The Lesson of the Honey Jar

I stored it wrong.

It was because I wasn’t paying attention.

I took it off the counter and stuck it in the refrigerator. Once inside, I let it get shoved around.

Way in the back  behind the milk and cream, in the coldest part of the refrigerator, the jar of sweetness my sister gave me for my birthday lay forgotten.

A nectar jar.

Brim-filled with the culmination of summer buzzing.

I had forgotten it because I let the busy-ness and the to-do-ness clutter up my refrigerator and my life.

This day I was running, too, but I remembered at breakfast the gift hidden in the dark when the bread lay down toasted warm on the plate.

The waiting bread. The jar cold in my hand.

Lid twisted tight refused loosening.

I grasped hard and grunted low, the bread growing cold.

Not a turn, not a tweak. Sticky stuck honey gone hard.

All because I had put it in the wrong place.

The situation called for drastic measures. The nectar needed freeing so I grabbed one of those rubber discs that is supposed to provide the ultimate grip.  It took a few times, my bearing down, palm burning red blotches, before the lid yielded and finally came off.

I plunged my knife into the jar only to hit solid.

Honey gone hard.  Bread gone cold.

Jesus speaks: Just like your heart, beloved, when you put it in the wrong place.

A heart of flesh will turn to stone in the right conditions.  The sweetness of a beating love heart,  the softness toward the things of God, toward the things of others, goes hard when it is hidden away and forgotten.

A hard jealousy.

Everything always seems to go right for them. They seem to have the favor of God no matter what they do, no matter what their character.

A hard pride.

Fifteen women showed up at my bible study. I must really be connecting with them.

A hard fear.

What if God doesn’t answer me? What if He leads me to a Job-like life?

A hard cynicism.

What do we expect from that kind of person? It’s just who they are and they are never going to change.

The enemy of my soul is a tight wad.

He never let’s go, never lets loose with mercy, compassion, love.

He is all about the immovable, frozen up things that keep a person bound. The enemy of my soul isn’t dancing about in the flames. He is more at home in a light-empty ice-encrusted lock down.

But God.

An All Consuming Fire.

He moves me into the light filled places and I soften.

 I set the honey jar in front of the window after the knife did its work. In a matter of minutes the softening began and then the spilling.

Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.

A spring that spills. A honey pot that drips.

Nothing frozen here.

I am learning to keep my heart in the right place. In the light-filled presence of an All-Consuming Fire.

It is the only place for a hard busy-ness and a rigid to-do-ness to melt like wax. It is the only place for my heart of stone to become a heart of flesh.

The lesson of the honey jar keeps it and my heart in the right place.




The Leaving and The Letting Go

Two sons.

One already cleaving, the other just recently taken his vow.

Only daughters left, beauties- in- waiting.

It is the sons that really go. It is the sons that leave the first woman for another.

Somewhere between his third and fourth year the middle one packed a backpack, put on his dad’s old camping hat and announced through a grin shoved to one side of his face,

“Mom, I’m leaving.”

This was not a child bent on running away.

He was going on a journey and he had to get to it.

I watched him that day, from the kitchen door, confident, smiling;

He will only go so far.

But when he made his way down to the driveway he never looked back.  My heart skipped concern. The boy fixed his eyes on the broken pavement before him and never saw the pickup truck slow to a stop right in front of him.

This is it. This is when he will cry and come running back to me.

He did not run.  He did not come back to me.

My boy lifted his eyes to assess the grill of the truck and then stepped to the right of it and put his eyes back on the ground,  the beat-up hat sliding over his face and he proceeded to walk forward.

It was I who did the running that day.

Down the dirt driveway I went, rocks flinging from my feet and a mama voice coming from my mouth, the pound pound pounding of my heart screaming two terrifying realizations:  there will be more cars coming and my son meant what he said about leaving.

I should have known.

I should have known when he repeatdly snuck into the car to “drive” it only to kill the battery so many times the man from the towing company recognized his face.

I should have known when he  found purpose in packing his dad’s old lunch box, how he purposed his body on the stairs-turned truck, and how he purposed to say good-bye.

I should have known when he would lean against the windowsill, chin barely skimming the edge of it, placing little cars in a line to send them to destinations that lived only in imagination.

This one, the one in the middle,  who would hold my hand and my heart tight for twenty three years.

This one, the one in the middle, who would jump and climb and dance and say, “Mom, watch me!”

In the backyard tree, on the trampoline, from a theatre stage, and an airport window I watched him and he watched me.

Then without warning, this one, the one in the middle, would suddenly bolt for open spaces away away away from me.

The one who would tell me his secrets and dreams and confessions and fears since the beginning of his own words and then would skedaddle.

Off to the woods or into the shire, past mountain ranges through spanish speaking places and over oceans to sleep in  asian hut dwellings.

He is a Traveler, a boy bent toward adventure and love.

And now he has them both.

He is leaving and cleaving and I am letting him go.

Letting him go  tell another  his secrets and dreams and confessions and fears.

Letting him go to the one he was made for.


It is right and good for a mother to love a son fiercely.

It is right and good for a mother to hold him loosely in the fierceness so he is free to cleave and to cling to another that is his counterpart.

I stand with the Traveler’s father, opposite his bride and her parents, behind a curtain of paper garlands and golden leaves swirling light as I witness their first communion as husband and wife.

I let go.

The Traveler  begins his next great adventure holding another woman’s hand and heart tight. She will watch him and he will watch her and they will run through open spaces together.

Rules I Break


I needed some levity in my life the other day. It was one of those dreary, mist-ful days and I couldn’t get warm. I was thinking about my trip to Ireland a few years back and how common it is for it to mist and drizzle there. I thought about the Irish sense of humor, the way they manage to find humor even in tragic things like poverty.  I don’t think it’s because, as a people, they are insensitive.

From the little I learned of the culture and history;  the continual struggles of being invaded, then being indentured, and of course, enduring brutal poverty while living on rugged terrain that yields more rocks and very little sun, one would have to develop a good sense of humor to even survive.

It’s why my siblings and I laugh hearty out loud when we tell the story of making powdered milk during the Welfare Years.

Milk dust puffs up into your nostrils when you  dump a cupful of the powder into a container of water and you watch it slowly sink to the bottom turning the water the color of glue.

You try to stir it quickly because if you don’t, small lumps form at the bottom of the container and will not dissolve no matter how hard you stir it later.

Inevitably when you come home from school you will forget that you are poor and will pour yourself a glass of cold milk and as you down it and the taste hits the back of your tongue, you suddenly realize what you are actually drinking. You try to stop but most of the liquid is now in your mouth, along with chunks of tiny little milk globs that somehow taste like something pulled from a baby’s belly button, even though you’ve never actually tasted that sort of thing.  Somehow, you just know.

You want to be thankful that, although you may be hungry, you are not starving; you just wish your gag reflex wasn’t on speed dial.

It is this sort of thing that makes my sisters and brother laugh until our sides hurt. I wonder if deep into our laughter, we are actually relieved  that we have been brought to the other side of things, grateful.

Maybe the Irish sense of humor in the face of hardship and tragedy is their way of being grateful of having lived through it.

My levity for a misty afternoon when the details of life are piling up, the car is acting up, and the garden needs pulling up are these rules I can never seem to keep, for which I am actually grateful.


1.Eat a good breakfast every morning and be sure to include a protein.

I eat pie for breakfast.

2. Look your best before a doctor’s appointment.

I never shave my legs before visiting the doctor. I figure he’s seen a lot worse.

3. Never wear the same pants more than twice before washing.

I wear my jeans for almost a week. This is a throwback to being on welfare as a kid and I owned only one pair of jeans. Peer pressure and vanity forced me to find creative ways like ironing perfume into them to make them appear fresh and new.

4.Brush your teeth.

On a day I am not teaching, I won’t brush my teeth until lunch time. I’ve only eaten pie, so it’s not a big deal.

5.Never try a new recipe on company.

Somehow I manage to break this rule every time. No one has died. Yet.

6. Never get a new hairstyle right before a big event.

My mother said my date for the prom went white when he came to the door and saw my radical new hairstyle.  Apparently looking like Barbra Steisand in “A Star is Born” is not a good look for me, but it hasn’t kept me from breaking this rule.

7. Do a thorough cleaning of the entire house in the Spring and the Fall.

I Spring clean in August and Fall clean in November.  It’s why my wardrobe manages to be inter-changeable with the seasons,  just add or take away coats and gloves.

8. Get a haircut every six weeks and never wash your face with soap.

I do not get a haircut every six weeks because I wait for a big important event to do it.  I wash my face with whatever soap is sitting on the bathroom sink. People rarely compliment me on my hair, but I get told I have great skin. I think it’s genetics.

9. Send condolensces in a timely manner.

I wait to send condolensces long past the norm and I visit people in the hospital late. I figure people are still going to be very sad weeks later after a devastating loss and people in the hospital need a visit near the end of their stay, too.

10. Return library books every two weeks.

I do not  return library books on time.  I think 6 months is my record. I stick a five dollar bill inside the jacket of the book and call it good. My librarian has never complained.

11. Share.

I eat chocolate in front of my students and refuse to share. I am preparing them for real life.

12. Send thank you cards in a timely manner.

I do not send thank you cards in a timely manner. I do not have a good reason. I do not like this about myself.

13. Use the proper manufacturer’s required cleaner for the computer.

Sometimes I clean my computer screen with my own spit.

14. Tip people who provide you with a service.

I do not, nor will I ever, tip my mailman.

15. Do not share deoderant.

I am not above smelling like Old Spice.

16. Wear sunscreen.

I prefer sleeves and a floppy hat. Very Katharine Hepburn-esque.

17. Let others have the last bite.

Only after I’ve put some in a container for my lunch the next day in the teacher’s room. I am not proud of this kind of selfishness, but I need to eat.

18. Have only one junk drawer in the house at a time.

This is totally impossible. It’s not only impossible, it is downright un-American.

19. Return emails and phone calls in a timely manner.

I keep the email rule, usually. Phone calls? I’m sorry…did you leave a message?

20. Get eight hours of sleep a night.

I get nine.

The Details of Life

The leaves lie flat around the stone birdbath.

Their green is fading.

Their reason for staying attached to the overhead branches is over and done with. The summer shade and retreat for birds is no longer needed.

Just a few weeks ago the wind had taken up these very same leaves and they were blown about on their stems like a full skirted dress on a dance floor.

Swish swish swish.

Their time of attachment has been used up and now it is the time of their falling.

Thousands of them served a purpose in the wind and shade and nesting and they serve it now in the falling and dying.

The tree just stands there like it’s nothing to be publicly undressed.

It stands there like the shedding of its outer garment, its beauty,  its tree-ness, is normal.

The details of its life; its leaves, coming unglued, coming undone from its limbs, doesn’t faze the tree at all.

The details of my life, these things I must do, these things that cover me, make me what I am, or what I think I am, can be my undoing if I cling to them when they are long past purpose.

Hanging onto routines when change is required is like filling up a junk drawer with the Necessities of Maybe.

My refrigerator is a food junk drawer these days.

It’s because I’ve forgotten how to cook small.

I’ve forgotten what a meal is supposed to look like when it is just me and him.

Now the children are leaving and I am making too much spaghetti sauce.

I throw away cereal that has gone soft  in the cupboard.

I buy the extra large laundry detergent because I think the hamper is full and I change the sheets on unused beds.

My normal routines and details are shedding, falling away from me and I am stripped of what I have always known.

A House Full.

Refrigerator Full. Spaghetti Pot Full. Laundry Basket Full.

All this leaving leaves me wondering about the details.

Wondering how to leave the old details of life for new ones.

Wondering what  I will do after the shedding, after the leaving.

The detachments, some are blowing every which way, others are fluttering slow slow slow to the ground.

I will probably stand there, bare for awhile, perhaps the cold wind of dormancy will buffet me for a season, making me stronger, forcing me to go to deeper.

There will be surprises along the way.

Jesus is like that. Healing on the Sabbath. Interrupting funerals to give the dead back to the living.


Like roses  in October.

New chapters, new seasons, new details cascade all around me.

There is less food in the cupboards to prepare and less laundry to get on the line, but there are more babies and more daughters-in-laws and more extended families and more growing communities of faith… and there is always more Jesus for right now and for the time to come.

He’s got the details.

All the thousands and thousands of glorious details.

Brilliant, God.

Just Brilliant.