Free Yearly Examen Printable

As this rather eventful year draws to a close, I find myself a little overwhelmed trying to make sense of it all. I turn to an ancient Ignatian practice. The Examen. There are many online resources that explain this prayer practice, especially as it is practiced daily. I couldn’t find a free printable resource for a yearly examen, so I gave it my best shot, and am offering it to you as one way to bring 2020 to a close.

How?

Print out the journal pages. Find a quiet place. Welcome the presence of the Holy One to accompany you as you reflect.

There is an initial page to remember the intentions you set at the beginning of the year. The following three pages are for a timeline of your year as it unfolded. As you bring the events of this year to your awareness, pay attention to the emotion evoked. What were you grateful for? What did you grieve? Write these in the sidebars. How did you respond to life as it unfolded? These are your consolations and desolations. What responses brought you closer to God? What responses moved you further from a sense of Immanuel’s presence with you? Remember, the griefs and gratitudes are how you felt, the consolations and desolations are how you responded to the movement of the Spirit in your life.

As you engage in this exercise, pay attention to any patterns that emerge or nudgings you sense from the spirit. The final two journal pages are for final reflections and setting intentions for the coming year.

May the Lord Bless and Keep you!

-kim

Muddy Middles

It is the middle of the story that gets all muddled and muddied, at least, that is the case in the best and truest stories, the ones that resonate deeply in the core of us. Merry and Pippin lose each other. Edmund betrays his siblings. The princess must flee the kingdom. Miss Bennet spurns Darcy’s proposal. Love cools for a time, the rightful ruler is usurped, the dream seems to die, the hero is wounded.

Once upon a time, the world was good. God says it was so, but also, it is a truth I feel in my bones. It is a truth as apparent as the chickadee, or a newborn babe, or spring, or the hopes I have for my children, or the motivation I find each year to try to coax some living thing from recalcitrant soil. Philosophy went awry when it supposed that this goodness was only a reflection of some even better, more perfect good. The little chicadee is only a shadow of “the perfect form of bird.’ All that we see is only imaginal, an imperfect reflection of a better, more perfect form. We can blame Plato for this thinking, but in some cases, Christianity ran with it. We held on the that idea, for after all, aren’t we created in the image of God, marred by the fall?

Yes. and No. Humankind is created “in the image of God”. Perhaps in the way that ancient rulers set up their image in the lands of their holdings, a visible reminder of their rulership, but that is besides the point. That is not the full story. The is an origin story, but not the end of the story. Our end is and never was to attain to an original state of being God, to think so is just silly. The little chickadee need not attain to the perfection of the perfect, imaginal bird, it is good because it is a little chickadee, as is the next little chickadee and the next. In the present moment of the God who is always present, the little bird is all that a little bird need be. It is even, in its flits and flights and singing and squawking, dare I say, complete, fulfilling a telos of glorifying God and enjoying Him.

A poem I am savoring this week, “In the Name,” by Paidrig O’Tuama, places things like erectile dysfunction next to table communion. Boob jobs and confession. Bisexuals and prayer. It feels almost sarcireligious to mention these all to human states next to what we consider holy. We have too long done a disservice to the Holy. The Holy came to our reality, or so the story goes, and in doing so, bathed even low things, the things we despise, in love light.

The middle is muddy, and glorious, and not the end of the story, and good because Goodness came and crapped on the dirt, spit in our eyes, and stank up the room with his sweat. In our aspirations of greatness, we have forgotten simple goodness. No, we have not reached the end, the telos. We have not completed the metamorphosis into “more like Christ”, but God and Goodness are present with us now. Even in the muddy middle.

Adventures in Crisis Parenting

It started when one of my teens swallowed a half dollar, or was it a quarter? She wasn’t sure, but gosh, her throat hurt. How she got it down her gullet? No clue. Why? Also no clue. The size of the coin meant a trip to the ER for an x-ray. The coin was well on its way to coming out in the end. A few days after that ER trip, the other kids and I began to run fevers. Another round of calls made to the pediatrician. “Find Covid testing”, we were told. If only it were that easy to find Covid testing days before people were wanting to travel for Christmas. We found a pharmacy with an open slot in a neighboring town. I loaded one of my feverish children into the van and off we went. When we got there, there were no tests. I drove my feverish child home. The rest of the week was a sick, sweaty, daze.

I fell back into the wise advice a friend had given me. “Stick to three priorities a day”. OK, so priority 1: feed people, care for the sick 2: attend to the messiest part of the house 3) Christmas. Christmas came, bright, but subdued, this year. That is, until the kids set the kitchen on fire. Luckily, no one was hurt and there was no damage. Also, I got to use a fire extinguisher, so, like, cross that off the bucket list. Wow! What an eventful winter break!

Ok, so back to trying to organize my life. I made up a list of daily habits that I hoped to add to my three priorities. Things like drinking water, getting outside, taking time to meditate. Best laid plans, right?

The following day another one of my older children started displaying some concerning neurological symptoms. The onset was sudden. Another call to the doctors office, another, longer trip to the ER. This time the ER was flooded, as we are at the height of a pandemic. They gave my child medicine that helps with her symptoms and set up a neurological consult.

Ok, so forget good habits, back to three priorities 1) schedule that appointment for the consult 2) feed people 3) take a walk to clear my head. We got through a day. The adrenaline let down hit like a truck the next day. I did not do much besides feed my family and make sure people got meds in the morning, but in the afternoon I was feeling up to a quick trip into town to top off with gas and drop a package at UPS.

I sat in the UPS parking lot. I’d gotten myself some hot herbal tea instead of coffee because water>caffeine. I breathed. I thought about how sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or shake my fist at the sky and scream FML! I laughed. I though about maybe going for a quick walk at my favorite park. Supper was in the crockpot, and the kids were well and happy for the time being. Why not?

Then the phone rang, an invitation to yet another adventure…( our out of the way country lane became the end point for a police chase. I came home to a cadre of emergency vehicles)

Parenting is hard. Parenting kids with special needs can be even harder. This I know. I am learning to practice radical acceptance, that everything that enters our lives has something to teach us, even the painful. Even the hard. To trust, like Julian, that “all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” All is being brought into the goodness and justice and wide mercy of Christ. I am also learning to hold my priorities and habits lightly. The priorities are generally things that must be done. The habits are things that are good for me to do if I am not in the middle of a crises. The trick is not to try to check all of the things off the list in a day, the trick is when the crisis ends, to do one of the “things” rather than escaping into less helpful activities. To spend 10 minutes in gratitude or mindfulness before numbing myself with social media. TO drink water before another cup of coffee, that it really doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do, as long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other. Even in chaos, there is stillness and rest.

A dream

Last night my sleep was haunted by the strangest specters

First, on a great ocean, a battle commenced, and perhaps the world was about to end. Some people were cheering it on, and some were trying to stop it. Everybody had an agenda. Some wanted power, some sowed into chaos, some just wanted to see what the next thing would be. Finally, finally, the temptest ceased and there was safety.

And I drove home along a beach. I stopped when I saw a really cool church service. People worshiping on the beach, and man, I really wanted to be there. I posted about it on Facebook, and continued on my drive.

But then, then I was home and itinerant brown laborer showed up at my door. I thought he might be Jesus. He asked for some grain to make some bread. Hadn’t we been praying for our daily bread? I dug through my fridge and cabinets to find some wheat. He was with me. He was like, “whoa, you guys have a lot of food! You have meat? You eat a lot of meat. Are you rich?”

We found some potatoes and grains that he could use to make bread. He pulled out ancient tools that I did not know the names for. I wondered, in my dream mind, if this Christ was limiting his omniscience to the tools and practices of the ancient world in which he lived.

He had an adze and some chisels, tools of a carpenter, and with these and the other tools I could not name, he fashioned small, nutrient dense loaves. We then talked about church a little. “Yeah, I tried to join a church once,” he said, “They didn’t like the people a brought with me. The people I am friends with are weird and don’t fit in. They interrupted the flow. I’m looking for another church maybe, but only if they don’t mind my friends.”

Earlier that day I’d driven past a really cool church on the beach, many miles away. I told him about it, about the families, and the scriptural orthadoxy, and the great music. He wrinkled his nose at the words scriptural orthdoxy, as if to quote the Princess Bride in saying “those words do not mean what you think they mean”.

Or, I pondered, looking at the less picturesque beach outside my own door, “we could do something here?”

“Yeah,” he said, “maybe if we build it from the ground up, they will like my friends.”

I wondered if this were really Jesus, or I was being duped into pouring my time and strength and energy into starting a ministry with some homeless rando.

Then he died. The coroner said his name was Joe, and his last name was long and Polish and I couldn’t pronounce it. His wife had been looking for him. He wandered away from home one day, with only some carpenters tools and some strange ideas about the gospel. In the end, I was really glad I believed him.

Mental Health Monday

About a year ago I started taking medication for anxiety. This was after many years of vitamins, exercise, prayer, even counseling. I thought “its just vitamin deficiency” or “its just left over post-partum blues” or “its just the trauma of my teenage years”. The wake up call was when my eldest birth child began showing the same symptoms that hit me, and my sisters, as we approached puberty. My daughter had not had the same trauma. She eats healthily and exercises. She has not had to recover from four difficult pregnancies and c-sections. She is just “blessed” with genetics that make for lousy conduction or production of neurotransmitters, similarly to how my 10 year old has been “blessed” with a mouth that is going to need significant orthodontia, or my husband is blessed with genetic mutation that makes it difficult to walk . We live in a fallen world.

Before I started medication, the smallest interaction could send me into a downward spiral. I’d have panic attacks anytime I was at the grocery store without the kids and heard a siren. Some days I was afraid to drive. On offhand comment or look would have me questioning my inherent worth for days. I would feel intense guilt anytime I didn’t get a perfect score on an assignment. I assumed that I was unlikable, that people, especially my husband, were only putting up with me. I was often overwhelmed or even paralyzed by day to day tasks. I spent a lot of time “disappeared” into a world inside my head. Alternately, I’d spend myself on elaborate projects, trying to externalize some of the excess intensity in spreadsheets and plans. I did not know how to express anger, so I didn’t, and struggled with food instead.

Since starting meds, I feel like my brain is in a place where I can process life and interactions rationally. I am more productive, because I am not paralyzed by overwhelm. I do not care so much what others think. I can more easily recognize all of the goodness and beauty that fills my life. My husband loves me. It’s ok to get the answer wrong sometimes. My home and children are lovely, the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places. I’ve even been slowly losing weight, as I learn to deal with intense emotion rather than suppressing it.

All this to say, there is no shame in treating mental illness. I am kinder to my children now, as I am not weighed down with such intense overwhelm. I am able to better serve my family. I finished school and applied to seminary. I had the strength to make decisions that others might not understand, but were the best for my family.

When I began my journey toward mental health, I did not know the resources that were available. I assumed it would be unnecessarily expensive to receive counseling or be prescribed medication. I assumed mine was a particularly difficult case that would take experts. I was wrong. I found a pastoral counselor who sees me on a sliding scale fee. I have also benefited from spiritual direction, as I sort out what is God and what has been distorted thinking. I get my medicine from my OBGYN, whom I see once a year. A family doctor might also prescribe, and there are services available at the community services board for counseling and medication.

All this to say, mental health is nice. It makes me a more loving person. It has definitely been worth pursuing.

When You Help People, You Mess With Them

Those words are written on a post-it note on the side of the computer screen, along with the additional admonishment “no fixing”. They come from an excellent book I am currently re-reading “Holy Listening” by Margaret Guenther, and the sentiment is one I am learning is increasingly true.
How many times has my help come along with spiritual pride and a whole host of assumptions and microaggressions?

How often has my help not been fully informed?

How often has my help short circuited what God was already doing in a situation?

How often has my “help” placed me on a pedestal and another in the dust?

How often has my help gotten the way of another hearing God for themselves? There is one mediator between God and man, and it ain’t me.

How often has my help created dependence instead of empowerment?

I realize that there is a need for balance here. If my brother or sister comes to me homeless, naked, and hungry, and I say “Well bless your heart” and do not help them, I sin. But how many times have I inserted myself into situations in ways  where my help was not sought? Or have attached the immediate need for sustenance to a host of conditions and preconceptions, rather than just giving what was asked for?

Loving my neighbor as myself is a tall order. It means assuming the best of the Other. Assuming that they too are capable of hearing God, and that they are doing their best, or at least as well as I would do, in their given situation. When you “help” people, you mess with them.

Mothercraft: What Children Need

In the midst of the current turmoil, my children begin to show the strain. One retreats into her room all day. Another resorts to daily meltdowns. We have a good support system of professionals, but I see the need to go back to parenting basics. I write this as a reminder to myself of what works. What helps children feel safe, secure, and nourished. These are that I know children need:

  1. Children need structure and boundaries. Children do not feel safe and do not thrive without fences. We end up in needless power struggles when there are not clear expectations in place. Children feel anxious when they don’t know what to expect. This looks like days that are measured. There is a time to get up, meals happen at generally the same time each day. There is time for each of the day’s activities: a time to be outside, a time for chores, a time to read, a time to rest.In a time of such uncertainty, we all need to know what we can rely on.
  2. Children need consistency. The daily meltdowns stopped when I followed through on the consequence I had been threatening for several days. If I don’t continue to follow through each time I see that child on the path of uncontrolled anger, that behavior will reemerge.
  3. Children need empathy. Anger is the ego’s way of navigating powerlessness and grief. My children need me to see the hard emotions that underlie their troublesome behaviors. There are some very big feelings that our little people carry around right now.
  4. Children need play, creative expression, and fairy tales. Children need outlets for the hard feelings and grief that they are yet unable to verbalize. Their first line of defense in  navigating hard emotions is play. Children’s reasoning abilities are not yet fully online, and will not be till young adulthood, but their imaginations are amazing tools of resilience. Mother wisdom always knew this, which is why we have a tradition of dark fairy tales and folk tales. This is how the childish mind shrinks its fears into manageable monsters and defeatable old hags. We have stopped doing “academic” schooling for the year. I’ve stocked up on fairy tales and pulled out the art supplies. Rather than Prealgebra, we are focused an drawing, writing, and reading stories where evil is conquered and good wins in the end.
  5. Children need exercise and fresh air. We all do. Time in nature is a marvelous tool of self care, and the physical work we do outside is not only grounding, but helps our brains stay well connected.
  6. Children need connection. They need hugs. They need to know that they are loved. They need attunment and eye contact. But most of all…
  7. Children need us to be ok. They need parents who are engaging in self-care and able to stay centered. Children rely on their caregivers to help down regulate them when they are feeling out of control, and we can’t do that unless or until we find center. We parent best when we are willing to do the things we need to do to be ok.

Diary of a Pestilence

Time capsule:

Easter 2020. The marquee at the closest theatre says “temporarily closed due to COVID-19. The display at a small town church is more strident: “Absolutely no one may enter this premises,” or something like that. The church down the road, the one we’ve called home for the past several years, stands empty, but always welcoming. I popped in a few days ago to pick up some candy the youth leader left for the kids. We haven’t seen anyone from church in weeks, ever since “social distancing”  began. Well, I can’t say we haven’t seen anyone. I enjoy the little peeks I get into people’s live on Facebook, and our preacher post daily prayers and devotions. It helps. The Holy week services have continued over broadband, as has the tension of Holy Saturday. We wait and long for a resurrection.

We are living in history right now, as we always are, but the events of this time may make it on the books. Even after the Covid crisis passes, the economic realities will carry repercussions long into the future. The one really heartening thing is seeing how the pollution levels have decreased since the world has adopted a simpler lifestyle. On the homefront, schools closed for the year back in the beginning of March. We homeschool, but this has effected us as well. Since Belle, our 14 year old has been home from school, our regular  routine has been suspended, or rather, replaced with more active, outdoor activities. My ability to juggle teaching that many grades, plus work with a student with an IEP is “temporarily suspended due to COVID-19”. I’m not as bad off as I was a couple weeks ago. I’ve stopped paying attention to the spread, to the predictions of how many may die. No, my brain is more consumed with “How to feed everyone when the grocery stores are putting limits on how much you can buy at a time” and “How to make this experience less traumatic for the kids, how to keep everyone focused on positive things” and “How to keep them healthy” and “Are we ready if things don’t return to normal for a very long time?” The bit with the grocery limits has been greatly relived by our local elementary school, which has been providing meals, and more importantly, milk, for the kids.

So, that is how my day starts, picking up meals and milk for the kids.  When I return, half of them are already outside playing with ducks, including the child who is supposed to be on a telehealth call with a counselor.  When that is settled, I rattle off a list of outside tasks for the rest. We’re gardening this year, and may be reliant more on eggs for our chickens. The kids work of watering seedlings, feeding critters, and clearing sticks and stones from future garden spaces. Mostly they play with their ducklings.  I take advantage of the quiet to look at my schoolwork.

Later the kids will come in and I will set them to reading. My nine year old will complain that there is nothing interesting to read. We own thousands of children’s books, but if it does not involve a particular series about dragons, she is not interested. We will negotiate until she picks some remotely educational activity. My 11 and 13 year old have disappeared into their rooms, either to sleep or paint. If I don’t keep tabs on them, I wont see either for the rest of the day. My extroverted 14 year old and 7 year old will start peppering me with questions after the first 5 minutes of reading. Even if I leave later for a walk, they will message me every few minutes. At some point I will nap in the hammock and demand they leave me alone.

The rest of my day circles around food. Preparing food. Serving food. Planning meals with what we have on hand. We are eating well, but with a bit more preparation. Gracie grinds wheat for daily bread. I try to remember to soak beans, and save broth to cook them in. We have been fortunate in all of this. We had just purchased a cows worth of beef before this all started, and had lots of dry goods on hand, in buckets leftover from Y2K. They were nearing their expiration date, so now has been as good a time as any to use them. We’ve reached the point where I can space grocery trips to once a month.

Easter baskets were simple this morning. Dollar store candy, sidewalk chalk, child sized garden implements and seeds. We could have afforded something more lavish, but I want the kids to feel thee experience of this, hopefully in a positive way. Also, honestly, I do not want to be trapped in the house with sugar frenzied children. On the other hand, so many around our nation are out of work right now. I know many people who are waiting for unemployment checks to come in, who are relying heavily on the local food banks. I tell the kids we are doing a simple holiday in solidarity with them this year. We will still participate in our Easter traditions, but with our loins girded as in Passover. We  celebrate, but in readiness, in watchfulness, in a muted knowledge that the death angel passes near. Rather than invite loved ones to feast with us, we send them masks of protection.

I try to stay sane, to stay upbeat and focused for the sake of the kids. I art journal. I exercise. I meditate. I sew masks. I take naps. I’ve stopped reading the news, and only worry about my and my husbands parents in the pages of my journal. Every once in a while I am taken aback at how tall all my children have become. Who are these almost adults that have taken the place of my little ones? This pandemic falls for us in the middle of an already liminal season.

I’d just enrolled most of our crew in public school for next year. The oldest three I was still homeschooling each approached us separately last year asking to be allowed to go. Their stances were well thought out, and honestly, I was already running out of steam trying to keep that many different grade levels going at once. With only our youngest left to teach, and that at the most magical time of second grade, I planned to apply to graduate schools.  I had a seminary interview a few days before everything shut down.

School will likely begin for me over Zoom. For my children, we can hope that the country in up in running in time for them to return in August. For now, they will help in the garden, and when that is well established, I’ll get them to brush up on some math skills online. I’m not too worried. They will be in the same boat as everyone else next year.  I encourage them toward creative play, and staying connected with family and friends over Messneger. Maybe, when I know that the stimulus check has come in, I will order some books over Amazon. Libraries are closed.

As hobbit as we are as a family, the kids are all bristling under the restraints of the quarantine. They have not left our home since the middle of March, and it is now the middle of April. The stay at home order Governor Northam issued for Virginia does not lift until June 10th, They have finally reached the point that they have stopped asking about their summer birthdays. I don’t know what to tell them.

I have no answers about the future right now, but I do have hope. A year from now I will look back on this and think “it wasn’t so bad”. Ten years from now we will reminisce, and call this our family’s “Golden Age”. But today, today I write about how it really is.

Meeting Jesus in the Wood

I encountered Christ today. He was cleverly disguised as a Mount Solon old timer.  He seemed like a person who’d lost something, but upon closer inspection was scanning the ground for morels. He greeted me and from a safe social distance, and gave me tips and advice for hunting mushrooms. I left with a smile on my face and plans to scour my own wooded backyard.

It was a timely meeting. Like you, I’ve had a lot mulling around in my mind. Uncertainty about the future was a big one. I’d hoped to start graduate school in the fall, but now all that seems up in the air. Closer to home, concerns whether I’d be able to find TP in the grocery store next week. My shoulder was sore from hoeing . I remembered that I still need to work on the sheep fence, lest my gardening be for naught. Then there was niggling self doubt about an old friend who’d unfriended me on Facebook. Under it all, a dread born of too many rapture movies at too young an age. Is this the End? Or at least, some great and terrible day of the Lord?

Jesus-Hunting-Mushrooms bore a simple message. This is a season. Right now, its getting on the season for planting gardens and hunting mushrooms. Those things will bring their own challenges, but then, that season goes and another one comes, and another, and another.  With that simple reminder, scriptures about Trusting in the Lord  and feeding on his faithfulness fill my mind. This is a season. I’m not doing all the things I thought that I might be, but I’m learning some new skills and spending time with my family. When this is over, another will come, with its own challenges.

So I understand a little better the rhythm and liturgy of the little country church I so miss attending in person. The beauty of entering into the mourning of Lent, immersed in the desolation of Good Friday. The sweet fellowship of Maundy Thursday, The joy of Easter morning. Youth events in the summer. Apple butter making and the Harvest Sale, followed by the expectancy of Advent. The world dying and reborn each year, and Christ with us on the journey.

I enter this season. I submit to its grief, knowing that in each dying Christ is reborn. I will hunt mushrooms and plant a garden, experiencing Christ here where I am and living in hope of the next Resurrection.

Fairytale from Exile 2: The Trash Sorter’s Daughter

Tatiana was born on a miserable night, into miserable conditions, on the day her mother died. To say it was a dark and stormy night would be too generous. It was another gray cold wet twilight in a long series of grey, cold wet twilights. It was the kind of cold that never freezes into pretty ice patterns, but only chills you to the very bone. The kind of weather that makes a body long for warm socks, a hot fire, and a nice cup of tea. Only, the trash sorter’s family had none of these things. The trash sorter lived in a cement walled cubby covered by a rusted and  corrugated tin roof, which leaked pitifully.

The  mother labored all day and all night and another day again on a pallet on the dirt floor, while the Trash Sorter stood helplessly over her, shielding her from the leaky roof. In his heart he thought “Perhaps it would be better if the child did not live, to be born into a world such as this, to starve with us in these conditions.” He never said the words out loud, but every now and then a tear slipped from his eye as he watched his dear wife’s suffering. Truly she was his only comfort, and she moved further and further away from him, into the liminal space between worlds, into the place when finally, her pain would end. Oh that the child would be taken too!

It was then that the dark woman in bright clothes entered their lives. She stood silently at the door of their hovel. The Trash Sorter did not know how long, but finally, he looked up and noticed her.

“May I enter your home?” she asked in a low, soothing voice.

“If you would want to come to such a place as this, you are welcome,” answered the man.

She stepped through the doorway, and removed a scarlet shawl from her turbaned head. Instantly the room felt a little warmer and brighter somehow. The woman knelt next to the man’s wife.

“I am Hope. Thank you for offering me shelter here. I will do what I can for you while I am here.”

“Can you save her?” the man pleaded

“No, but I can ease the way a bit,” she said, dipping the edge on her shawl into a puddle of water and mopping the wife’s brow.

The woman stroked the wife’s head with the damp cloth, humming a low, soulful melody. In the moments that followed, a child wailed, and the weary mother slipped into the next world.

Hope unwrapped the colorful turban from around her head and swaddled the child in it. She held out the girl baby to its father.

The trash sorter turned away. “What sort of life will she have? What can I give her? Her mother is dead, I cannot even get her milk.

Hope surveyed her surroundings. She closed her eyes, deep in thought. In the meantime, the Trash Sorter left to bury his wife. When he returned he found Hope with the infant to her breast. She did not speak again, but  rocked and nursed the infant for the next three weeks, and the child grew remarkably the entire time.

When the child reached the size of a four year old,  Hope put her down and spoke her final words to the man “I have given Tatiana what I could. You do the best you can to care for her. It will be enough”. With that, she wrapped the turban back around her braids, put the shawl over her head, and walked out into another grey twilight.

“All I have is hers, ” the man swore.

The Trash Sorter looked down at the naked child. She had doe wide eyes and a cherub faced haloed in brown ringlets. She shivered. He sprung into action, sorting through a pile of discarded rags he’d gathered to sell to the textile merchant. He found a yellowed undershirt shirt that hung to the girls knees and a little apron with a pocket that he tied over it. He then offered the wide eyed child the rest of the vegetable soup he’d made of that day’s finds. It was little more than three half rotted carrots and a bit of onion in a thin broth, but the child smiled, drank the broth, and stuck one of the mushy carrots into her pocket. With that, she was out the door.

The next morning, Tatianna returned without a word. In her arms she held a half dead chicken. It was scrawny and starved, and one of its wings had been torn by a beast. Tatianna patiently fed it bits of carrot, and bandaged its wounds from her father’s rag pile.

The Trash Sorter ought to have scolded her, he knew. She needed the food more than that scrawny bird, and the bandages she tore came from the better of his finds. Those rags represented hours and hours of collecting, and if there were enough, might bring in some money for grain or even a bit of meat. Instead, the piles of things he brought inside to stay dry and sell often became fodder for one or another of his daughters projects.

And then there were the holes. The child was forever digging . Daily the trash sorter tripped over another of her holes. And sometimes, sometimes the rotten vegetables he collected went missing, and they both went without supper. The child lost the cherub face Hope left her with and began to grow gaunt. Still the Trash Sorter could not scold her. He tried. He did. But when she looked up at him with those doe eyes, it was as if she were a fairy princess, and he her loyal subject.

No. The final straw was not until the entire rag pile went missing, on the day he was due to bring it to Giuseppe, the textile merchant. They had not eaten in several days, as his vegetables disappeared into the gullet of that cursed chicken. Now this!

He screamed at the child, “What have you done? Do you want to starve? Enough with these games!”

The girl spoke for the first time. “My Father, I do not understand your anger. I have only used what was mine.”

She took him by the hand and lead him outside.

“I’ve used a few of my gowns to build a holding for our subjects, “she said. At the rear of their hovel was a stick fence, woven with cloth. Inside the fence, in a colorful barrel turned on its side, the chicken sheltered three little chicks beneath its wings.

“I’ve used the scraps from our feasts to plant gardens on the roof.” She pointed to a rope ladder leading to the top of their hovel. The trash sorter climbed. He finally got the answer to the many holes the child dug, as he surveyed small, neat rows of carrots and potatoes, and lettuce.

And from that point on, the Trash Sorter trusted his child’s strange way of doing things. As time went on, they had eggs, and vegetables, and even bread, and he became a man of many friends, known for wealth in poverty and for his hospitable generosity. And he knew that whatever he gave his daughter, it was always enough.