Monday, August 30, 2010
Look who wrote me a squiggle outside my bedroom window!
Miss Writing Spider turned my thoughts to a most loved book from my girlhood.
You remember Charlotte, don't you?
The valiant spider who chose her words carefully and wove them into a web to save a friend's life?
The spider who pondered for just the right message...
Lamb: How about "Pig Supreme"?
Charlotte: No good. It sounds like a rich dessert.
Goose: How about terrific, terrific, terrific?
Charlotte: Cut that down to one terrific and it will do nicely. I think terrific might impress Zuckerman.
Wilbur: But Charlotte, I'm not terrific.
Charlotte:You're terrific as far as I am concerned.
How I love Charlotte.
She and her South Carolina sister make me think of the coming fall. Of a break from the stifling heat and humidity. Of pumpkin patches and cider and spider webs on door frames. Of dew drop beads hanging between two trees in the early morning sunshine.
Charlotte also reminds me of the scripture I read yesterday, a section from Deuteronomy.
Attention, Israel! God, our God! God the one and only!
Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that's in you, love him with all you've got!
Write these commandments that I've given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night.
Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.
Deuteronomy 6: 4-9, The Message
Yes God, I want to do what you ask.
I want to be like Charlotte, writing the most important commandment of all, right on my heart:
God, our God! I love you with all that's in me, I love you with all I've got!
I want to drink those words deep inside of me, feed them to my children. Write them on my forehead, stamp them between my eyes. Inscribe them on my doorposts and gates.
I want to weave the words into a spider web, stretch out my arms, and walk right into it, then spin in it, wrapping the sticky words around me, wrapping me into a silken cocoon of God words. Of love words.
God knows the power of words. Maybe that's part of why he birthed Himself to us in human form, to speak His words straight from a mouth like ours.
People heard Jesus' words and wrote them down, and now we can say them to each other, teach them to our children. Celebrate them and the love breathed into them for the rest of our lives.
For the rest of our lives?
That reminds me of Charlotte's Web too.
See what I mean...
Wilbur: Are you writers?
Charlotte's daughters: No, but we will be when we grow up.
Wilbur:Then write this in your webs, when you learn: This hallowed doorway was once the home of Charlotte. She was brilliant, beautiful, and loyal to the end. Her memory will be treasured forever.
Charlotte's daughters: Ooh, that would take us a lifetime.
Wilbur: A lifetime. That's what we have.
Thank you God, for a lifetime to wrap ourselves in your words of love.
To retell the stories of your undying love for us, even as we made a mess of things. Even as we still do.
When we forget your love for us, when we get consumed by our own culture, when we get low and lose sight of you, help remind us of your presence, of the love letters you have for us. However much life we have left, Lord, help us live it wrapped up in your love.
Okay, here's a goofy challenge. If you had a word or two to write in your web today, what would it be?
I think mine would be...Persistence! Or Heart! Or maybe Coffee!
Or just ignore the challenge and say hello!
Have a wonder-full Monday, y'all!
Friday, August 27, 2010
A couple nights ago, Sam wanted to ride his bike down by the river.
I was shocked, but I tried not to show it.
"Great!" I said, and whispered a thank you prayer in my head. "Maybe your dad and I will go with you. Tanner could use a walk anyway."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Mom. You don't have to come. It's not like it's going to happen again. That'd be crazy. Besides, I just want to see if my blood is still there. I bet it is. It was everywhere."
It really was.
Last Sunday afternoon, Sam had a massive wreck down on the river path.
He and his dad had gone for a leisurely bike ride, and as they rounded a curve, a little boy stepped onto the path. Sam swerved to avoid hitting him, flew over the handlebars, and skidded on his side and arm across the asphalt into a bank of dirt and rocks.
It was bad.
Sam is my careful boy. His older brother Ben could lead The Ramsey Family Tour of Emergency Rooms of the East Coast and France, but in Sam's eleven years, he's never broken a bone. He's never had a single stitch.
Sam was screaming, writhing in pain. Rocks and pebbles were embedded in his arm, until Todd jumped off his bike, and in his shock, brushed them off. More blood started gushing. Sam saw the holes and began to panic.
"I hate God!" he shouted, as Todd wrapped his shirt around his arm. "Why did He let that happen? Why? He could have stopped it! I hate Him! I hate Him!"
Luckily, Todd had his cell phone. I met them at the edge of the path. As Todd put the bikes in the back of the van, I tried to calm Sam down.
"It'll be okay," I said. "We just need to get you cleaned up, and it'll heal just fine."
"CLEANED UP?" Sam screamed. "You're not putting anything on it! And I'm never riding that bike again. Or coming down here either!" He began to cry again. "Why did God let that happen? I pray all the time and He never listens."
I let Sam go on, saying what he needed to say, wincing at his crying out to God. Wishing I could make it better.
I wanted to tell him, "God didn't put that little boy in your path. He didn't look at his watch and time it that way, just to teach you that you can survive this." But I didn't say that. He needed to cry it out. Spread his pain before God.
I'm aware that some people believe that God sends hardships to test them this way. We lose people we love, we suffer great disappointments in life and grieve over losses. Personally, I don't believe God sends these things.
A little child wanders into a bike path. Bad things happen.
But God can help us navigate the pain. And as God helps us heal, as God absorbs our cries and our prayers, God can write His own story into our story. He can draw us nearer until we feel His embrace. Thankfully, God can help us heal.
It's remarkable to me how the human body heals. And the spirit too.
"It takes some courage to get back on the bike," I told Sam as he strapped on his helmet.
"I guess," Sam shrugged. "Really, Mom, it's silly for you to go."
But Todd and I followed anyway, claiming that we needed the exercise, trying to make ourselves believe that's why we were going.
The walk started fine.
Sam would ride ahead, circle back to us, and go again.
But then he didn't circle back. Where was he? Surely something hadn't happened.
It started to get dark on the trail, and we walked faster. Where was he?
We started getting nervous, calling out his name. What had happened?
Finally, when we were on the brink of panic, Todd's cell phone rang.
"What is there to eat in this house?" Sam asked.
He had finished the trail and ridden home.
After Todd and I returned home and finished ranting about how scared he'd made us, and that he should have told us he was going home, Sam said he was sorry. Then bit his lip, the way he always does before he reveals something important.
"I have to tell you, I was a little scared too. It was getting dark, but I just prayed the whole way. God helped me go fast."
Thank you, God. For healing of all kinds.
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Do you feel okay about getting angry with God when bad things happen? What do you think about how God tests and teaches us? Would God send us pain, or just work through it with us? We can really learn from each other, so I hope you'll share.
Have a wonder-full weekend, y'all!
PS. I just remembered that Beki over at The Rusted Chain is doing her Fingerprint Friday, a blog party to celebrate the presence of God's fingerprints in our lives. I suppose this post qualifies--thank goodness for God's fingerprints even in our pain--so I'm jumping in. Hop over here to find more fingerprint treasures!
*Photo by K. Praslowicz (Sjixxxy), creative commons
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Last Sunday, we got a new batch of wiggly fourth graders in our Sunday School class.
A new set of faces to get to know and love, to sit beside us in our circle in the candlelight, to hear the sacred stories, and to ponder with us what they might mean.
A new chorus of voices, sharing their child wisdom.
A new herd of bodies to teach to get ready.
Getting ready is so important.
We sat on the carpet and talked about how the stories were God's gifts, given to our ancestors, passed down to our grandparents and our parents and now to us. Presents, for us!
We want to be able to be still enough to hear God's voice. To be calm enough to hear God speaking through our own thoughts, to feel God nudging us.
"Don't worry," we told the children. "We'll help you."
"Before you come in, the teacher in the hall will ask each of you, one by one, if you're ready. If you feel too wiggly, that's okay," we said. "You can step out of the line and get all your jumpies out, have another sip of water, and then try getting ready again. You can join the circle when you're ready. But we hope you'll try very hard, because the stories are too special to miss a single word."
It always amazes me that the kids can do this. They really can! Even after a doughnut or two. Even after hanging out in the game room, where ping pong balls whiz across the room and it's too loud to hear yourself think.
Sometimes the kids do it better than I do.
When I'm teaching, I'm completely plugged in, but if it's my week off? I'm not always the model student of the carpet.
My mind sometimes drifts. My To Do lists interfere.
I really should step outside and get my wiggles out.
I was thinking about all of this as I stepped outside this morning, feeling the strange coolness in the air, the dew under my bare feet in the grass, the peppery scent of the muscadines ripening on the vines. As I reached out and touched a purple flower springing from the weeds in our garden, I felt a strange calm pass through me. I listened as a prayer formed in my brain, all by itself.
Thank you, God, that we don't have to do it all. That even when we can't do the work of getting ready, of shaking off our wiggles, of stilling our bodies, of clearing our thoughts, you suddenly appear out of nowhere, surprising us with your presence.
Thank you for preparing us, preparing the Way, even when we can't prepare ourselves. As we walk the path before each of us, help us be on the lookout for You.
What do you do to prepare the way for encounters with God? What helps you still your body and quiet your mind? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Have a wonder-full Wednesday, y'all!
*Photo by lenoz, creative commons
Monday, August 23, 2010
Sam and Alec were best buds.
If you're a two and three year old, being best buds involves lots of chasing and squealing and knee slapping at jokes that involve a cow and a cookie and no punch line whatsoever.
It means striking Buzz Lightyear poses, side by side. "To Infinity...and Beyond!"
It means hanging tough together on your first days of preschool, when the French teacher keeps talking at you and you have no idea what she's saying.
Alec was the American friend Madame Charbonnier wrote about in Sam's hilarious report card from Toute Petite Section (English translation) : Samuel speaks neither French nor English. He likes to play alone or with the American friend in our class and is not interested in our proposed activities. Perhaps when he gets bigger he will like to work with a group of children.
Just in case you haven't read the book, Sam had a much better year after that.
Sadly for us, though, Alec and his family moved back to the States a year and a half before we did. He and Sam were too young to keep up with each other. No letters, no photos sent across the miles. Alec's family moved all over the place. Denver, then Washington state, and finally to Australia!
This summer we heard rumors that Alec was moving to South Carolina. After three moves in eight years, Alec's family bought a house down the road. Alec and Sam would go to the same middle school!
Alec's mom and I wanted to get the boys together before school started, so that they'd each have an instant friend, but life was hectic and it didn't happen. "We'll try to have Alec over next weekend," I told Sam on the way to his first day of school. "Or maybe you'll see him in the halls. I can just see it now, the two of you running across the PE field, meeting in the middle with a high five, then striking the Buzz Lightyear pose, just for old time's sake."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Hate to break it to you, Mom," he said. "but that's not going to happen."
Truth is, I didn't think it would either. After all, 1000 kids go to Sam's school, and Alec would be a grade ahead anyway. The halls were separate, and even if they did run into each other, it's not like they'd recognize each other after eight years apart.
On day one, Sam found Alec in the mass of kids crowded by the back carpool line!
"Are you Alec?" he asked.
"Uh, yeah. Who are you?"
"I'm Sam, from France. We were best friends."
"Sam! We played Buzz Lightyear together!"
Later, I asked Sam how he recognized Alec in the crowd.
Sam shrugged his shoulders. "I guess we spent so much time together when we were little that his face was still in my brain. You know, he was important, so he stayed in there. Plus, I spent all day looking for him. I knew he was there somewhere and I just wanted to find him. If I hadn't been looking I might not have seen him. But I wanted to, so I did."
For the rest of the week, Sam and Alec hung out together at the carpool line. And for the rest of the week, Sam's explanation hung out in my head.
What was it that mesmerized me so?
I think it rang a familiar soul bell that's been tinkling in the back of my brain: the idea that if we're made in God's image and are children of God, we should be able to recognize the traces of God, the face of God, in each other.
Sometimes that's easy, and other times, with some people, it sure doesn't look like God is in there at all.
But maybe Sam knows the trick. That first, I have to really want to find God in those faces, and second, I have to spend more time looking.
Thank you, God, for old friends and renewed friendships. Thank you, too, that as you breathed the first breaths of love into each of us, you left behind traces of Yourself. Help us recognize Your face in each other.
When do you tend to see God in the face of another? I'd love to hear about it!
Have a wonder-full Monday, y'all!
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
PS. Guess who came home from school with us on Friday!
Friday, August 20, 2010
Last Tuesday, the UPS man left a big box on our front porch.
How exiting, I thought, tearing it open. I hadn't ordered anything.
It was a suitcase. Who had sent us a brand new suitcase? Why?
I opened the envelope tucked in the front and read the title.
Million Miler? According to the note, my husband had logged over a million miles on Delta, so the airline was rewarding him with a suitcase and a card.
"Where's my gift?" I harrumphed. "I'm the one who deserves the present."
For over twenty years of parenthood, Todd has worked for Michelin. It's an international company, and most positions required him to travel. A lot of travel. Over a million miles, apparently.
That's a lot of dinners out, while I'm home making macaroni and cheese.
A lot of quiet evenings in the hotel, while I was changing diapers, staying up with sick kids, refereeing arguments. That's a lot of solo homework duty, of managing the drama of adolescent friendships, of navigating the fears and tears, not to mention all the household drudgery he's missed.
Where's my present, Delta?
As I dragged the suitcase through the kitchen, a memory popped into my head.
It was a Saturday night and Todd had just come home from another trip overseas. We had gone through our family ritual of opening his carry-on bag, pulling out the sack of pastries he'd bought at the airport 19 hours ago, the magazines for Sarah and me, the candy for Ben and Sam. We sat down at the table to eat dinner together, to celebrate Todd's homecoming, after a week and a half away.
As we passed the food around, Ben spoke up.
"Evan's dad asked where you were at soccer, and I said you were on a trip again. He said that he just couldn't do it. If he had your job, he'd have to quit, cause he loves his kids too much to have to travel with work."
Todd's face fell. I could see the pain in his eyes as the comment hung in the air.
"What a thing for him to say" I barked.
"Yeah," said Sarah. "Daddy loves us every bit as much as Mr. Johnson loves his kids. Probably more!"
"I know!" Ben said. "I didn't say anything, but I wanted to tell him that it's just how Daddy's job is. He can't help it that he has to be gone sometimes."
The memory dissolved, and I looked at the suitcase.
I'm sorry, Todd.
My flurry of resentment and envy hijacked my brain, blocking the view of the beauty in my own life. Of all that I've been lucky enough to experience. The closeness we both have with our children. The treasure of being present in so many everyday moments.
The resentment and envy felt familiar.
It reminded me of the mommy wars, the judging words I've heard fly between moms "who work" and those who stay home. I've participated in that too, from both sides at different times.
I've heard women say, "I just love my kids too much to let somebody else raise them," and I've nodded along.
What loaded words.
When I was back at work full time, waving goodbye to my 4 and 6 year old, the same words wounded me.
I'd insist on helping my four year old get dressed, even though he could dress himself, just for an excuse to touch his little body, to smooth his hair, to straighten his shirt. I didn't love him any less than anyone else. I needed to work. I wanted to work.
Yet, at times, the envy and resentment I felt towards others blocked the view of the beauty of my own life.
God, help me battle envy and resentment. Give me the strength to resist the attraction to negativity, to turn my focus to the beauty you have given me in my present circumstances. Help me, once again, keep my eyes on my own paper, Lord. Help me remember to live in my blessings--and to celebrate them!
Are any of you wise or sensible? Then show it by living right and by being humble and wise in everything you do. But if your heart is full of bitter jealousy and selfishness, don't brag or lie to cover up the truth. That kind of wisdom doesn't come from above. It is earthly and selfish and comes from the devil himself. Whenever people are jealous or selfish, they cause trouble and do all sorts of cruel things. But the wisdom that comes from above leads us to be pure, friendly, gentle, sensible, kind, helpful, genuine, and sincere. When peacemakers plant seeds of peace, they will harvest justice.
What about you?
Do you ever battle resentment? Do you long to live where the grass is greener? What helps you in your struggles?
Have a wonder-full weekend, y'all!
Photo by Robert S. Donovan, creative commons
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Flickr photo by DigiDragon, creative commons
"...Ive been trying to get down
To the heart of the matter
But my will gets weak
and my thoughts seem to scatter
But I think its about forgiveness
Do you ever turn on the radio and wonder if God is trying to tell you something?
We were bopping down the road on Sunday, headed for college with a load of stuff too big for Sarah's little car, when Don Henley preached me a message.
Hadn't I just been thinking about forgiveness?
A couple of teens whom I know and love had come to me, frustrated. I listened to their anger and remembered the time long ago when the veil fell and I discovered that adults were just as messed up as everyone else. That they do things they know that are wrong. That they make big mistakes, give in to their weaknesses, and then they put on their Sunday clothes, take a seat in the pew, and pretend nothing ever happened.
Or maybe that's just what it looks like.
I'd listened to the sadness in their voices, the anger at hypocrisy, and I nodded at the feelings I knew so well. I'd said the same thing years ago.
What could I tell them?
I reminded them that we're all human, that we all make mistakes.
I fed them the line someone told me, (old but true,) that church isn't a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. And I said that this is exactly why Grace is so Amazing.
It didn't satisfy them or make them feel much better, really.
I finally stopped talking, remembering my own disappointment.
It's taken years for life to teach me about grace. In fact, I'm still trying to learn it, to give grace and forgiveness to others, to forgive and give grace to myself.
Grace is God-born. No wonder it's so impossible to patch it together on our own.
No worries, Becky. God will teach them how to do it. They'll need grace and forgiveness themselves, and they'll learn to share it with others.
Don Henley finished his song, and then Todd turned on his Ipod.
"What Was It That I Just Said," by John Gorka.
...It's not just that my pride's been hurt
Not just that my heart's been bruised
Fell down on my big ideas
It's gotten me a bit confused
Unless you are a true bad boy
Your conscience is a constant threat
Time for a new idea
One to discard regret
Prime time to forgive
Prime time to forget
What was that that I just said?
What was that that I just said?
What was that that I just said?
Oh, worry's such a waste of time
It's better not to second-guess
Maybe I should just pick a town
One where I never made a mess
Move along when the crowd is right
Stand alone when the crowd is wrong
I always had the lone wolf ways
Distilled the instinct to get to gone
Prime time to forgive
Prime time to forget
What was that that I just said?
What was that that I just said?
What was that that I just said?
Okay, God. I hear You!
Maybe I ought to carry around an Ipod when kids talk to me. Do you have any other forgiveness songs to add to my list? :)
Other thoughts on forgiveness? What would you tell my young friends?
Have an awesome Wednesday, y'all!
Monday, August 16, 2010
Flickr photo by Caitlinator, creative commons
The alarm went off early at our house today.
It's the first day of school. The first day of middle school for our youngest, the first day of senior year for our middle child. Beginning of a beginning and the beginning of an ending.
I feel a little like throwing up.
How about you?
No, just joking here. Kind of.
I bet you know what I'm feeling. You may even be feeling it yourself right now. You try so hard to be the cheerleader, to keep everybody's spirits up, to be positive, to answer all the questions your sweeties ask.
What if I'm too early? What if I'm too late?
What am I supposed to do when I walk inside the school?
What if I have to go to the gym cause I'm too early and I don't have anyone to stand with?
Are you allowed to talk in the hall?
Can you stop and talk to your friends or do you have to keep moving?
What if I can't open my locker?
What if the 7th and 8th graders are mean?
What if I don't have anyone to sit with at lunch?
You finally answer all the questions, for the second and third time.
Then, as your youngest leaves you, kissing your hand so that no one can see, he says,
"Oh no! I just realized! THERE'S NO MORE RECESS!"
It's a good day for coffee. In a BIG mug.
I've weathered these changes before. You'd think that by the third time around, I'd be a pro at this. I'd have it all down pat. Not so, daddy-O.
I might know better to anticipate the feelings, the tugging of the invisible cord that connects my heart to theirs, but the feelings don't change.
So today I'm praying for kids everywhere as they start a new year, and for the moms and dads who love them. Help us all remember, God Of Beginnings And Endings And Everything In Between, that you go with us in every new adventure. Though you've seen it all and weathered it all, your love for each one of us is still as passionate as ever.
Have a great Monday, y'all!
Before you scatter, tell me, any adventures starting up in your life? I'd love to hear about what's new for you!
Friday, August 13, 2010
Flickr photo by oooh.oooh, creative commons
So much can happen between two people in a split second.
Walls can materialize or fall, Jericho-style. Each person can step out on trust, gingerly placing a foot on the water, or refuse to get out of the boat, clinging to the suspicions she's secretly believed were true.
School starts Monday here, and a classroom memory has spent the week fluttering around my brain, begging for attention. It was one of those pivotal, split second moments, one that doesn't exactly make me proud.
Perhaps you've had a moment like this. Sometimes I've stood at the fork in the road and chosen well, and other times, like this one, I haven't.
I was teaching chemistry at a high school, and it was the first day of class.
I decided to start the year by doing a strange thing, strange, at least, to the other teachers and teens at my school. At each change of class, I stood outside my door in the noisy hall, and as students tried to duck their heads and dart into my classroom, I stopped them. I introduced myself to each student over the din and asked his name, welcomed him to the class, shook his hand, and showed him where to sit according to the seating chart on my clipboard.
Within seconds, a long line of young men and women had formed outside my door.
"This is weird." "Why is she doing this?"
Why was I doing this?
Partly to welcome them to my classroom. Partly to show my respect for them, the respect they got for free, respect that I required back. Partly to show dominance. I'm in charge of this class. It is my home (thus the curtains on the windows and the flowers on my lab table.) I will respect you, but you must act like ladies and gentlemen in my classroom.
The teens watched me, watched their friends interact with me, waiting for something to happen. I knew this was strange for them. I expected that a few would try to amuse each other, tell me their name was SloMo or DreamBoy, or tip their hat in fake formality, cushion the awkward earnestness of my handshake with sarcasm. I'd experienced it many times before and had learned to meet it head on, to set a businesslike tone on day one, friendly enough, but firm.
So far, the kids had been great.
Then a tall, red headed boy to the front of the line, his eyes sparkling with mischief.
"I'm Mrs. Ramsey," I said, thrusting out my hand. "Welcome to chemistry class."
The boy shook my hand, a corner of his lip turning up, as if he were about to spring something on me.
I waited for his name. He said nothing, just kept on shaking my hand. What was he doing?
"Now, tell me your name."
"I..I..." he said, looking hard at me. "My..." His mouth was open but nothing came out. Kids behind him snickered. "Go for it, Dan," one boy said.
What kind of a joke was this?
I could feel my body tensing, anger rising. So he was one of those, huh? There's always at least a couple every year, needing to impress their friends. Start things off by showing me what a pain they'd be until I wrestled them into control.
Other kids were watching. I'd give him one more chance to straighten up.
"I believe I asked for you to tell me your name."
More open mouth.
"Now." I barked, my voice dampened by the noise of the hall.
The student squinted his eyes at the floor, "Da Da Da Dan," he said. "Dan At At At Atkinson."
My heart jumped into my throat.
What have I done? He was stuttering.
He wasn't being rude or a smart aleck. He was struggling with a speech problem and I had exacerbated it, calling attention to it in front of everyone.
"I'm glad to meet you, Dan," I said, trying to recover, wanting to shrink into the linoleum. "You're in the third row from the door, 2nd seat."
Dan was doing his best, and I had assumed the worst.
Over the next few weeks, I quickly learned what a lovely person Dan was. I still think of him from time to time and wonder how he's doing.
I'm not teaching this year, and I think I've grown a lot since then. (At least I hope I have.) So why has this memory been haunting me this week? Is God trying to tell me something?
Maybe it's all about fear. Fear makes me do things I regret. It makes me hold tight to what I have. It keeps me from being generous, from going for the life God has for me. Fear stunts and shrinks. It keeps us from loving others and fully experiencing God's goodness.
Or maybe the memory is about the fallacy of being in control. We're not in control of anything, really. Just our own selves, the way we react to others, the choices we make to love or not to love.
God, help me let go of control. Free me from fear and the way it binds me.
What about you? Do you wrestle with fear and the need to control? What helps you?
Have a wonder-full weekend, y'all!
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 John 4:18
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Flickr photo by neilbetter, creative commons
About this time last year, a group of workers repairing an underground steam pipe under the parking lot outside my daughter's dorm found human bones buried in the dirt.
This is not what most parents want to discover on move-in day.
"It's no big deal, Mom," Sarah said. "Remember, I told you DeSaussure was a hospital during the Civil War. They say they used to bury the amputated parts out back. Either that, or it's leftover cadavers from when the med school was here."
Sarah laughed at the look on my face.
"Mommy," Sarah said, patting my head as if I were cute, "you've got to remember. This place is OLD. You can practically breathe in the history."
Breathing in history.
As we worked on packing up the minivan to take her back to school on Friday, I remembered the bones and our conversation.
Her comment about breathing in history sent me rafting down a stream of consciousness.
Care to ride along? (There is purpose to the journey, I promise!)
I'm teleported back to junior high. Mr. Keck taught me tons of useful things, like how to use the slide rule (calculators need batteries and were probably a passing fad, anyway,) and how to pronounce Molybdenum ("It's mo-lib-din-um, not molly-be-denim!"--he's probably still slapping his knee in heaven over that one.) But then there's the rant I still ponder quite often: that there was a set number of atoms when the world came to be, and we just keep reshuffling them over and over, in death and birth, in eating and in pooping, in recycling and cooking, planting and manufacturing, killing and procreating. "Breathe in," he used to say. "Why, you might be sucking down an atom that once belonged to Aristotle! Abe Lincoln! Who knows! Whenever you breathe, you're tasting everything that came before you. You're tasting all creation!"
I used to think of this a lot when we lived in France.
Not because I was particularly philosophical there. (Though I was. Big changes were happening.) It was on account of the smoke.
I've heard that there's a big effort to curb smoking now, more serious than when we were there, when I'd stop by a café for a café au lait and end up smelling like smoke until the next morning's shower. The smoke was devilishly stubborn. It surrounded you, weaving itself into the fibers of your clothes, nesting in your hair, swirling in and out of your mouth, plunging into your lungs. You'd have to work to get rid of it, lather up with soap and shampoo, wash your clothes, set your coat on the balcony and let wind and time work on it.
I was thinking on this (and drinking coffee!) as I read my psalm yesterday.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
Psalm 5: 11-12
This brought my raft to my last stop stream-side: the fourth grade Sunday school classroom at church.
Each Sunday we light the candle before the children come in, to remind them that as we sit on the carpet and tell the story, we're on holy ground.
God is with us, providing light and presence.
At closing time, we don't snuff out the candle. We call it changing the light, transforming it from a light we can see to another form, to smoke that gets in our hair and lands on our skin. It swirls around us and spreads through the room. We take it with us wherever we go, to big church or home, hanging onto our bodies, in our lungs, in our hair.
The God Of All History that came before us and will unfold for years after we're gone, surrounds us like a shield.
I may have forgotten how to use the slide rule long ago, but that truth stays with me.
Emmanuel, God with us, thank you for surrounding us with your favor, like a force field, like smoke in our clothes and hair, breathed in our nostrils, sucked down into our lungs. Thank you for being in us, around us, before us. We love you.
Have an awesome, wonder-filled Wednesday, y'all!
Monday, August 9, 2010
Flickr photo by HA! Designs, creative commons
Before I could get his hot meal and carton of milk out of the coolers in the back of my van, Jerry was waiting for me on his back steps, clutching a framed photo in his good hand.
Jerry's waited for me on his back porch every other Wednesday for nearly five years now, so I know exactly what to expect. He'll be dressed for church since it's Wednesday, even though Prayer Meeting won't start for at least seven hours or so. His left eye will look at me while the right one darts around, and his right arm will be drawn up to his side, unless he decides to unfold it with his good arm and wave it around to emphasize a point.
I also know to expect Show and Tell. Sometimes Jerry will show me the dog his sister Rosemary gave him for Valentine's Day, the one that says I love you when you squeeze its paw. Other times it's the family of monkeys his daddy carved out of peach pits, the Last Supper clock that his preacher gave him, or one of his neckties of Bible verses.
"He's like a child," I told Todd. A child in an old man's body. A child who'll tell you that his boxers feel scratchy inside his pants, or that the smell of cabbage made him vomit yesterday. A child who likes to tell stories.
How Jerry loves to tell stories.
I can recite most of Jerry's stories by heart, particularly his favorites, which often involve household appliances. There's the one about the day his vacuum cleaner belt broke, and then the replacement belt broke right after that. (!) And there's the story about the dryer he bought from June, a girl who works with Rosemary. That dryer is 26 years old and has never been scratched SO DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT PUTTING YOUR KEYS ON IT, HEAR?
There are also the family stories, most of which focus on what a hussy 71 year old Rosemary is, how she took his camera without permission and took a photo of herself WITH A MAN, and how she loves to go to the Moose Lodge where people walk around with a beer in each hand. "I told her I can't go in there cause my church would throw me out, and then what would I have? No church to go to. I'd be all alone!" Every time he tells it, tears dribble down his face.
What story would it be today?
By the looks of the photo he was holding, it'd be the one about his sister Grace.
Grace died of a heart attack when she was only thirty one.
"She was good," he'd probably say. "So good. So much gooder than Rosemary." Then he'd start in on his favorite story of late, the one in which Rosemary called him on the phone and said "Guess what we just ate," and he said "What," and she said, "Peanut butter and banana sandwiches," and he said, "Well, where's mine?" He'd tell me again how Rosemary used to REFUSE to bring him any bananas, even though she KNOWS he loves peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
I'd listen and then I'd say what I always said at the end of the story: "Jerry, why don't I go get you some bananas right now?" and he'd say, "Naw, I got some in the kitchen. That's not the point."
I closed the van door and prepared myself.
"Hey Jerry. How are you doing today?"
"Fine. Did I ever show you this picture?"
"You sure did," I say. "Your sister Grace was a pretty lady."
"Yes," he says, stroking the photo and smiling at it. "She sure was. She didn't deserve what happened to her."
"No she didn't. It's really sad that she died so young."
Jerry snapped his head up and looked at me funny. "That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about that man she married. The evil one. The one who woulda kilt her. That James Thornton."
Within a minute, Jerry is crying, telling me the story of how James used to make Grace walk while he drove the car, and said cruel things to her and made her cry. Sometimes he even hit her, and she'd come running back home, to Mama and to Daddy and to him. He was twenty three then. Twenty four when she died.
As Jerry tells me, the tears run down his face, through the uneven patches of whiskers, falling off his chin onto his church shirt.
"She'd run away time after time, but she'd always go back. Cept'n that last time James Thornton tried to come get her. Daddy looked out the window and saw James Thornton's car and said, 'Ain't no way he's getting her back. Over my dead body.' He pointed the gun at the car but it jammed. And there comes James Thornton, out of the car, storming across the yard. Daddy told Mama, he said, 'Mama, get me the hammer.'"
Jerry stopped for a moment to get a dirty dishtowel from inside and blow his nose on it. "You should have seen it. Daddy smacked him in the head and he fell just like a tree falling down. BOOM! Right on the floor. One of my shoes was under him. I remember that. James Thornton fell on one of my shoes."
"After he got out of the hospital he never bothered her again. But you know what? She died the next year anyway."
Jerry took a deep breath and then looked at me.
"There's a lot I don't understand," Jerry said, wiping at tears, "but I know Jesus saves. And I know He's with my sister Grace. And Mama and Daddy. Rosemary too, one of these days. Course she might not end up there." He snorted loudly, the tears stopped, and then he smiled and started telling me about the day his vacuum cleaner belt broke.
A few minutes later, I patted his hand and went back to my car to finish my route, my heart pulled out of shape by his tears, that he'd experienced such a violent thing, that his sister had lived that life.
I thought of his childlike self, how easily his tears came, and how easily they'd stop again. No, he didn't understand many things, but he knew God loved him, loved Grace, loved his church family, even loved banana hogging Rosemary.
I thought of my own self, the way I clench back my tears and bury my fears and hurts deep so they can't slip out, to preserve the image I want to project.
Do I mourn freely, and allow God to comfort me, or do I stuff it down?
Do I trust God like Jerry? Like a child? Or do I spend my time reasoning, doubting, questioning?
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
God, give me faith to come to you as a child. Help me to quit spending so much time guarding and hiding and managing things on my own. Help me put more trust in you.
What does coming to God as a child mean to you? Does the thought make you bristle or give you comfort?
Have a wonder-full day, y'all!
Friday, August 6, 2010
Maybe you were just a baby and you have only the memories your parents shared with you. Or maybe you were older and were pushed into joining the church. Or maybe not. Maybe it was one of your most powerful experiences of your life, or maybe the meaningful part came later, when your faith grew, and you learned what it really means to be take your part in the church, your place in the family of God.
I've been thinking a lot lately about my baptism, probably because I just wrote about it over on the Being page of this blog. I hoped it might work as a way to introduce myself to newcomers here, to give a feel to who I am and why I write. And I hope it will encourage folks to keep coming back, to sit down in the circle and share your own faith stories.
That's not so surprising, I suppose. Baptisms tend to be moving, powerful experiences.
Every single time I watch one, whether it be a baptism of a baby or an old man, in a church or in a swimming pool or creek or river, I say to myself, "That's got to be the most beautiful one I've seen yet."
And don't even get me talking about my children's baptisms. I'm all out of Kleenex!
I hope you'll share!
Have an awesome weekend, y'all!
PS. Enjoy this beautiful song, Been to the Water, by my friend, award winning songwriter Kyle Matthews.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Flickr photo by jimbob!, creative commons
"I don't get it," my son said on Saturday, grumbling when I wouldn't let him change the channel from the Today show. "Why are they doing all this wedding talk anyway?" he said. "It's not like the whole country really knows her."
I tried to say something about the joy a wedding brings, how it reminds us of hope and promise, of love and new beginnings. Besides, I did feel like I knew Chelsea Clinton a teensy bit, having watched her grow up over the years.
By that time, Ben had lost interest and started texting somebody.
I should have pointed him to Millie Martini Bratten. As Editor-in-Chief at Brides magazine, she explained that the toasting and dancing and wedding traditions gave America a much-needed lift. "No matter what is going on in the world," she said, "there is love."
What a good reminder.
No matter what is going on in the world, there is love.
I'm a terrible flip flopper on this matter.
It's not that I don't believe it. I absolutely do. It's just that it's such a tug of war for me.
On the one hand, I want to fully be a participant in this world. News junkie that I am, I want to know what's going on. Tell me everything, the feel good stories and the teary traumas. The natural disasters and the stories of recovery and hope. I want to know about the shootings and the crying, the hunger and the wars, even as I go through my comfortable day.
I want to know so I can pray, I say. But sometimes I remember and sometimes I don't.
Other times I just stand there, watching the TV screen, trying to keep my jaw from falling open.
There is so much pain in the world, it's astounding. But there's also joy in the face of it. Even peace, sometimes. This astounds me too.
On the other hand, I want to give my TV to Goodwill and become a Baptist nun. I want to spend my life walking through the woods, thanking God for moss and the fact that birds sing. I want to write poem prayers in my head about the beauty of breathing, the trickle of a creek, the uncurling of a fiddlehead fern. I want to ponder free will and grace.
This requires quiet and cloistering away. Certainly no news reports.
See the problem?
To which world do I belong?
I'm God's, first and foremost, but I live in community, and I love that too. God created us to be here, to share his love with each other, to serve each other, to enjoy his peace.
Ah, peace. I think that's what this flip flopping is really about for me.
So I've had to get stern with myself and set a limit on the news. Moderation in everything, right? Being aware is important, but I need serenity too. When anything stands in my way of finding God's peace, I know it's time to make a life adjustment.
Do you find it hard to straddle two worlds? What helps you?
I think Bratton's words will help. No matter what is going on in the world, there is love.
A love the Psalmist describes so well:
How exquisite your love, O God! How eager we are to run under your wings, To eat our fill at the banquet you spread as you fill our tankards with Eden spring water. You're a fountain of cascading light, and you open our eyes to light.
Psalm 36:7-9, The Message
Thank you God, for the strong shelter of your wings, for the banquet of a new day, for living water that always refreshes. As we walk through this world of pain and sorrow, of joy and hope, open our eyes to see your light. Cascade all over us!
Have a wonder-full day, y'all!
Monday, August 2, 2010
Sometimes when you see the same thing every day, you stop noticing it anymore.
Like how sweet a boy looks conked out on a dog pillow.
Or how goofy a dog looks when he's trying to make you love him again after he's stolen the peanut butter off the counter, sneaked it out the dog door, and hidden out under the grapevines, licking out every last bit of goodness with his alarmingly long tongue.
Or how gorgeous muscadine grapes look as they get big and juicy in your backyard.
Wait a second.
Flip back to that first pic.
Yep, that's the one.
Talk about not noticing things anymore. How embarrassing!
See that couch? If you've been around here for a while, you may remember that I found it two and a half years ago at a yard sale. Back then it was all blue and flowery, but the moment I laid eyes on it, I heard the angels sing. See, we have an itsy bitsy television in our bedroom, and for some reason my kids always ended up in there to watch movies and plant popcorn kernels between our sheets. A comfy couch would get them out of our bed. Plus, it was only $25!
Two seconds after we lugged it through the door, I downed a pot of coffee for strength and began hopping all over it, measuring and sketching and calculating how I'd make the slipcover. Twenty-one yards would be enough. I sped to the fabric store and returned with red denim.
For the next day and a half, I turned my dining room into a sweat shop, hunched over my sewing machine, turning out pillow slipcovers. I'd done this before with the couch in the den, so I kind of knew what I was doing.
Finally it came time to tackle the couch itself, the reupholstery part. The part I dread.
The couch in the den had straight, easy arms. This one had rolled arms, arms that whispered I'm too hard. You can't do it. Who do you think you are, Martha Stewart?
I stared at the couch and drew things and measured some more.
I struggled and gave myself brain cramps and a Medusa hairdo, and finally decided just to sleep on it. Maybe the solution would come to me. Maybe I'd feel braver tomorrow.
When I woke the next morning, I took a long look at my couch.
Then I decided to start a blog.
It's two and a half years later and I'm still loving my blog. Unfortunately, however, the couch still looks like this.
I've grown so used to the look that I hardly even see it anymore.
Does this ever happen to you?
You get attracted by a new project, and you dive in full force. Then you get to the part that feels strange and scary, and you abandon it for something more comfortable. Something that looks easier or more fun. Like making a skirt for your dog or a dress for your daughter. Starting a blog or a novel. Or just rearranging your silverware drawer.
Pretty soon you forget about what you've left undone. That is, until your parents come to visit and you catch them looking funny at it, running their fingers along the cardboard strip that's stapled on the outside, wondering if you did that on purpose.
You meant to get back to the couch. You really did. It's just that there are always other things to tackle. Other things that seem more doable and fun.
Do you do this in your inner life too?
Maybe someone's hurt us or we've hurt someone else. Maybe there's a weakness we know we need to work on, something we've done or haven't done and we regret it. But instead of dealing with it head on, we move on to other things, things that are easier and suck out less emotional energy. We'll get back to it another day. We'll tackle it when we're not so tired, when we have more time.
Soon, we don't even think about it anymore.
Today I'm praying that God will reveal to me all my unfinished business. (Not in one fell swoop, mind you! That vision would surely send me galloping back to bed, squeezing shut my eyeballs and burying myself under pillows for a week!)
One issue at a time, please, God!
I know that God will do it if I ask. After all,
He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.
Daniel 2: 21 NIV
And God won't just leave me there, quaking at my mammoth To Do list.
He'll work with me all the way.
For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
Philippians 4: 13, New Living Translation
Thank goodness! Thank God!
What about you?
Do you have unfinished business, DIY and otherwise? What gives you strength to get back to the list?
I've found that sometimes accountability can help, so here goes:
I'm determined to fix that couch before school starts, so I hereby promise you a photo of a finished couch by August 16!
Fifty lashes with a wet noodle for me if I don't post it!
Have a wonder-full Monday, y'all!