Monday, May 31, 2010
Flickr photo by mcmrbt, creative commons
As I remember it, she was around 19 or 20, about my age at the time, and as she led us through the military cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, France, past the thousands of crosses to my grandfather's grave, I sort of wished she'd just hand over the map and let us find it by ourselves.
First of all, there was the awkwardness of the language barrier. (Life would bring me back to France for mongo lessons on this later. Did it ever.) She spoke English but so quietly and with such a heavy accent that we could hardly understand her.
But mainly I was concerned about my mom. This would be the first time since she was a bouncing baby that she'd be mere feet from her father's body, now bones and dust under the lush, green grass, and I didn't want her to have to think about keeping her composure just because a stranger was there.
Will she cry? I wondered. Of course she will. In my dream the night before, she'd lain face down over her father's grave, and when the camera shifted to a cross section scene, I could see my mother lying over her father, and five feet below, his face looking up at hers through the soil.
Would I cry? Would my brother or my dad? I walked faster, hoping to get Dad's attention and maybe signal him to take the map and send the girl back. But he was too busy looking at Mom and I couldn't catch his eye.
It started to drizzle and I hoped that maybe now she'd go back, hand us umbrellas and let us go on our own. But no. She walked on, ignoring the weather, carrying the bucket of wet sand that she'd taken time to get before we started out. Couldn't that chore, whatever it was, have waited? I shivered in the wind, glad to have my jacket, and noticed her bare legs.
Finally, there it was, my grandfather's cross. My father inched closer to my mother, who stood still, transfixed by the name. Now she'll leave, I thought, but instead, she knelt before the cross, her bare knees sinking in the wet ground. What? She dipped her hand into the bucket, pulled out a clump of wet sand, and begin smearing it all over the cross!
Wasn't my father going to do something? The cross had been beautiful, and now it was a terrible mess.
Before I could say anything to my dad, the girl picked up a clean cloth, and with slow deliberate strokes, wiped it clean. Gleaming white, except now Glen Kuhn's name stood out in bold brown letters. The cross had been just one of thousands, and now it proclaimed my grandfather's service, for all to see.
As I tried to catch my breath, the girl rose, her knees muddied. She thanked my mother for her father's service and left us to be alone.
I've thought of that girl so many times over the last twenty five years. I've remembered how she gathered her skirt and knelt on the wet ground, how she stroked the cross so reverently, how she honored my grandfather and then honored our privacy. She wouldn't let the awkwardness of a language barrier stand in the way of her focus on our family. Maybe it was her job, but she did it as if it were more than that, as if it were a holy mission.
This French stranger became a model for me of what it means to be a servant: to show up, put away any concerns or thoughts of yourself, and be willing to sink your knees in the mud for someone who needs it.
I picture her, and another servant comes to mind, kneeling before his friends, washing their feet, saying,
"I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another's feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you. ...Now that you know this truth, how happy you will be if you put it into practice!"
John 13: 14-15, 17
Today I'm wondering who has muddied their knees for you. I'd love to hear about the servanthood you've experienced in your life. I hope you'll share!
Friday, May 28, 2010
Do tears ever catch you by surprise?
They kept sneaking up on me Wednesday. If I hadn't known better, I would've blamed it on my hair-mones, as my daughter used to say, but no, that wasn't it. It just happens sometimes.
This particular time, I was picking up dog hair tumbleweeds in the den, while Sam was watching Ellen Degeneres interview the twelve year old youtube sensation Greyson Chance. Before I knew it, I was all afluffle and Sam was doing his nervous laugh that means WHAT DO I DO NOW MY MOM HAS LOST HER MARBLES.
I promise, you might have lost yours too. If you're out of the loop, let me just say that Greyson is a fresh faced, normal boy, gifted with a shockingly incredible voice. He was clearly delighted to chat about "Miss Gaga" and how he knew something big was happening to him because the people at Bahama Ice named a snow cone after him and tons of people go there. Then Ellen went and yanked every one of my heartstrings by showing clips of his principal hugging him and his music teacher bragging on him, and that was all it took. Messy tears. Red face.
And this was the second tear ambush of the day!
Just five hours earlier, I was delivering food to a new client on my Meals on Wheels route when the tears surprised me. Mr. Blevens wore slacks and an ironed work shirt with a patch with his first name on it, and as I walked up his front steps, he looked as if he wasn't sure what to do with his hands. I introduced myself and as I gave him his meal, he looked at it and said, "God bless you, ma'am. Thank you. It sure is a good thing y'all do."
"You're welcome, Mr. Blevens. We're happy to do it."
"Uh huh," he said, trying to find a few more words. "It's awfully nice, but I tell you, it doesn't hardly feel right to accept it."
"But Mr. Blevens," I said, searching for what to say, "I bet you've spent your whole life helping people. Now maybe you need to let others do something for you for a change."
Instantly, Mr. Blevens' eyes watered up, and before he could catch it, a tear ran down his face. "We really..." he struggled, and his voice got all gravelly, and I felt my own tears come. "We appreciate this. And you."
He patted my hand and I tried to walk back to my car like a normal person. I waved and went on with my route, feeling like we had shared something holy.
So what are those ambush tears about? The happy tears and the sad tears that show up when we least expect them? The knot rising up in your throat, threatening to embarrass you at work or with friends or total strangers aren't certain of your mental stability?
Maybe ambush tears are actually powerful messages that our souls say to God, prayers that burst out like sneezes, involuntarily, because our bodies can't hold them back anymore, or because the feelings are so big that our pitiful brains can't keep up. Perhaps the tears pray for us, saying, "How beautiful, thank you God, for letting me see this," or "This is grace," or "This grief is too much for me to bear by myself," or "I'm hurting, please help me." The tears speak our prayers to God before our feeble minds can even understand our own feelings.
But God understands them. God speaks that soul language, and more than that, God treasures every salty drop.
You have kept record of my days of wandering. You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them.
Psalm 56:8, Contemporary English Version
How wonder-full that even when we're running around picking up dog hair, just trying to get things done and handle life on our own, knowing God is in the background but not thinking too much about it, God lets our child souls speak up to Him, ambushing us with the prayers He knows we need to express.
You know, I think I'm going to try a little experiment. Want to try it with me?
The next time I'm ambushed with happy or sad tears, I'm going to pay attention to those drops in the bottle. I'm going to back them up with a spoken prayer, and try to put words to what my inner soul is crying out for, whether it's thankfulness or grief.
So today I'm thanking God for giving us gifts that we don't even ask for or feel we deserve. For a beautiful voice and a chance to share it, dropped on the lap of a normal boy. For the chance to accept a meal for free, when you've worked hard all your life long. For a chance to be the one who brings the meal, when you had nothing to do with preparing it or paying for it. For a chance to witness the involuntary prayers of strangers and friends-to-be. For holy, salty, messy tear prayers that speak when my words can't.
So what about you?
I'd love to hear about the last time you were surprised by tears. Did it carry a message, or was it just hairmones?
Have a super weekend, friends!
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Flickr photo by granth, creative commons
Careful where you step, my friends!
After much thought and way too many cups of coffee, I've decided to make some big changes here. Though I've thoroughly enjoyed my last two years, one month, and eleven days of blogging [399 posts (!)--which means 399 times to hear from you funny, smart, beautiful people (!)] my interests have changed, and so my blog must change as well.
But you've heard that line from me before, right?
When I first started dipping my toes into the blogging world, I was fresh off the book tour with French By Heart, chatting up the wonders of such things as Le Café, Moss, (La Mousse) and not the Kate Kind, and Crèpes.
Then, a year and a few months later, my inner wonder woman switched gears to a more personal blog, in which I blogged about such weighty topics as No, These Aren't My Gallstones, All the Weird Things My Dog Has Eaten, and The Joys of Freezing My Bahonka Off at Baseball Practice.
I have no idea how you'll survive without posts of such monumental importance, but you're going to have to, because I'm-a-movin' on up. To the east side. To a deluxe apartment in the sky...
Well, sort of.
I'm finally going back to where my heart has always been. Where I expect it will always be.
Way back in the dark ages, when Sam wasn't even a tickle in my womb and Ben and Sarah would still let me pick out their clothes, back when I was a high school chemistry teacher secretly jotting down poetry about the precipitates I made in lab when I should have been grading papers, I used to spend my summers writing devotions for The Upper Room and other similar mags. I got a real kick out of finding the fingerprints of God in my crazy life and writing about how I experienced God in the people I came across and in the things I read or saw or heard.
In the past year or so, I've been returning to that sort of spiritual writing in my work life, and you may have noticed that I've already shared a little bit of it here as well. Writing about experiencing God in the ordinary-ness of life is the most fun, meaningful thing I can imagine doing, and I'm excited to look toward devoting my blog to this theme as well. And lucky for me, Wonders Never Cease still fits!
So if spiritual topics are of interest to you, I sure hope that you'll stick around. I'm going to use my blog as sort of a devotional time for me, but don't expect sermons or anything stuffy. I'm sure kids and dogs and coffee and general wackiness will find their way into my posts. That's where God spends a lot of time, after all. Oh, and you'll probably also see a few bits of France from time to time, since our years there sort of turned my spiritual life upside down.
I'm planning to continue blogging Monday - Wednesday - Friday, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts and reflections as I explore my own. Goodness knows, I don't think I've got it all figured out. I'm counting on y'all to join in the mystery with me, to offer your perspectives and experiences and thoughts.
I hope to see you Friday!
Much love to each of you,
PS. I'll also be tweeting away like a little blue jay, (the nice kind, not the mean ones that keep dive bombing our goofy Tanner dog) so if you're into that, feel free to find me there!
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Let this little powerhouse inspire you!
I believe it. You can do anything good!
Have a super Wednesday, y'all!
Monday, May 17, 2010
Check out the romantic thing my handsome prince said to me this morning after he got out of bed:
"Are you okay?"
"Cause you look like a dead fish lying there. Like somebody just jerked you up out of the ocean and your mouth is all...(he sticks his tongue out--which I wasn't even doing) and your eyes are wide open. You look like you're tired of flapping."
"You know, I AM tired of flapping."
I guess people who love each other feel free enough to say weird things.
Things like these other quotes from my weekend:
"I, like, NEED to be Scarlett Johanson right now." (Daughter.)
"Where's the peanut butter?" (Husband.)
"Oh, Tanner took it out in the backyard." (Youngest son.)
Doesn't this dog look full to you?
And another favorite:
"I need some cash. Do you have any?" (Middle child)
Then there was the conversation I had with my youngest after church on Sunday.
I waited until lunch was over and he was full and mildly happy, and then I said we need to talk.
"About your prayer in Sunday school."
Sam had volunteered to do the closing prayer, and at the time, I was glad for him to do it. When I do the prayer, I usually make a blanket statement like "Help everyone we mentioned who is sick, and be with our pets..." This is because the children LOVE to participate with prayer requests, and along with the more serious requests, they tell us all about friends of friends who have colds, neighborhood dogs and cats who might be lost or coughing up way too many hairballs, people who threw up in class, et cetera. Our prayer list can be VERY LONG. But Sam always takes the time to go back through everyone's prayer requests and makes sure he gets all the names again, so he can properly ask God for help. Except this time he added something which I thought was unnecessary.
"What was wrong with my prayer?"
"Nothing was wrong with it," I said. "It's just that when you stopped in the middle and said, 'Let's give it up to you for the sunny weather' and then said, "Can I hear a booya, people?' and several kids chorused 'Booya,' I just thought that was not appropriate.
Sam wrinkled his forehead. "Why?"
"Because it sounded like you were just trying to get attention."
"I WASN'T TRYING TO DO THAT! It was sunny. Don't you think we should thank God for sunny weather?"
"Of course I do. But why can't you just say, 'Thank you for the sunny weather.'"
"Because that's boring. Don't you think that with all the sick people and George's lost cat, God could use a laugh?"
"Well, yes, but..."
Sam sighed and put his hands on his hips. "Come on Mom. You know I made God laugh."
"Mom, you know I did!"
What can I say. I guess he's right.
Have a great Monday, y'all!
Friday, May 14, 2010
Isn't that a lovely hairdo?
Not really, but I'm going with it because it's partly my fault. At least I allowed it.
Actually I enabled it. And not just for my bald-ish boy, but for five other young men who once sported beautiful, free flowing tresses.
These boys clearly enjoy their hair.
(Sorry about the photo fuzziness. It's May in South Carolina and I'm already fighting the humidity condensing on my lens. Or maybe I'm just a rotten photographer.)
So why in heaven's name would they come to my house and have their handsomeness defiled?
Defiled by a man whose main barbering experience comes from shearing a golden retriever? A man who once shaved a reverse Mohawk down the center of his baby's head when the baby knocked the comb off the clippers, turning it into a razor, making him appear prepped for brain surgery when he had to go to preschool the very next day?
I'll tell you why. Not only are these boys good at growing lovely hair, but they run fast. Fast enough to make it to the South Carolina championship for Track and Field tomorrow.
The team decided that getting Mohawk haircuts would be a great bonding experience. And think how intimidating they'd look!
I sure hope they run well, because a slow guy with a Mohawk just looks silly.
So anyway, they came, they sat, they got shaved.
Todd started with our Ben, just in case he didn't really have any idea how to cut a Mohawk, which he didn't. At least if he mauled the first one, he wouldn't ruin somebody else's baby's beautiful head.
And it turned out great! (See first photo.)
A great time was had by all.
Even sweet Mark, who was almost left with a mullet.
Let me tell you, it was tempting.
Much hair was cut.
See what I mean?
Ooh. They'd sort of scare me if I didn't know what sweethearts they are.
Good luck, Warriors!
(In case you're wondering, they run the 4 X 4. )
So, any crazy shenanigans going on at your house this week/weekend? Do tell!
Have a wonder-full weekend, y'all!
PS. If you have younger kids and sort of fear the teenage years to come, let this weird post be a strange comfort to you. It will be tricky, with moments you want to wring their necks and kick them out the door, but it can also be the BEST TIME EVER. :)
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
http://www.flickr.com/photos/charliedees/ / CC BY-SA 2.0
Whoop-de-doo! The Cannes film festival starts today!
Did you know? (Do you care? :) )
I ate my morning oatmeal with Matt Lauer, and as we chatted with Cate Blanchett and Russel Crowe about the Cannes experience, I watched the breezes from the Mediterranean flutter their hair but I hardly heard anything they said. My thoughts were traveling back in time, back to the Cote d'Azur, back to these guys...
Aren't we the stylish family? Pink leggings on my son and a $5 Old Navy tee on my hubby, complete with American flags, just in case anyone was fooled by our incredible accents. Ha ha. I can't really explain the tee shirt (he really wasn't the obnoxious American tourist, I promise) but perhaps I should try to explain the pink leggings or else Sammy will be so humiliated when he sees this post that he will make me email the whole world that we made him do it and it wasn't his fault. Which is true, not that he cared at the time.
So here goes.
French school gives the kids had a long April vacation, so two other families and ours decided to make good use of the time and take a trip to Cannes. Together. Six adults and eight children.
We were clearly out of our minds.
On that particular day we spent the afternoon letting the kids wade in the Med, and of course Sam completely soaked himself during the first five seconds of play. We immediately stripped him down to his underwear, but the touring afterward required a little more clothing. The only clothes available were his buddy Anna's leggings, and he couldn't care less. He was three. (Is that clear enough, Sam?)
So we spent our vacation trying to remember we had children and to keep an eye on them, while our eyes kept wandering back to this.
They were preparing for the film festival just as we arrived.
We looked for stars like Nicole...
http://www.flickr.com/photos/rockwilder/ / CC BY 2.0
But she didn't show.
Instead we saw these superstars.
But she didn't show.
Instead we saw these superstars.
Hey, there's Ben, Jonathan, the Clemson student, and Mitchell, who's now driving! (Watch out, Simpsonville!)
And see that lovely aluminum siding behind them? It's one of our spacious motel rooms!
Yes, with all the fancy- shmancy four star hotels available in Cannes and Saint Tropez, we chose to spend our nights in a mobile home camping park, which was PERFECT! (If you've ever taken a vacation to a fancy place with eight kids who love each other and get terribly excited whenever they're together, you'll understand.)
It really was ideal. We could spend our days sightseeing and behaving ourselves, and then go back to the campsite and let the kids run wild, play ball, and squeal as much as they wanted. We ate out for lunch, and each family took a night to cook, followed by a raucous, 14 player game of Pit!
Ah Cannes! The palm trees, the sparkling sands, and the pull- out bunk beds! Quelle joie!
Have you ever taken a multi-family vacation? Good memories? I still remember all those beach trips with the Huggins family. Anybody want to go crabbing?
Have a great Wednesday, y'all!
Monday, May 10, 2010
Is this Greenville or Paris?
Yesterday as we walked downtown, joining the crowds for Artisphere, I wasn't quite sure.
Gone was our muggy heat, replaced with a cool crisp 69 degrees, and the Seine- I mean the Reedy River- just shone in the sun.
And just like in France, sometimes you have to watch where you walk. Not for what the dogs might have left behind, but for the art.
There's Georges Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Remember the umbrellas?
Careful! Don't fall in the hole.
Hundreds of artists had set up booths along Main Street, and we darted from one to another, enjoying it all.
Who's that lovely girl in Guy Stevens' booth? I think I know her.
Guy is a talented Greenville artist whose work reminds me a bit of Chagall and van Gogh. Lucky for me, one of his prints followed me home. Happy Mother's Day to moi!
Really, this has to be Paris. There were street entertainers everywhere, making the crowds laugh.
But my favorite, hands down, was this eclectic group of drummers/dancers.
Yep. Paris. Now where's my Nutella and banana crèpe?
So how was your weekend? What did you do that made you happy? No artsy festivals necessary. Usually all I need to call it a good weekend is a long walk outside, a Saturday morning cup of coffee, and at least one sit down meal with my family in which nobody reads a book or hurries off to go with friends or argues over who gets the last roll. :)
Have a great Monday, y'all!
Friday, May 7, 2010
Lately I've been thinking about how messy life is, for everyone.
Maybe it's because my sweet girl moved home from college this week and her stuff is EVERYWHERE, only because there's no place to put it except the attic, and I'm scared to go in there. Remember the scene from Star Wars where the gang falls in the huge trash compactor and some kind of garbage squid-monster pulls Luke under, and then the walls start closing in? That's my attic. Plus it's already at least 110 degrees in there, and I'm a wimp.
So I think for now we'll be content to have a microwave by the fireplace. At least we can make s'mores without heating up the living room.
The shoe tree by the piano, however, is not quite as useful.
So, back to the larger subject at hand...
I once taught school with a fine lady who had this quote hanging above her chalkboard:
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Plato
At the time, I thought it was a perfect message for teenagers. After all, who else is fighting harder in life, battling to figure out what they want their lives to be about, what they'll speak up for and what they'll let slide, when they'll choose to summon the courage to go against the flow, and when they'll just close their eyes, shush that inner voice, and let life happen? Even the happiest teen is in a messy struggle, and their bodies and changing faces show it.
But lately I'm thinking Plato was right. His words really apply to everyone. I might just need to paint that quote on my living room wall, hang it at the food court at the mall, plaster it across the Town Hall, and hire an airplane to fly the message all over South Carolina and the world.
Everybody is fighting a battle of some kind.
It seems like lately I see the messiness of battles everywhere I go.
Moms and Dads watching their children struggle, unable to relieve their pain or solve their problems for them. Or the battle of want-to-be parents, positively dying to birth the children they already love, feeling the stab every time they see a baby. People who feel alone, invisible. Men and women trapped in the busyness of life, and others who long for the busyness our society requires to be considered a worthwhile person.
Being friends with several writers like myself, I see a lot of messiness. It's a messy business, involving great, seemingly unending periods of waiting. Waiting, which allows you plenty of time to question everything about yourself, your skill, your purpose in life. You wait to hear if your work (in other words, you?) is okay and acceptable. You wait, hoping that the part of your heart that you sent to them for their approval will be allowed to sing in public, rather than throb in your desk drawer. The trick, for me at least, is to use that waiting time to find both meaning outside of work and meaningful work. But still, it's a struggle. Some days I'm better at it than others.
Everyone is fighting a battle. Even the people I think are perfect.
I've always envied one particular friend of mine. She grew up knowing she wanted to be a doctor, and by golly, she did it. She has a wonderful practice and teaches at a med school as well. When we were college roommates, she had a long line of would-be suitors, and I remember one kneeling beside her as we put on our running shoes to go for a jog. "Gosh, even your teeth are perfect!" he said, gazing into her eyes.
I nearly gagged and had to leave the room before I bopped him on the head.
My friend lives a wonderful life, but I'm sure it hasn't been without times of personal pain and struggle and messiness.
Plato, was so right. Kindness (and love) is the answer.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. What struggles are you seeing over and over where you are? What acts of kindness? Have you caught those commercials where one act of kindness /goodness leads to another and then another? I'd post one, but I can't remember what product the commercial is advertising! (I guess I'm struggling with memory too!)
Lately it makes me really happy to see people being kind to cashiers. Dealing with the public is such a hard job, and it's fun to see kindness spread.
Have a great weekend, y'all!
PS. That quote reminds me of another, from The Message.
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
I know what I'm doing this Mother's Day weekend!
Have you heard about Babies? It's a documentary, shot like a wildlife feature, by French film director Thomas Balmès.
Are babies the new penguins? I can't wait to see for myself!
Apparently there's no narration. We follow four babies from birth through their first year and are free to make our own conclusions about parenting, child development, and the universality of the human experience.
We'll meet Hattie from San Francisco...
Byar, from Mongolia...
Ponijao, from Namibia...
And Mari, from Tokyo.
Maybe I'm so excited about the film because it's been way too long since we've had a baby in our house. Though I don't miss the sleepless nights, the spit up on the shoulder, and all those poopy diapers, how my arms long for those sweet embraces, a good smelling baby head, and those tiny little feet!
Anybody have a bébé I could borrow? I'll give it back, I promise!
So what do you think? Have you heard all the hype?
No? Take a look at the trailer and I bet you'll be hooked.
Have a great Wednesday, y'all! And if you've got a baby at home, give the sweetie a mushy kiss for me!