Friday, September 23, 2016

Not a Tree Yet...

I have a 3 year old and a 1 1/2 year old.  They are both boys.  They are both spirited.  Our house is scattered with books with titles like “Rasing your Spirited Child” and “What to Expect THE TODDLER YEARS” and “How to Talk So Your Kids will Listen.”  The other day, my neighbor walked into my house and saw one of the books on the kitchen counter and she said “I bought that exact book 30 years ago when my kids were 3 and 1 1/2”.  And somehow it made me feel better.

Last month, I was at the ENT doctor with Charleston, the 1 1/2 year old who was climbing on anything and everything and wouldn't be still for a second despite his raging ear infection.  Even the doctor couldn’t get him still enough to look in his ear.  As I lifted the baby, and caught him from another fall off of another height, the kind doctor put his hand on my arm and said, “Bless your heart.”  And somehow it made me feel better.

We were at church this week and it came time for the Children’s Sermon.  The children paraded in from the nursery and sat on the front row. I always get a little nervous that my son is going to say something loud and inappropriate (though I am coming to realize the best place to say something loud and inappropriate may actually be in church.)  My 3-year-old sat on the front row and turned around and said, “hi mommy” and then turned back to the preacher.  The preacher had an acorn in his hand, and I know he said some beautiful things about the seed having to go deep in order to grow, but what I remember most is him saying “This is a tree, but it’s not a tree yet.”  And I saw my little straw haired 3 year old boy’s head peeking out from the top of the church pew and I got it for a brief moment.  “He’s not a tree yet.”  And somehow it made me feel better.

I went for a hike yesterday.  Which is a rare occurrence right now, but is again becoming a spiritual practice for me.  I walked up the mountain and breathed and prayed but mostly just breathed - and I passed an acorn.  It was green and lay in the middle of the red clay covered trail.  It spoke to me. “Pick me up.”  But I walked on up the trail.  I turned to run down the mountain.  And I saw the acorn in the middle of the trail and again, I ran past.  It spoke to me “Pick me up.”  I used to see signs everywhere - as metaphor after metaphor of life and growth and spirituality.  I used to not run past.  I used to pick up every metaphor I could carry.  But my kids don’t sleep, therefore I don’t sleep.  My boys are “spirited” so I use most of my creative energies trying to find creative outlets for their energies.  So basically, I am full of excuses.  I am too tired for metaphor.  I am too busy for acorns.  But yesterday, I listened to the acorn.  I turned around and ran back up the trail and said out loud, “I have to pick this up.”  I knelt down and grabbed my little green acorn and ran down the mountain and put the acorn in my car.  “It’s not a tree yet,” I said as I sat it down and put my car in drive and zoomed through my day.  “I’m not a tree yet.”  And there is something beautiful here about going deep in order to grow - but for now, I am just going to take it for what it is - I’m going to carry this tree around with me - and know “it’s not a tree yet.”  I’m not a tree yet, my sons aren’t trees yet, my husband is not a tree yet, my best friend is not a tree yet.  This green acorn is my reminder to treat others and myself with all tenderness and kindness and compassion as we grow and fail - and to hold our imperfections as gently as little seedlings.  

The day went on, and I picked up my boys from preschool.  I got the little one buckled in his car seat while Burton, the 3-year-old, climbed and rummaged all through the car.  He ended up in the front seat and he found the acorn. He held it high and said to me, “Look mommy, it’s a tree, but it’s not a tree yet.”  And I said, “Yes, baby, be gentle with it, because just like us it has to grow.”

-Mandee Radford Langley
Mandee is 1/2 of the acoustic/folk duo Alathea.  You can find their music on iTunes, spotify and wherever else you download your music.  They are also on Facebook and instagram: alatheamusic

Thursday, April 19, 2012

chicken or the egg? our 2012 winter...

My husband brought home a surprise two weeks ago... three little baby chickens, and it got me to thinking...  What comes first, the chicken or the egg?
I’m not asking in the practical, scientific way, but in the mountain girl trying to be existential sort of way, trying to make sense of things that are impossible to understand or trace to their source. 
And after all, that’s what the question is meant to do.

Cristi and I (in the collective form, Alathea) have been a bit mute for the last couple of months.  We like to send out monthly email updates to our listeners, and we rarely and occasionally think of moderately clever things to post on facebook and twitter about.  We even enjoy answering emails, phone calls and texts, but honestly we have been a bit numb, and as a result, silent.  In February, Cristi’s family walked (and are still wading) through a deep, deep heartache.  Cristi’s four month old niece Anni passed away unexpectedly in her sleep.  Even typing the words rips at the reality.  Anni’s mom and dad were left here on this side of heaven, with questions that don’t have answers and arms that ache to hold their baby girl.

Two days later, as the family was planning baby Anni’s funeral, Cristi’s toddler, Samuel was diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted immediately to the hospital.  It was a week from hell - with images of the eternal, splintered with flesh and bone and actual human hearts that break. Though it wasn’t the first time we had been pushed to the limits of our understanding, that was the week we fell over the edge.  Still, there were moments in the midst of our pain where Heaven itself split open into our hell - little mercies so that we could keep breathing and walking and singing and even laughing.  But, after that week, a cloud descended - not the holy kind that covers the mountain - just the dense fog where the earth itself seeps of smoke and you can’t see your own hand in front of your face.  We walked through our days, on the path that we couldn’t see, and waited for heaven to open up again.

Then, I got sick too.  For the last few years, my health has teetered with tides of good weeks and bad months.  And this time I was swept up in the wave of illness, again.  My husband and I had planned a trip to Florida - though we are adults without children, we wanted a Spring Break.  We wanted a break from winter.  Plane tickets were bought, hotel rooms booked, plans to visit families made - even a convertible reserved.  Then I got sick, so sick that we replaced the week’s trip with surgery and a 3-week-do-nothing-recovery.  Five months into our wedding vows of sickness and health, and the scales were already unbalanced with the weightiness of sickness.  And as a result, for our Spring Break, I was glued to the couch with massive amounts of pain medicine.  And in his week off, Wes worked on a surprise for me - he bought the most adorable baby chicks and got to building a chicken coop.  I watched as the structure began to take shape, and that’s when I realized the answer to the age old question - maybe it’s not the chicken or the egg that comes first, but maybe it is the coop - the structure - the sanctuary - the things that support and give shelter.

Many of you have pre-ordered the next Alathea projects - like the children’s recording that we are making this year.  Originally, we were going to officially start the project in these last few months of winter.  But what comes first, the songs or the inspiration itself?  Maybe it’s neither.  Maybe it’s the coop.  Maybe it’s the support that gives us the structure to create.  Maybe it’s the sanctuary our families provide, the haven that our friends give us, and the shelter that you, our listeners cover us with.

We are realizing that both the song and the inspiration hatch out of this house that you give us to create them....  So, thank you for your patience with us.  Thank you for your continued belief in the music of our lives. The cloud is lifting as we huddle together beneath the shelter, though there are days when winter creeps back in and threatens to steal this spring.  I can promise you this:  we are working on the new music with our whole hearts.  We carry every experience of grace and the little mercies we stumble upon in the fog into every note and every word we write.  We can’t wait to share the new songs with you.  Thank you for being our very own chicken coop.  And though it may be a little weird to say it, we hope that very soon we have some fresh eggs to share.
Maybelle, Hazel + Iris
Don't touch....

The chicks are safe - Thumper (the dog) is blind....

Mandee and Cristi painting the coop...
The coop under construction...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mandee's Wedding - the rock, prayers set in stone

Mandee and Wes's wedding was on Oct 22, 2011 -- here's a little something they shared with their guests on the back of the menu....

the rock
prayers set in stone

There is a spring that comes up out of the earth, high on the mountain, behind the cabin where I’ve lived for twelve years.  The water rushes down and forms a creek that gathers in pools and waterfalls as the mountain descends.  There is a trail that follows the creek bed up to the falls and then on to the top of the mountain.  I have followed that trail in every season. 

A few years ago, I began the practice of picking up a rock at the bottom of the trail, praying a prayer, and carrying my rock up to the place where the trail crosses the creek.  Somehow in the journey up the path, the rock became the tangible prayer that was spoken in breaths, yet held in my hand.  I would leave my rock, my prayer, at the creek and walk back down the mountain.  Over the years, I have gathered a growing pile of prayers and left them resting beside the creek.  That place, where my prayers lay, where the water comes out of the earth, where the sun shifts through the trees, is a holy place.  The Celtics have a tradition and belief of “thin places” - places and times where the veil that separates heaven and earth is worn thin.  Thin places are gifts that we stumble upon - holy moments that shape us.  My prayer pile on the trail by the creek is one of those places for me.

After Wes and I started dating, we spent lots of time hiking and running through these mountains together.  We would pick up rocks at the bottom of the trail and carry them to the creek.  My pile of prayers soon became our pile of prayers.  In July of this year, Wes asked me to go for a quick hike with him.  We picked up our rocks and started up the mountain.  When we got to the creek and laid our prayers down, Wes proposed - there in that holy and special place. 

Thin places are not only actual places, but they are places in time.  Our prayer is that our wedding day is one of those thin places. 

This rock was carried out of the mountain for you.  This rock is our prayer of blessings and peace for you - take this home and when you see it, remember today - a day when the veil between heaven and earth is worn thin.....

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Vacation with a one year old - we Can't Keep from Singing

We just got back from our first vacation with Samuel.  After hauling his pack and play, strollers, toys and highchairs to the beach, I quickly realized that vacation with a small child is not vacation at all, but it's really just a change of scenery.

This may be slightly oversimplifying, but Mandee and I were talking about how life changes are sometimes really just changes of scenery. 

Being the mother of Samuel is a change of scenery on steroids... love, surprise, exhaustion, smiles, frustration, messes... all in massive doses.  But at the end of the day, it’s not just about me and my experience.  It’s whether or not I loved well in my experience... loved my baby, and all the other folks I’ve encountered, which are not exclusive because I cannot love my baby well while being oblivious to the needs around me.  I’m not talking about the sentimental kind of love that’s all warm and sweet, but the kind of love that considers and then follows in action.  I’m not so good at it, but as Krista Tippett says, “Love is not the starting point but the goal.  It is not something we are born knowing how to do, not something we fall into, it is something we spend our whole lives learning.”

So as we’re learning to love, hoping to love well... husbands, baby, music, the earth and all of it’s people, love is the constant and everything else is just a change of scenery.  “Brothers and sisters, let’s love each other, because love comes from God... God is love.  If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”  (from 1 John 4)

The night I found out I was pregnant, I lived in Nashville while Mandee was living in East Tennessee, 4 1/2 hours away.  I called her at 11pm my time, which was midnight her time.  She got off the phone and wrote the song, “Can’t Keep From Singing.”

Our friend told her little girl that the song is about Samuel, and she said, “I don’t get it, it’s not about a baby.”  Maybe not literally, but it’s about an answer to a prayer that we haven’t thought to pray, and it’s about peace when this new change of scenery is coming, when we don’t have any idea what tomorrow will look like, except that we’ll be in it, trying to make sense of it with our faith and our songs, learning to love in the moment.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Last Sunday was the Sunday after Easter - and, since I was being drug to church by my boyfriend, I in turn drug Cristi and baby Samuel to church with us.  We had plenty of excuses not to go - and it’s not that we don’t like going to church, it’s that we travel every weekend and work in churches and sometimes on the rare Sunday morning that we have off, we try to catch up on rest - and well, we have been busy, and we are tired.

The minister stood in the pulpit and asked the question that should be, and used to be so easy - when did you see Jesus this Lenten/Easter Season?  For a girl who is a self-proclaimed seeker, finder of Jesus in the unexpected places, I had no answer.  40 days and nothing.  Could it be? 

It all started in the right direction - the first Sunday of Lent, Cristi and I managed to get ourselves to church without any prodding.  The minister spoke of how Lent is an anticipation of all that is going to break through...light through dark, flowers through snow, life through death - these 40 days of Lent, the days we were to live in the anticipation of the promise.  We were so moved that morning, that at the closing hymn - BE STILL MY SOUL - Cristi wept and her teardrops soaked the open hymnal. 

But, since that Sunday, we’ve been busy.  Crisscrossing the midwest and southeast, playing concerts, coming home, unloading the truck, washing dishes, cleaning the house, changing the sheets, setting up the sound system, rehearsing, planning birthday parties, giving the dog his medicine, tuning instruments, changing guitar strings, making coffee, making breakfast, making lunch, cleaning up after lunch, setting the table, holding the baby, singing to the baby, changing diapers, finding teething rings - and fast, sweeping off the porch, writing songs, taking out the trash, recycling, reading books, planning new CD projects, taking the truck to the shop, booking and scheduling more concerts, paying bills, rubbing coins together to make ends meet...

The seasons speak of the rhythms of our lives.  Our daily tasks, I am learning, also speak, and most times I miss the voice.  I don’t hear. 

But, I think of the daily ritual of sliding my hands into the warm dishy soapy water.  My kitchen window looks west out over the garden where the soil has been tilled, the dirt turned up and in early spring we face the task of pulling out the rocks so that something can grow out of the hard mountain soil.  I think of all the nights at sunset, that I have scrubbed the dishes clean, and glanced up and out at the garden - I have felt a digging at my heart, a need for a clearing of the dirt, so that light can come through darkness - flowers through snow. 

So, last Sunday as I sat fidgety in the pew, faced with the question - when did I see Jesus this Lenten Season? - I found great comfort in the New Testament reading, a camaraderie with the walkers of the Emmaus road.  I mean, Jesus himself came up and walked with them and they didn’t recognize him.  But, it was in the rhythm of daily life - feeling hunger, getting dinner ready, setting the table and sitting down with the stranger, that the moment of recognition happened and is happening.  Jesus was there - and had been there all along.  And, they ask themselves - where not our hearts burning within us?

The church service closed last Sunday with a prayer.  A 30 year old man with downs syndrome attends the church and he stood in the back and prayed out loud.  I couldn’t understand much of his holy utterances, but I did catch one phrase, as if he had lifted from the most ancient of liturgies - Oh God, keep our hearts burning within us. 

So, tonight, when it is time to do the dishes, I’ll look out at the garden.  I’ll notice the first brave green buds coming through the dirt, fulfilling the promise that winter doesn’t last forever, that light can come through darkness, flowers through snow, life through death -  and I will feel the truth of it in my heart - the moment of recognition - and I will whisper the sacred prayer - Oh God, keep our hearts burning within us. 

                                                     Cristi in the garden last summer.....

Monday, February 21, 2011

Freedom (and Water) in our Nation's Capital

Justin convinced me to accompany him on a business trip.  Since Alathea had the weekend off and Mandee was on a cruise with her sister, why not.

I knew it wouldn’t be a vacation, per se, as Samuel is 6 months old, but at least it would be something of an adventure, the conference being held in D.C.

I can sum up the first few days...  Justin was in meetings, mostly.  And Samuel was mostly either really great or really impossible.  No one ever told me that motherhood is an exercise in mental illness, euphoria to desperation in a matter of seconds and back again when baby smiles at you all innocently as if you had just imagined the fit he just threw.  All of this mania fueled by sleep deprivation, and it’s a wonder moms, as a population, aren’t guilty of more than wearing outdated jeans.

On the third day of the trip, Justin had only one morning meeting left, after which we had no agenda.  His boss recommended the architecture museum or the Jefferson memorial, both of which neither of us had visited before.  We also had the option of resting in the plush hotel room, only Samuel and his momma were ready for a change of scenery.  We also needed to leave enough time for the room to be cleaned as the trash cans were full of dirty diapers and coffee cups and to-go packages from the hotel deli.  Oh yes, and the poop smear on the bed sheets from Samuel blowing out of his diaper.  Long gone are the days of just asking for extra towels and forgoing the room cleaning.

Justin returns from his meeting with an idea.  At his meeting with Rachel, she informed him of a protest/demonstration for freedom in Egypt taking place at the White House. 

One of the many things Mandee said before she left was something to the effect of, “Throughout the centuries and through the course of history, we have heard the cries of freedom from the oppresor coming out of Egypt.”  Her profound statement came somewhere between, I hope I packed the right stuff to wear, and are you sure you know how to give Thumper his medicine?

I want to go to the protest.  I also know what it will take to get there in less than an hour:  Samuel needs to eat again and have his diaper changed.  I need to wash bottles so that I can pack his bag.  He’s finally napping peacefully and so we will have to wake him which may result in a fussy baby for the afternoon.

I also need to put on some make-up, do something with my unwashed hair, get the baby spit-up off of my jeans.

Post flurry in the hotel room, we somehow manage to get out the door in a timely manner.  We walk to the metro station, guess at where we were going and how much money to load on our tickets. 

Samuel has his first ride on the subway and he’s happy, taking it all in.

We get off at metro center where all of the different trains meet.  Still not exactly sure what happened but when we exit, we are literally dead center in the middle of Macy’s.  All I know is that we’re not in Unicoi anymore.

We find our way out of housewares, out of cosmetics, out of the mall and towards the White House.  Justin keeps commenting on how few people are out today.  It’s Valentines Day... our beloved nation’s capital is not exactly a hot-spot for the most romantic day of the year.

We are sure that once we get to the White House, we will find masses of people  congregated to celebrate the liberty of humanity.  Instead, we find a small but impressive demonstration of end-of-the-world-ers, replete with newly painted vans and a culturally diverse group of believers.

An asian lady asks Justin if he would like a brochure.  She explains, “We’re rooting for the rapture on May 21st.”

“No, I’m alright,” he says.

“I hope so,” she comments, with a bit more condescension than compassion.

Wow.  We laugh.  But I start to feel slightly guilty, as if we should have heard her out.  What if she’s right.  In my head, I make a reference to the verse, “No one knows the hour,” partly to convince myself.

The next morning, we head to breakfast at this cool little restaurant across from the hotel.  Great food.  Eclectic.  Charming. Diverse to the extreme.  Open to families, babies specifically, unlike the sushi joint we tried the night before.

We are greeted not only by the staff, but also by the man at the table next to us.  “Hey, little guy,” he says to Samuel.  “Alright.  How y’all doin?  Sure is nice out today.  What’s up little man?”

Being the introvert that I am, I start to get anxious that our whole meal will be talking to this man.  But he settles.  For whatever reason, I can’t stop looking at him.  He’s still smiling.  Kind.  He asks his server if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to get some more water.  I realize that’s all he’s having.

It’s never safe to assume, but likely he’s homeless.  And as he gets up to leave, I help Samuel wave him good-bye.  He smiles and waves back and grabs his crutches and hobbles out. 

I’ve been thinking a bit, ever since, about faith, about freedom.  I’ve been thinking about this man’s faith as opposed to the woman rooting for the rapture.  One triggers my guilty complex.  One leaves me feeling vulnerable, human. 

And I’ve been thinking about how fortunate we are to live in a land where our faith is not mandated, where we are free to root for whatever we choose.

Still, for all of our freedom, there will always be poverty and injustice, sometimes echoing out of Egypt and sometimes in the smile of the man sitting next to me.

And I’ve been thinking about our table-neighbor making good on Jesus’ offer, “Come and drink from a well that never runs dry.” 

I echo his words, “Excuse me, Sir.  If it’s not too much to ask, could I trouble you for some more water?”  I wait for my glass to be filled.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Two Ticks, Two Tumors

Our border collie Thumper loves to lay on his back and have his belly rubbed.  When he first showed up on our porch 12 years ago, he was covered in thick matted fur.  He would roll over, we would dig through the nastiness, scratch in just the right place on his belly and make his legs kick and flail in the air.  Nothing would make him happier.  During his transition from homeless mountain mutt to bubble bath, sitting on the couch watching Project Runway dog, we began to find ticks embedded in his skin underneath all of his fur.  We washed him and had him shaved so he could start the process of becoming a proper inside dog.  Every time we found a new tick, we got in the habit of getting out the tweezers and holding the dog down as we ripped the tick from his skin.  One day, as he was reveling in his belly rub, I noticed two new ticks embedded in the skin on his stomach.  We got the tweezers and I pulled and pulled and couldn’t get these two ticks to let go and come loose.  We immediately made an appointment at the vet and took him in.  When the vet came into the exam room, we explained the situation, and she rolled him over to check out the ticks.  She took one look at his belly and explained to us - those aren’t ticks, those are his teets.  Oh, yes, we realized then that boys have teets too, and yes, I had been pulling at Thumper’s with tweezers.  Poor dog.

And, it seems we haven’t learned much about male mammals in the last 10 years even   though Cristi has gotten married to one and now has a baby one.  The other day Cristi and I were changing Baby Samuel’s diaper.  “Boys come in here - something is wrong with Samuel” we yelled to the fellas in the other room.  As they ran in we started explaining “he’s got a tumor or something down there”.  Justin, the husband, paused and said, “are there two of them?”  “yes”.  “Those aren’t tumors”.  For those of you who don’t know, we thought we should share what we learned - at about 6 months of age, the boy parts drop.  Don’t panic, they aren’t tumors.