Author: Kelly Chripczuk

Slow Down (an invitation)

(I call this picture "Converse in the Wild")slow down,just bebe stillbe presentlisten to, and dwell in, what ishere, now, this momentwhat love?what fear?and what possible doorwaybetween the two?(grace, always, is the door)

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A Painter Stopped By, Out of the Blue

I started painting three years ago because our new-old farm house had large wall spaces; wide, paneled surfaces. 
I started painting because we couldn’t afford to buy art to hang. 
Driving home from the grocery store one day with the twins buckled in to their car seats in the middle of the van, I eased around a corner, down a steep hill in a wooded stretch of road and saw several large framed paintings and prints in a stand of overgrown brush, leaning against a tree.  I quickly pulled over to the side of the road, popped the trunk, and pulled the paintings inside.  Two, in wood frames with glass, showed hunting scenes, ducks rising out of wooded brush.   Another was a large print of a white wicker basket overflowing with pink, teal and baby blue flowers, something your grandmother might have hung over her couch in the eighties. 
I bought magenta paint, turquoise and midnight blue and started painting over top of the prints and on other found canvases.  I borrowed more colors from a friend. 
I started painting because the bright colors made me happy.  The slick movement of spreading paint across a surface was calming, like coloring with crayons, like trailing your fingers through fine sand.
I painted words because I didn’t believe I could paint images and because the words in my head and heart needed space, needed a place to land, to become incarnate, objects of permanence.  I painted words because I saw a tutorial online about how to do it well with sticker stencils. 
I painted words and hung them on the walls of our house like tattoos. 
// 
Last week, a real painter stopped by our farm house.  He paints in oils, sells his work in galleries.  He wanted to know if he would take pictures of our chickens, our polish rooster in particular. 
“I paint,” I said, “I just started this fall.” 
“It’s always nice to meet another artist,” I said. 
He showed me pictures of his oil paintings, scrolling through the images of landscapes and farm scenes on his phone. I didn’t show him my paintings, which suddenly felt like child’s play. 
“I paint words.  I’m a word person,” I said. 
Later, after he left me with his business card in hand, I looked him up online.  His website is outdated.  I found grammatical and spelling errors and was pleased.  He, at least, is not a word person. 
// 
I wondered if his visit was the encouragement I had prayed for fervently that morning; prayers filled with longing, prayers beyond words.  But after he left I looked at my own work with a cutting eye.  It’s hard to write when you’re discouraged, hard to create when you don’t believe. 
When I returned to my studio, my computer, I saw that a friend had sent a message about a job opening – an opening for a position I have kept an eye on for years.  I looked it up.  The job is full time, in my field.   It would leave no time for painting, for writing, for working at the library.  But, in exchange, there would be money, status, a title and many other things I image are more substantial, more valuable, than words tattooed on walls with stencils and acrylic, words strung across pages, hung like spiders’ webs, simultaneously sturdy and insubstantial. 
// 
I had asked the painter whether he retired before painting full time.  He smiled and said, “In a way.”  Then, he explained that they live off of his wife’s job.  I tell him about my husband who works for the state. 
“It’s a good steady job,” I said, “but we’re not getting rich.”  I don’t say what I mean which is that we’re not making ends meet. 
I tell him about working at the library, about adding a tab on my website for design services.  “But how much can I do?” I asked myself aloud and him, because he was standing there.  “How much can I do and still be able to write?” 
He didn’t have an answer.  But he said he’d stop by sometime to take pictures of the chickens, the view of the fields, the distant mountains across the street.  I told him if he was going to take pictures of the hens, he’d want some of our handsome black cat too.  Maybe he will set up his easel here sometime and paint plein air.  The kids would love that, I would too. 
// 
A letter came in the mail recently, notifying us that the farm land across the street is in the process of being rezoned; if the local vote passes, it will be protected farmland, unable to be sold or divvied up for development.  We never expected to buy a house like this with its view of open fields and rolling hills in the distance.  We’ve often assumed it would someday be sold for development like so much of the surrounding fields have. 
I mentioned the rezoning to my Dad the other day, over lunch.  “It’s good for us,” I said. “Value-wise,” I added. 
I don’t know why I said that, though.  Maybe because that’s the way he thinks, the way he talks, in dollars and cents.  But, the truth is, we don’t want to lose the view to progress and development because we love it.  It's something like the way I don’t want to lose my life with words and paint to a paycheck and a title: I love it. 
I started painting and writing because I needed to. 
I’ll keep painting and writing because it’s still true. 
 

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This is What God is Like

 
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?  Or if the child asks for fish, will give a snake?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!   - Matthew 7:9-11 
Our kitchen has a drawer we refer to as “The Snack Drawer.”  Unlike “The Weapons Drawer” – which is a thing of my five-year-old’s making and does not actually hold weapons, but instead holds things that could potentially be used for weapons – The Snack Drawer, as its name would imply, does hold snacks.
Each of my four kids are allowed to have a snack during the day at school, so each of them reaches their hand into The Snack Drawer once every morning or two to grab something to stash in their backpack for later in the day.  Some things in the snack drawer (like Cheezits or Goldfish crackers) are considered to be top notch, and these go first.  Mid-level snacks (like pretzels and granola bars) go next.  Last resort snacks include, but are not limited to, boxes of raisins and things they claim to be allergic to. 
On a recent morning, a murmuring and rumble of discontent arose in the kitchen as three of four kids stood peering into the snack drawer.  From where I stood, near the kitchen sink, I could see the drawer wasn’t empty.  But still, they complained.  I moved in for a closer look and the children split like the sea and lifted their gaze from the near-empty drawer to me.
It was, indeed, time to replenish. 
“Hold on,” I said. 
I went to the pantry in the laundry room and pulled out the box I’d been saving.  I carried it into the kitchen, with the twins trailing behind me, and held it high over the open drawer.  I tipped the box, dramatically, and assorted snacks in red packages, orange and green, poured down like rain.  The kids circled and pawed at the pile, as though I’d cracked open a piñata. 
My one son, the one with the Weapons Drawer, grabbed an off-brand peanut butter granola bar.
“Mom!” he said, in a deep voice he puts on when he feels the moment demands, “I LOVE THESE!” 
Everyone’s hand found something good.
Isaiah, exuberant in the face of so many good choices, eager to hoard the things he loves best, announced that he was going to take four or five snacks to school with him that day.  I quickly restated our one snack a day limit. 
That moment, with its flash of color and exclamations of delight hangs, like a snapshot in the corner of my mind.  That's what God's like, I think.  God - the giver of good gifts, the filler of drawers we once thought too empty or sparse to satisfy.
* I'm well aware that too often 'the drawer' of life is empty, sparse, or filled with things we'd rather avoid.  But, scripture is clear that there may not always be a direct correlation between the circumstances of our lives and the character of God.  So, rather than drawing conclusions about God based on what we find in life's drawer, we might be better served to see the good things as signs of God's presence because, even in the midst of life's struggles, we can still be certain of the God's character.   

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Communion (A Five-year-old’s Perspective)

The Communion with God is simple, so we will not be dazzled; so we can eat and drink His love and still go about our lives; so our souls will burn slowly rather than blaze.  . . . the Last Supper did not take place on one night in one room, and to eat God's love, we do not have to even open our mouths; we can be walking, sorrowful and confused, with a friend; or working on whatever our boat is, fishing whatever it is we fish for; or we can be running naked, alone in the dark.  The Eucharist is with us, and it is ordinary.  To me, that is its essential beauty: we receive it with wandering minds, and distracted flesh, in the same way that we receive the sun and sky, the moon and earth, and breathing.  
                   - Andre Dubus in Meditations from a Movable Chair
Five-year-old Isaiah loves bread almost as much as he loves his Mama, which is to say, quite a lot.  He also loves juice.  When there's no Sunday school and he's forced to endure the long church service upstairs in the pews, communion - with its tempting combination of both bread and juice - offers a bright respite in the midst of the otherwise boring service. 
Seated during prayer at the service’s beginning on Easter Sunday, he bobs and weaves his head from side to side, searching out the low table at the front of the church.  Then, he exclaims, “I see bread and juice!” 
His brother, Levi, sees it too.  “Mom,” Levi says, like someone who’s just discovered cake and ice cream is on the menu for breakfast, “We’re dippin' bread!” 
I turn to them, scandalized by their outdoor voices, and stretch my neck forward, my eyes wide, one finger pressed to my lips.  I silently tap my finger to my closed lips. 
They settle back in the hard pew to wait. 
My boys love communion and my hunch is it’s because they love to eat.  Sometimes this strikes me as sacrilegious, but, mostly, something in their enthusiasm - the way simple appetite and desire breed longing and consummation - also feels right to me.  They're happy to be part, to take part, and receive something good and nourishing. 
When the time comes, at last, I send Levi under his father’s guidance and push Isaiah along ahead of me.  I wonder again, as we exit the end of the pew, about the rightness of allowing children so young to participate in communion, but they’re so happy, so eager, I can’t see holding them back.  We move slowly toward the altar in two lines that bulge and clot the aisle as adults shepherd groups of children.  Seeing my older son behind me, I push him forward too, intending to lean over he and Isaiah both and orchestrate, regulate, their reception of grace. 
Isaiah reaches the half loaf of Italian bread first.  It sits on a plate outstretched in front of his face, level with his big brown eyes.  He reaches for it two-handed, manhandling the loaf which slides forward precariously the slanted plate and the server and I both lunge to stop the fall.  In my mind, Isaiah’s hands are everywhere (germs!) and I grab the loaf to steady it, tearing off a small piece of soft white dough while he wrestles with the dry, flaky crust.  He peels back a sturdy piece as big as his forearm and we turn to the dipping, then back to our seats.
While the rest of us have quickly dipped and swallowed our own crumbs, he sits in the pew tearing off bite after bite of flaky crust.  When his twin brother asks about the size of his serving, Isaiah replies, with deep contentment, “I didn’t try to get it so big, but it came off, so I kept it.”

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Twins, the Cross & Community

(A stomach bug arrived at our house last week and returned again today, wreaking havoc on my writing plans and life in general.  So, I thought it might be a good time to re-post this one from the archives, from back when the twins were just 18 months old and we lived, daily, in a sea of chaos both deep and wide.)   Looking at Stars The God of curved space, the dry
God, is not going to help us, but the son 
whose blood splattered   the hem of his mother’s robe.   - Jane Kenyon      
“You know you have blood on your shirt, right?” my husband asked.
 
I was getting ready to meet a friend at a restaurant after a long, exhausting day and my husband was concerned with the bloody stain on my shoulder.
“No,” I said, “I already changed my shirt once.  Did you see his clothes?”  I led him over to the laundry basket and showed him our eighteen-month-old son’s clothes, streaked and stained with splotches of red.  It had been a bloody day.
That morning I stood at the bathroom sink holding Levi who cut his finger on a can he looted from the recycling bin.  I turned his body out away from me, hoping to avoid staining my new shirt.  But while I rooted through the medicine cabinet, looking for a band aid, blood gushed out of the tiny cut. It ran in a bright red stream down the hand that held him, splashing onto my pants and shoes as he waved his little hand around.
It drop, drop, dropped to the beat of his pulse, falling onto the white counter-top like so many crimson beads off of a broken necklace.  I felt it clinging to the hairs on the back of my hand and marveled at its rich scarlet hue.
I called my four-year-old to fetch a washcloth while Levi's twin, Isaiah, wandered in anxious circles by my feet.  Finally, we all sat down at the dining room table and I doled out band aids with great liberality.  I put two or three on the finger that still gushed and two or three on other fingers and on his other hand in hopes of distracting him from pulling them off.  Then, of course, Isaiah needed some too and my assistant, the four-year-old, as well as the little girl I was babysitting.
It wasn’t until later that I noticed Isaiah had blood on him too, places where it had splashed and splattered as he stood nearby watching me tend his brother.
Looking at Isaiah’s splotched clothes, I thought, “When your brother bleeds, it gets on you.  This is what it means to be a brother.  This is what community really is.”
*   *   *   *   *
Blood is messy and vital, rich, and yet we talk of it so complacently.   Somehow, in our dainty sipping of communion cups, we manage to miss the mess and I wonder if, in missing it, we don't also miss the communion. Christ came and died on the cross, where blood drop, drop, dropped out, splattering onto those who gathered near.  This is the community that Jesus establishes, a blood-splattered, blood-drinking communion of sinners turned saints.
 *   *   *   *   *
The stomach bug hit later in the week.  It started with Levi in the middle of the night standing, crying in his crib and we went through layer after layer of sheets and pajamas, as my husband and I tag-teamed the dual tasks of comfort and cleaning.  Isaiah stood in his own crib, just a few feet away, looking-on, bleary-eyed and curious and each time we laid Levi back down to sleep and crept our way back out of the room, Isaiah laid down too.
By the next day they were both down with the bug and I sat holding them on the couch while John took the older kids to the store to stock up on saltines and Pedialyte.  I sat in the corner of the couch with Levi in my left arm and he drifted into a deep sleep, exhausted and drained.  Isaiah fussed, tossing and turning in my right arm, slipping off, then turning and begging his way back up into my lap the second his feet hit the ground.
Levi slept on through it all, so I didn’t dare move and just about the time I was getting frustrated with Isaiah he turned, suddenly, and threw-up all over me and his brother.  Levi woke, of course, as I grabbed a changing pad and laid it across my soaked chest.  But then, just like that, they both dropped off into a heavy sleep.
When my husband came home some forty minutes later, we were sitting there still, the three of us covered in Isaiah’s vomit and I thought, again, “This is what community is.  When your brother, throws up, it gets on you.”
*   *   *   *   *
 
I wonder sometimes about how we do community these days, all distance and convenience, all house-picked-up and table-manners-please.  Community, real community, is a cracking, bleeding thing.  It’s the voice that breaks into a sob on the phone without holding back and the “oh, thank God, you stopped by because I didn’t know how I was going to make it through this day.” Maybe we settle for something less because we’re afraid that, if anyone gets too close, we’ll vomit our messy lives all over them.  But isn't it possible, my friends, that this bloody, messy communion, this breaking open of our lives like so many loaves of of bread, is what it’s really all about?

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