Tag Archives: symbol

Disequilibrium and Ducks and What is Saving Me

Today, I am joining up with Sarah Bessey’s synchroblog: What is saving your life right now. It just seemed like the right question.

Our next-door neighbor wears overalls with no shirt underneath, and he only puts in his false front teeth when company is coming.

He mows both of our lawns with his John Deere lawn tractor. Some days, he picks up our kids to ride along with him, one on each knee, as he rides slow, straight lines across the overgrown grass.

And sometimes, he raises ducks.

He found the most recent crop a month or two ago – just little balls of feather huddled behind some car tire in some parking lot. Their mother, gone.

He built a wooden pen in the back of his garage. When we saw them for the first time, they huddled together at the back of the pen around the heat lamp. Safe and warm and waiting.


Since Dane was a baby, we’ve gone to these parent-child classes through the school district. The kids play, and the moms sit in an adjoining room with cold cups of coffee and learn words like equilibrium and disequilibrium – the pendulum-swing of a child’s disposition.

It has to do with their growth cycles and their changing, and for months they can be precious and sweet and eager to obey, and then ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE and we are in disequilibrium.

Dane has been like a train, flying towards it for months, and now we are there. These last few weeks, he has been fearsome in his independence, pushing hard against every boundary, crumbling at every no. We are fighting about nap and potty training and food choices and sharing. He gets frustrated and smacks me in the face; he melts into tantrum – a noodle on the floor, debilitated by his rage.

I love him fiercely, and I am fiercely angry, tired to the bone. Another blogger posts a list of her favorite parenting books, and I spend the day wracked with guilt because I have not read any parenting books, and maybe if I had, there would be less shouting and screaming and exhaustion. Maybe I’d be able to navigate disequilibrium better. Maybe I could lead him through it.

But it feels like we are both there, drowning in uncharted waters. It feels like disequilibrium is happening to me too. These days, I struggle to pull myself out of bed at five in the morning to write. I feel swallowed by all this exhaustion.

When I do manage to get up, I sit for a long time in front of a blank page, and the words don’t come. I feel wholly inadequate. There’s so much tired built up in these bones that even the coffee doesn’t help much.

Last week, Andrew was gone on business, and I stopped writing altogether. I let my RSS Reader pile up with unread posts. I took a day off from this blog spent the week madly cleaning and decluttering, as if by restoring order to my kitchen, I could restore it to my soul.

I threw away old spices and expired Jell-O and filed all my varied ingredients into pretty containers from IKEA. I cleaned out the freezer and the deep freeze and made Pinterest-worthy inventories that I affixed to the side of the fridge with sticky tack. I stayed up too late; I woke up too early.

There was a whole jarful of expired mustard seed. Jesus once said that faith as small as a mustard seed could move mountains, but mine was expired and dusty, stuffed at the back of my cabinet.  Unused.

I tried to dump out a few of the seeds for a photo, in case I ever decide to blog about it, and they skittered madly around the kitchen, disappearing under the oven and the fridge. Renegade mustard seed that I will be finding for years.


I can’t believe how fast they grew, the little ducks. One day, barely as big as your hand. A few days later, little wiry pre-adolescents, pecking around their pen.

Then one day, I stood on the deck in the morning and watched as the six of them waddled in a little pack across our backyard and into the pond to navigate the waters together.

Every morning for a week, a few more ducks flew in, until suddenly the pond is teeming with them. It’s like they sensed, somehow, that this is a safe place to grow and play and live and splash. Our neighbor throws feed into his yard and they come, eat, swim, fly.

And this is what is saving me: in the early morning when I am too tired to do this again, when I’m in the middle of the first cup of coffee and the cursor is still blinking over the blank page and the kids are stirring—much too early—in the monitor…this is when the ducks come in.

They fly fast and low over our deck and down into the pond. There is something powerful to me about this soundless arc of feathers and flight, and I catch my breath when I see it.

I am saved by this daily reminder of the simplicity of rescue. Of redemption. One day, six ducklings were scooped off of the hot, unyielding concrete. All it took was a little warmth, a little food and light and water.

Just look at them now. They are sleek and strong and beautiful. They are floating under the bright orange sky. It is another beautiful day.


Communion: The giving and receiving of bread and wine (or wafers or crackers or grape juice, depending on the church) in remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross. The mysterious command of Christ at the Last Supper, before his death:Do this in remembrance of me.”

For a year, we lived and taught in China, my husband and I, and I was not cut out for it.

In the unfamiliarity and strangeness of it all, Loneliness came, and it was strong and destructive like a parasite. It grew unchecked, and then it was bigger than I was.

We came back to America. The church people said, “Get plugged in!” and so we did. This Bible study. That house church. I was hurling myself against all the programs, trying unsuccessfully to light that spark, to find community.

The church people said, “Feed yourself,” so I drove to Caribou every morning before work. I sat in that fake leather chair with my Bible, my pen suspended over the empty pages of my prayer journal.

But Depression doesn’t just make you sad, it makes you empty. You reach for the things you need, but you can’t absorb them.

At first you are desperate in your hunger, willing to try anything to get at that Bread of Life. But then the numb sets in, and it is a kind of giving up, a kind of starvation.

Instead of eating, I drank. Margaritas. Coffee. Wine. Coffee. Vodka. Coffee. I drank until I felt full. I was tipsy or I was jittery, always a little bit shaken, a little bit hungry. I hardly noticed my arms growing thin.

It is a whole, long, hard story, and I won’t tell it all here. I will tell you that the way back was hard. It included a lot of therapy and a prescription meant to get the synapses in my brain firing again.

But the way back also included, briefly, a church called Solomon’s Porch: a strange, beautiful little community in Minneapolis that called themselves “holistic,” called themselves “emergent.”

They met in an old church building, the pews removed, replaced with old couches turned into a wide circle. When they celebrated communion, it was with tables set like stations around the sanctuary. At one table, hearty, homemade bread. At others, twelve grain or seed bread, whole loaves waiting to be torn. Here there was grape juice in small, biodegradable cups; there, a goblet of red wine.

However you needed it, however your heart could absorb it, whatever communion tradition you resonated with, all of it was here. Available. The table set for you.

Music played and people talked softly as they got up and moved about the room, and it was communion with God and with one another happening at once, all of us gathered around the mystery of it all. Someone was ripping the bread, and we were passing it to each other. Feeding. Being fed.

And this is the heart of it all, isn’t it? When it comes down to it, the story of Jesus is this: we are hungry, and he gives himself to us like bread. He says, “Be filled.” He says, “Feed my sheep.”

This is where it all comes together: someone you don’t know hands you a piece of bread, looks straight in your eyes, and it is community and sustenance all at once.

They offer you the broken, beautiful Love of Christ, and you take it, absorb it. Find that it is enough.

Baptism Redefined


Baptism: From the Greek root-word baptizein, meaning to plunge, immerse, sink; hence to wash; to be immersed. (from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)

I once heard a nun lead a congregation in a meditation on the love of Christ.

Think of it as water, she said. Think of it as a room filling with water. It is rising around your chair, surrounding your ankles, your legs, your waist.

It is cool. It is filling in all of your empty spaces, your open hands. It winds around every strand of your hair. It is filling up the whole room, and you are suspended in it.

Don’t be afraid, now. This is not drowning. Take a breath. Feel yourself fill up.

Think of it as pure love. The love of Christ. You are immersed in it—every part of you touched, every part of you buoyed, floating, held.


I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

It goes so fast. You were standing, then you are pulled underneath the water ever so briefly, then you are hoisted back up, dripping.

You slip up the steps out of the baptismal pool, your gown slapping around your ankles. The congregation is singing a chorus. “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.”


But at dawn, there is no one at Glencoe Beach on Lake Michigan, even in the summer. You sit on the life guard stand, and the seagulls fly in from all the far reaches of the air to sit on the sand and wait.

When the sun comes up, you walk into the water. It is cold at first, but you keep moving forward towards the light. Finally, you force yourself to go under all the way, and it is so quiet down there, so cool. The whole world is silent, muffled by the bigness of all this water.

Think of it as water, the nun said. Think of it as pure love.

When you bob to the surface, the whole world is orange and pink, and the sea gulls are back circling the sky. The new day is beginning, and you are in it, and this is a kind of baptism too.

You are alive. You float until your fingers prune.


Baptism - Christianese Redefined

Baptism: (n.) The complete immersion of oneself in a body of water as a way of symbolizing death to the old way of life and the embracing of new life in Christ.

There is a photo I took in junior high of a friend and her parents on the day of their baptism. The three of them are standing a few feet apart in the man-made pond of a local mega-church, each with a different member of the pastoral staff.

Behind the pond, the church is brown brick with two entire walls of tinted windows. It is corporate and stark. Every weekend, more than 20,000 people attend a service there; at the time this picture was taken, it may have been the biggest mega-church in the country.

They brought me along to the service to take the picture and to hold the baby…and because they didn’t really know anyone else there.

The picture is a little blurry. I tried my best to angle the camera in a way that it captures only the three of them—to manipulate the memory so that it looks as it was meant to be: a holy moment, a transcendent moment. A reverent silence, the church looking on with joy and grace.

But across the bottom of the frame, there are strangers. They are turned, talking to one another. One mopping his brow with a white handkerchief. One pulling the hair off the nape of her neck.

You can hardly blame them; after all, it had been going on like this for two hours—an assembly line of baptisms. Seven people at a time make their way into the pond. The head pastor on the intercom says over and over again, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” while the staff in the water perform the ritual…in and out.

In the picture, the three of them are waiting to be submerged. They are the “Before” version of themselves, not the new, transformed version coming up wet and smiling from the pond.

Before them, the church people are mildly interested, mostly distracted. They do not realize how necessary they are to this moment. That to come up out of that water into a new life with Christ requires help. Love. Prayer. Grace. Support. Arms that hold you when you feel like you’re falling apart.

The congregation fidgets at the shore, looks at their programs, looks at their watches. None of them notice the three people leaning back. Falling backwards. Maybe even drowning.

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