and I am systematic,

and I can be a

total buzz-kill.

In truth, it can be a considerable challenge for me to overlook procedure for the sake of fun.  I have spent many a moment stuffing down my frantic need to organize or correct, all so that I don’t entirely stifle a mood.  While I love to organize, I am terrible at giving instruction, because I’m both not what one would call verbally coherent, and I also want to give every tiny detail of my micromanaged vision for how you should organize the left side of the staff bathroom shelving:  The pile of mystery hair ties sits HERE”.  It’s astonishingly petty, and I admit, very, very compulsive.  I will say that in general, these obsessions are relegated to my personal domain, so if you’re worried about your office or your laundry or your hair ties, relax, because that’s not my world.  In fact, I’ll help you fold in whatever crazy manner you want, or we even can ball up the t-shirts and throw them into the drawers from across the room if that’s what tickles you.

A particular area of offense comes in the Projects department.   I have been known to regularly refuse social invitations and increasingly rare downtime with my husband because I won’t stop working on a project until I find it to be absolutely, 110% complete.  These are typically tasks that can be put down and picked back up with little to nothing lost, apart from my own convenience, such as washing dishes or vacuuming out the car.  Once I made Craig wait until nearly nine o’clock to have dinner, because I was busy staining a deck chair.  At around five-thirty, long after I should have been finished, he asked me when I might wrap up, and I continued to holler “Almost there!” until night had fallen.  To his credit, Craig gave me a kind but firm grownup scolding, which I fully deserved and needed.  

I’d like to tell you that I don’t do things like this anymore, but I would be lying.    

This is the love of a man who knows me.  He leaves me a little room.

Living in proximity to other human beings, and also having a kid, really puts this into perspective, because at times my bent toward quality control comes at the cost of the people around me.  I have found over the years that I am fully capable of stealing joy away from my peers, and often under circumstances that make me look crazy as a loon.  Have you ever stayed home from taking your child to the park because you needed to reorganize the refrigerator shelves?  Have you ever shamed away a helper with your disappointed looks or have you invalidated someone’s contribution to an effort by being, as my friend Amy says, judgey?  I’ve done these things.  I’ve done them over and over and in every permutation possible. 

Let’s be real.  These desires of mine – to be thorough and follow guidelines and adhere to a procedure – do have benefits.  If done in good measure and with mindfulness, these characteristics can produce reliable and efficient work. I think we can agree that high standards naturally generate good quality.  But how quickly I have been to pass off my unhealthy behaviors and thought patterns as anything other than what, in those low moments, they have revealed themselves to be: pride. 

I can fold the laundry more perfectly than you can.
I deserve a quiet space, free from your chaos.
My project is worth more than your time and your feelings.
Your help is insufficient, because




Even as I write this, it makes me feel sick, and I am struck by how fundamentally cruel my pride is.  Even the word is short and sharp, and it is in my case absolutely, unquestionably accurate.

Our friend Will sent Craig and I a copy of the book, A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baillie, and I want to include an excerpt of a prayer from the second day, in the evening.  This specific prayer has been a challenge to me since I first read it this summer, and regardless of your take on Christianity or of faith in general, I think his words will cut you a little, as they cut me.  A necessary cut.

O Lord, forgive me for:
My failure to be true, even to my own standards;
My excuses in the face of temptation;
My choosing of the worse when I know the better;

O Lord, forgive me for:
My failure to apply to myself the standards I demand of others;
My blindness to the sufferings of others, and the time it takes me to learn from my own;
My apathy toward wrongs that do not impact me, and my oversensitiveness to those that do.

O Lord forgive me for:
My slowness to see the good in others and to see the flaws in myself;
My hard-heartedness toward the faults of others and my readiness to make allowances for my own;
My unwillingness to believe that you have called me to a small work and my brother or sister to a great one. 

It sometimes takes a pinch on the arm to discover that you have spent the last hour daydreaming in biology class, and it has taken far more force than that to awaken me to how I have concealed my pride under traits that are decent and productive and worthwhile.  Sure, it’s okay for me to fold our laundry however I want.  Yes, it’s fine to crawl on the floor and lint-mitt my carpet, foot by foot.  Crazy – yes – but fine, because it’s our carpet.  However, the second that my compulsions inhibit my relationships or communicate superiority to any friend or passerby, I have not only wronged my fellow person, but have seriously misjudged my own importance.  

I am not better.  I simply am.  

We all are. 

I realize after all of this has been written, that I have likely kissed goodbye any future help with the family laundry, and instilled fear and loathing into the hearts of sing-along lovers everywhere.  In all fairness, I deserve this.  But I ask for your grace and your liberal forgiveness as I seek to learn how to be thorough and how to work hard, without letting my pride drive those qualities into the stratosphere.  I am attempting what, for an alcoholic, might be impossible and certainly unadvisable:  to learn to have a single drink.  I am learning to restrain.  To reeducate.

My name is Michelle, and I am systematic and I am proud, and can be a total buzz-kill, but I am not better than you.   I may have a little more crazy flowing through my bloodstream, and many more delusions of grandeur in my head, but I am not actually better.  So, will you help me?  Will you leave your pens clicked open and sing your Disney songs at my table?  Will you hold my hand and whisper words of comfort as I let my husband fold our laundry?  Will you show me more kindness than I have shown you?  Maybe then, I will learn. 

Yes, maybe then.


Looking Out For Number Two

I looked up from our cabin’s off-white kitchen peninsula to see my husband, Craig, holding our son in the awkward, half-hug of a body vice grip and urgently asking, “What is in your hand, Milo?  What is that??”. 

Poo.  It’s poo, Dad.

Score one for Kiwi the Cat, who apparently thinks that dragging bits of yesterday’s processed kibble into the living room is a fitting exchange for the millions upon millions of Rice Chex and Goldfish crackers that Milo leaves for her on the carpet, wood floor and every possible crack and crevice within his ever-expanding reach.  At least she didn’t go for quantity, and at least he didn’t eat it.  In the face of impending dysentery, some things are still worth being grateful for. 

Public enemy “number two”

I keep telling myself that I will miss these days.  These days, so full of food flinging, mysterious wet substances and a reoccurring festival of tears when the hand sanitizer is taken out of reach.  I will miss this.  Careening like a drunken circus performer down the front lawn toward open water.  I will miss this.  Toilet paper-ing the house as proficiently as a high school senior on Halloween.  I.  Will.  Miss.  This. 

He’s been known to stick 





But really, who am I kidding?  Of course I will.  If, two years ago, someone had described the parenting of a young child as fun (and they did), I mostly thought they were as well put together as the embossed warning on my dad’s industrial strength, alarmingly effective ice-shaver: 

Be Careful Finger.

However, to my pride-swallowing surprise, they were correct.  Even more than correct, they were radically understating the fanciful glee-factory that lay ahead of us.  While Milo has caused me to exchange my ideas of sleeping in and sleeping well for simply sleeping at all, he has enhanced just about every other aspect of my life.  Except for road trips and dinner out, that is, and probably general hygiene, but who’s keeping track, really?  That multitude of people I know who have said, “you will see things differently”, or “life will carry new meaning”, were right, and I humbly admit that I am now learning to see the world with fresh eyes.  In particular, I am seeing the vast and varied world of excrement in a whole new light.

You might think this to be my segue into a tale of diapers and diarrhea (or diarrhear as we say up heyah on a regulah basis to keep the inmates from really losing it), but you would be wrong.  Today, I have my sights set strictly on feline feces.

As I puttered away down our three-mile gravel driveway on the twenty-five minute drive to town and the grocery store, I found myself periodically snorting and sniggering, totally amused at both the enthusiasm and significance of Milo’s morning discovery.  Don’t we all pick up a little crap every now and then?  More often than not, it looks like poo, smells like poo, and – oh, no – does it taste like poo??  Yes.  Gasp. Yes, it does.  And yet, there we are, clutching it’s nasty contents in our grip, seemingly unaware that we’ve seized hold of something that seeks to do us foul, filthy harm. 

Jealousy over a good-looking friend?  Nasty.
Bitterness over a wrong that you can hardly remember?  Foul.
Anger over something trite?  Filthy. 
An addictive habit?  Poo. 

(Especially true if that somehow is your addictive habit.  And especially unsanitary.) 

I don’t know about you, but – good glory – I know that I’ve picked up handfuls of the stuff in my years.  Interestingly enough, Milo released his small but surprisingly robust grip on his pirate’s treasure this morning far more promptly and agreeably than I have been known to release my vices.  This is a trail we could easily bunny hop down, because the only reason Milo gave it up so readily was because I offered him hand sanitizer in a trade, which is as I mentioned above, a favorite substance to squish through his fingers. If I hadn’t offered him something new, he would have been sorely tempted to snatch his bounty away from my grasp.  I believe there is a life lesson hiding here somewhere….

(Like, Why didn’t you notice the cat crap on your floor before your toddler did?)

(No, not that life lesson.  The other one.)

Just like that cat scat would have been toxic to Milo had it somehow *utter silent praise* been ingested or had festered in his grip for too long, the nasty habits and harmful characteristics I have picked up are also lethal to me if I don’t learn to offload them.  Which, I think you’ll agree, isn’t as easy as simply relaxing my hand.

Today’s episode was important for me, because as time progresses, I am increasingly desensitized to what I’m hanging on to:  it’s weight, it’s smell, it’s  *gag* texture.  I get so desensitized, in fact, that I completely forget about it.  I fail to see that I am bitter.  I overlook that I am jealous.   So I am thankful for the reminder this morning to reflect on my rancid baggage – the unhealthy and distancing things I have held onto – in hopes that I might spark a decision to put them down.  I’m reminded that, so far, I have chosen to embrace these things and that unless I make a deliberate choice to release my grip, they will persist and fester and ruin me. 

I am grateful for Milo, in innumerable ways, and realize that over time and through new experiences, I will become even more grateful: for his perspective and audacity; for his lack of a filter and lack of fear.    But today, I am specifically thankful for this reminder, and for Craig’s masterful speed and agility, and finally, for someone paying any semblance of dutiful attention in this house.  


Scattered-Schmattered, and Other Lessons of Love

Craig and I were reminiscing the other day over an older couple that we know, whose children are grown and each pursuing a different dream or lifestyle somewhere on the globe – those who are still living, that is.  I have to wonder at the resilience of these two, at how they function in a capable and composed manner - how they even so much as form complete sentences - as so many pieces of their hearts are scattered across the country.

In what feels to be a cruel sort of emotional Ironman, we meet people, form deep and meaningful relationships with them, and then, often by necessity, learn to let them go.  These individuals may be children: met en utero or at birth or when brought into your family for the first time.  They may be parents: blood-related or adoptive, actual or surrogate, to your flesh or to your soul.  These people may be friends or mates, who have come into your life – haphazardly / in perfect timing /who you never expected – and have become as deep and connected to you as a foreign tree branch grafted into your trunk. 

Part and parcel.  

One and the same.  

And so your heart swells in size to make room for this new life, this new friendship, this new love.

And without realizing it is happening, as your heart grows, little bits of it become attached to these people, like the bits are coated with tiny Velcro hooks or pine pitch or that really sticky glue that packaging companies use to put the labels on pickle jars.  And just like that, right under your nose, someone has walked away with a piece of your heart.  It could happen whether or not you grant your permission.  It will likely take place completely under your radar.  And you will be left in the wake of what it means to love. 

It both a divine and terrible thing, to love: to feel the swells of joy at knowing and being known, and also the debilitating reality in the risk of loss and fear of separation.  Yet, we cannot have the first without the second.  There is no other way.  As we grow up, we are faced with this reality, and with the subsequent choice: to adopt the terms of risk and wrestle with its fear for the sake of knowing the incredible freedom of love and community, or to forsake the latter so that we will never required be to experience the former. 

For some, this risk is too great.  It includes the risk of rejection, and the possibility of being left behind or worse yet, left alone.  And so, some individuals choose the safety of a tight circle, of close borders and small wagers.  One may prove to be happy enough with these circumstances, but the heart’s call for companionship is as persistent as the suspicion that there may be much more to life beyond those tight confines.

To modify the common saying: little wagered, little gained. 

For others – for many of us, I would guess - we battle daily to see above and beyond the risk and fear toward the beautiful mess of human connection.  The challenges we face are great, but the triumphs of love are even more extraordinary, and as we experience knowing and being known, we learn to see more clearly that truly, any wager we make in the name of friendship is microscopic in comparison with our gain.  Upon this realization, we dare to connect once more; we dare to throw down another bet onto the table in favor of love.

And that’s how you end up, like me, with little bits of your heart in places like Washington state and Illinois and Florida.  How you have a specifically-shaped void from a piece that was plucked from this world, and how the journey to reach others who are far flung can seem as insurmountable as walking to the moon.  As painful as it is to have these people so far away - like the pronounced throbbing from a recent wound – let us be reminded of something downright miraculous.  When we have sent our love to so many scattered places, not only will our heart beat on, but also like the story of those five loaves and two fish, we will continue to have enough of it to go around.  When you meet that someone new - at school, or church, or your favorite microbrewery, or in a hospital room, handed to you by a large grumpy physician wearing purple - you will have enough love for that person, and upon meeting them, one more piece of your heart will quietly slip off to it’s new charge. 

I promise you, it is not a trade.  You do not need to lose an old friend for the sake of a new one.  You are not bound to stop loving your father because you now have a son, or your friend because you have a mate.  In the words of a favorite song of mine, love grows more love, and in fact, one relationship will often enhance another.  Many will benefit.

Milo and Jessa, being spectacular, or rather, themselves.

When I picture Craig, or Milo or my dear friend Jessa, who is three thousand aching miles away, I feel great love for them.   But as the shadow of fear approaches, and I stand facing the risk of impermanence and the length of the journey to reach my friends, I remind myself, as I remind you:  Love is worth it. 

Though fear can have terrible strength, and bear heavy clouds of uncertainty,

 Love is worth it. 

Though the risk of loss can be overwhelming and threaten you with loneliness,

Love is worth it. 

Though the distance can carry profound weight and your longing may need to stretch farther than you think can bear,

Love is worth it.

As we learn to love, you and I are forced to learn the skill of letting go.  If we believe that one is possible without the other, we are wrong, because the resulting product will not be love, but rather possession.   When we love truly, we are, in a sense, handing someone wings.  Love is an investment and an encouragement – an affirmation that you are valued – and as such, will likely propel you or your friend/child/parent/lover into a perpetual state of exploration and positive risk taking.  Of rising to the challenge and living in full.  This is what healthy love and true friendship looks like.  Possession, the destructive charlatan that it is, will do no such things.  It will promise fulfillment for its owner, but leave only a small list of questionable companions and relationships ruled by fear and control and layered in deceit.  This is not the way, friend.  The suspicion of our hearts is correct:  there is so much more for us than a thing that small.

So let us choose wisely – to risk it all for the sake of something that is immeasurable and beautiful and alive.

Learn to let go.  Graft in new branches.  Propel those you love forward.  And as you walk through this, and bits of your heart become far flung, do not be afraid.   Resist the urge to pick up the pieces.

Let your heart be


and you will somehow find it whole.

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