Sunday, June 28, 2009

Suffer me

I heard the phrase again the other day that never fails to get my back up: "I don't suffer fools gladly." I don't like it, mainly because it's often used as an excuse for being rude or dismissive of other's ideas and not giving someone a full hearing. A few years back I was interviewing a candidate for a job. Early in the interview, when I asked her to describe herself, she said, "I don't suffer fools gladly." It hit me as such an inappropriate statement for the interview, that, ironically, I didn't hear much of anything else she said and ended the interview as quickly as possible. I used her one "blunder" as an excuse for being dismissive. I didn't "suffer fools gladly" on that day. I'm not proud of that statement, but it's true.

I hope that we can teach our son to have more grace than me as he begins to see how profoundly we are all flawed. The great need of my heart is to have others suffer me, an insufferable fool.


One more unpardonable trespass,
one more intolerable slight,
one more day to suffer
insufferable fools.
You have your standards
and your righteous anger,
You are surely justified
in just one more bridge.
Pour the gas, light the match,
watch it burn, as you stand
blameless and alone
on your island
for perfect people.
Here’s the truth:
We are all fools.
Suffer me.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Sometime life as Supermom stinks. Well, frankly, it's a lie, the whole "supermom" idea. Working a full-time-plus management job, ticking away at a masters degree one class at a time, and striving to be all things to all the significant people in my life (and being ever mindful of the gap between who I am and who I ought to be)... well, life (or what I've made of it) simply can be overwhelming.

I realized a few weeks ago, shortly after returning from Grandma Kay's funeral (in a pensive mood about life in general), that most times I really don't see life for what it is, because I'm looking too closely. I'm in the middle of it, so I can't see it. I miss the patterns for the particulars.

People have so many metaphors for life. Life is a river. Life is an empty tomb. Life runs at you sideways when you're not looking (overheard that weird random imagery recently). Life is a truth wrapped in a lie, a hedge, a gate, a journey. Life. Always a metaphor. Nobody dares to look her straight in the face and name her.

I once heard a man say, "Sometimes the monkey on your back is just a lonely friend who misses you."

I think life is a monkey.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I recently overheard a strange snippet of a conversation about recognizing loved ones in heaven, which reminded me of the even stranger conversation Jesus had with a group of Sadducees who asked Jesus whose wife a woman would be after death if she had married a bunch of brothers (consecutively, not all at once). Jesus basically told them all that they had missed the point. I'm not going to claim great theological understanding of this passage of scripture, but Jesus said a couple things clearly. He said that in the resurrection men and women don't marry but are like angels. He also said that God is the God of the living. Those two concepts struck me as worth fleshing out a bit. Hence, what follows...

(Matthew 22:23-32)

Will I know you in heaven? Most likely,
but not as I know you now,
not by sight, not my scent,
not by the way you call for me
without ever saying my given name.
(It’s strange when you do say it,
like you’re meeting me for the first time
for a pre-arranged interview: “Is it you?”)

We will be like angels.

Angels don’t marry. They are on fire.
They have purpose in eternity.
They avenge. They serve.
They tell secret truths
to wrinkled men in ancient temples
and pregnant teenage girls.
They come and go on the earth
as if they belong here,
eating our food, drinking our wine,
finding characters to fill up God’s story.
They pull us in and put us back on the page.

So we come back to this earth,
to the story on this page,
because God is the God of the living.
This is where eternity lives,
in all that is creation and creating.
We are in the thick of it now,
this making of things,
as we make music, make dinner,
make love, make believe,
make up, make over, make do.

And thus you choose to believe
in a God who gives you
seven times seven
times to try again (and again)
to commit each moment,
each yes, each name
to eternity.

I believe I will know you in heaven
by how hard you try.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Grandma Kay

On April 28 of this year, my father's mother, Catherine Griswold, died after 90 years on this earth, leaving a legacy that included 9 children (7 having survived her), 21 grandchildren, and 24 great-grandchildren. Several years ago, I wrote about my grandmother in my journal. It was part of a rediscovery of myself, my family, my inheritance, through words -- words that were "first thoughts," personal and unpolished. In her memory, I share these words now:

Grandma Kay, aka Catherine Griswold, my dad's mom, had nine children -- five boys and four girls. What comes to mind about Grandma Kay is that she is quiet and kind. And fair. With more than twenty grandchildren and a handful of great-grandchildren thrown in for good measure, she would have to be. Fair, that is. I remember her saying once a long time ago, when I was little, that she would not play favorites with any of the grandkids, and if she did have one or two that she liked maybe a bit better than the others, nobody was going to know about it.

Fairness translated into food in large quantities: Make sure you have plenty for everyone, so nobody could say they didn't get enough to eat or that so-and-so got more of such-and-such than they did. I remember one time sharing a can of Campbells chicken noodle soup with my grandmother, just the two of us at the long table in her long entryway/dining room/kitchen. I don't know where everyone else was, but that day I had Grandma Kay all to myself. Chicken noodle soup never tasted so good.

But usually that endless table was full of aunts and uncles and cousins -- at least when I was there. It would be the holidays -- Christmas or Thanksgiving or some other clan gathering -- so we were all at Grandma and Grandpa's house. And because we were all there, we were all eating. There would be the requisite turkey, of course, and huge mounds of mashed potatoes and gravy. But those were footnotes next to the casserole upon casserole dishes of lasagna and green bean casserole and jello salad, and just about any food that fixed up easy in a large casserole dish.

That's what I learned from Grandma Kay about food and about life: Make sure you have enough for everyone. Don't play favorites. Get a large enough table to fit everyone.

In subsequent Griswold family gatherings, I've noticed a tendency toward delicious dishes with dubious names -- e.g. "garbage bread" and "dump cake." It is rather the kitchen sink approach to cooking -- and with wonderful results. Maybe the lesson here is "you can't judge a book by its cover -- or a recipe by its name.
(July 15, 2004)

Grandma Kay's legacy, obviously, included food. The aptly named Dump Cake (see below) has become a perennial favorite at Belmonte family gatherings. It's easy to make, delicious warm or cold, and goes with anything. Enjoy.


Butter 13 X 9" pan
Dump in 1 can cherry pie filling
Dump in 1 can undrained pineapple
Dump in 1 box yellow cake mix
Melt 1 stick butter
Pour over cake mix
Dump on 1/2 package coconut
Dump on 1/2 package chopped walnuts
Do not mix!
Bake at 325 degrees F for 1 hour

Optional: serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Friday, June 19, 2009

Collection of gratefulness

Last fall I started writing down 3 things each night that I'm grateful for. I haven't kept up with it consistently, but have managed to gather together an interesting collection of blessings. Here are a handful:

I'm grateful for...

1. The dining room table. It is good to have a place to gather and eat pancakes, drink juice, and wake up together in the morning.

2. The baby monitor. Although Sam is no longer a baby, I still use the monitor at night. I find listening to him breathing in his sleep to be very comforting and reassuring to me.

3. A sermon strong enough to make me squirm.

4. A mother-in-law who likes to shop.

5. A playground at sunset with my son.

6. The ability to laugh at myself.

7. My car. It gets me to and from work, and it's completely paid for.

8. Reliable baby sitters.

9. Opportunities to learn from mistakes. (Life is a gift, no matter how often or how horribly we muck it up. If there's still a chance to learn, then I'm still alive and kicking, praise God.)

10. Nice clothes. Yes, I do really like nice clothes, and I'm grateful to have a few. So there.

11. Wise counsel from a friend.

12. Loyalty.

The Opposite of a Fence

A few years back I was leading a writing workshop. One of the exercises I gave to the group was to respond to the question, "What is the opposite of a fence?" I participated in this exercise as well, and what follows was my response:

A fence keeps out, so the opposite must bring in.
So is the opposite of a fence a hug?
Or is it your eyes looking into my eyes
telling me that it is safe to come close?
A fence separates, so the opposite of a fence must bring together.
Is the opposite an apology?
Or is it your acceptance and mercy
when I say I'm sorry and really mean it?
A fence divides properties,
so the opposite must share properties.
Is the opposite a gift?
Or is it your open hand of friendship?
A fence keeps things in, so the opposite must release things.
Is the opposite a key?
Or is it that one word from you
that frees my heart?
Your all-embracing acceptance and mercy,
the great gift of your life
-- your friendship even --
this is the key that unfences my heart.
Thank you, Jesus, for being the opposite of a fence.

Although this isn't exactly about motherhood, I want my son to understand fences in this way.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


I wrote the following thoughts for a Christmas Eve service a few years back. The story surrounding Christ's birth is rich soil for contemplating parenthood.


After praying and waiting and hoping for years, a faithful servant, you couldn’t believe it when the angel came to you. You could not believe the good news, and for your unbelief you were made silent. It almost seems unfair.

But Zechariah, your heart is humbled. And your silence brings you closer to God as He speaks to you in your quiet. There is so much for you to hear. Your son will eat locust and draw people to repentance and make straight paths for the Lord.

You are silent as you watch your wife of many years grow wide about the waste. You are silent as you hear her at the door greet Mary and bless her. You are silent, yet your heart sings because you, too, feel your son leap for joy as he is filled with the Spirit in the womb.

Your silence is a pregnant pause—a time of waiting before labor, before birth, before the coming of the messenger and the coming of our Lord. I long for such a silence, the last rebuke before rebirth.

~December 2003

Friday, June 12, 2009

Grandma Darrow

The level of detail stored in our memories about our parents and our parents' parents is truly remarkable. Pick up an old family photo. See where it takes you. Go ahead, don't be afraid. Try it.


That you were wearing a dress at a picnic
did not startle me.
It was that you were there at all,
grey cotton scarf pinned neatly around your neck
as usual, to keep out the draft.
You wore your comfortable brown shoes
because your ankles were swollen.
It was July.

You were not unwelcome, I assure you,
but you were supposed to be gone,
and I am supposed to remember you
in all the comfortable places:
Lunch on Sundays,
tomato soup and grilled cheese,
talk of school, mom’s work, old Aunt Hazel.
If I moved just right the kitchen chair would squeak
and I would giggle and look away
from the handkerchief around your neck,
where something bad happened to you
many years before.

I picture you happy in your garden,
with the corn and tomatoes in neat rows,
and the strawberries run amuck.
And I see you in your ’75 Dodge Dart,
driving straight and sure through
the streets of Lansingburgh,
your last car which I inherited
as my first car when you were gone.

That’s how I should remember you,
but there is one picture of you
I try to hide from myself,
the one of you, but not really you,
half you on a hospital bed,
greyer than your cotton scarf
that no longer hid the hole in your neck.

That is my last and smallest picture of you,
besides the flowers, and old women
with too much perfume, weeping quite realistically.
So seeing you today at the picnic
near the young maple that I had planted
behind our house on Amelia Drive,
next to Danny with the kitten Smokey
and cousin Joe with his music on the chaise,
it all seemed wrong somehow,
like an old movie with the sound off
a half beat.

My husband’s touch on my shoulder
brought me back to now.
I dropped the photo from twenty years past.

There is one other thing I hide from myself:
Of all the pictures, tastes, sounds
that are your memory,
I cannot recall saying I love you.
You were so sure of Springtime, and God,
and three square meals. Surely
you must have known this small thing.


Ruth & Naomi

I've always been fascinated by the story of Ruth. What a strange and interesting journey of family. I wrote this poem after having lived in two different "foreign" (to me) countries in less than one year. I felt after that experience that I was beginning to get a glimpse of understanding of Ruth's experience.


Leaning back in your favorite chair,
in the home you also inherited,
in this city of bread you have known
most of your life,
you ask me

if in moving from Moab,
a widowed childless child,
I chose bitterness over loneliness
for the mere promise of barley harvest?
Was it so simple, so easy for me,
to cling to my foreign God?

There must be more than this, you think.
I see the way your eyes narrow,
your head tips slightly to the left,
how you consider me, sip your tea,
and stroke your chin
in one fluid motion.

I tell you now:
It cost me.
To embrace a stranger for life
then lose him to death, oh yes,
it cost me my world.

Destiny is not so easy.
Entering Bethlehem,
we were discussed among the townsfolk.
You returned to your people to start over
with your son’s widow, of all things.
I was something new to them and to me:

I listened with care to conversations, and saw
sharp furrows around dark eyes
eventually give way to laugh lines,
softening in my mind
and in truth.

Your cup is empty,
your head nods,
your interest spent.
And I am home now.

No, not so easy,
but I knew that hope of family
in the abundance of Boaz.
Somehow I glimpsed the royal line,
the promise of eternal redemption,
in a barley harvest.

~March 1998


I wrote the following poem in the early days of our engagement (a thousand years ago!), as we were beginning to imagine a lifetime together.


My fond enigma,
your bold cold nose at my window
demands entrance from the snow.

I open the door,
watch you edge up the stair
and light upon a corner chair

As if to say,
"May I stay for tea before I go?"
As if I could say no.

Take off your coat,
perhaps your shoes --
isn't that why you came?
To stay past sundown,
past seasons, past rain.