Two Things

I do not make New Year’s resolutions.
For me, they come up hollow and wanting.

Sort of like when I tasted cotton candy for the first time. The packaging all fluffed up and colorful made it look like a good idea, but was such a dissolving disappointment in the end.

Keeping the traditional resolution feels like nose-to-the-grindstone work; something I don’t want to do, yet need to do to become the best version of me.

What does this even mean?

How many versions of me are there? Is there a Cinderella version? A Carol Burnett version?  Is there an unabridged version somewhere that I don’t know about? Ask my family. They probably know.

It’s a bit too bumper sticker for me, really.

Image result for be the best version of you quoteshttp://www.lovethispic.com/image/37568/be-the-best-version-of-you

Sort of like the WWJD bracelet of the ’90’s. What would Jesus do? 

Probably not wear the bracelet, for one. It wasn’t about the externals with Jesus, anyway. Besides, he broke everything down to two things. Love God. Love people.

Trying to create the best version of myself feels like a bunch of cotton candy.  A sticky mess with not much to show for it.

For the past several years, instead of resolutions, I chose one thing that I thought would fit into God’s two things. Last year I wanted more joy, so I went to the most joyful person I could find. Jesus.

In my journey I discovered that so many people think God is angry and Jesus is…dour. So many of us humans do not know that God sings and Jesus laughs.

It wasn’t easy running after joy. I found out I am not naturally the most joyful person. I tend toward melancholy and choosing joy came down to just that…choosing. I had to intentionally choose to be joyful. When I chose to look for God in all things, I found joy. When I chose to love people in hard moments, I found joy.

It wasn’t sappy sentimentalism. It felt divine. It felt sacred. And it felt incredibly real.

This year I am going after friendliness. I wonder if it’s becoming a lost art.

On recent walkabouts in town, I’ve passed strangers on the sidewalk only to have them look to the ground or pull out their cell phone as they sidled pass me. People on neighboring streets turned their faces, again, engaged in a phone, or slipping in earbuds as I walked by. I found myself uttering a quick “Hey there” anyway, just to make a human connection.

Like my pursuit of joy, I know it won’t always be easy. Some days I won’t feel like being friendly; especially to the un-friendly, the un-grateful, the rude.

But, if it really is about only two things…loving God and loving people, and if Jesus really is the most joyful person that ever walked the planet, then I think he must have been the friendliest, too.

With Jesus there is no looking to the ground.
There is no closing off the ear.
There is no turning of his face.

May I be the same this year, and always.

Related image://graceandloveblog.com/2014/09/17/noise/

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The Last Day

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I wanted to walk to school on my last day.

It was a bright winter morning and I wanted to feel the cold on my face as I walked up the hill toward Elm Street. It was to be my last walk as a teacher and I wanted to savor the moment.

As it turned out I wasn’t able to savor anything. Strangely, I’d slept late, something I rarely do. Consequently,  I spent the morning frantically trying to gather up the gifts and cards I’d put together for my students and teacher friends. I kept messing up filling out the card envelopes and had to start over several times. I forgot the name of a teacher who I worked with…it just left my brain…gone. I was not myself.

I missed breakfast, another thing I hardly ever do. I eat like a Hobbit…breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, and then lunch. I missed breakfast and forgot to pack a lunch.

Ten minutes before I had to be at school I asked the Fiery Irishgirl to throw something in my lunch box while I stumbled about the garage searching for a box big enough to hold all the gift bags. When I looked at the size of the box I needed I realized I wouldn’t be walking to school. I swallowed hard, my breath a white puff in the cold garage.

What’s the big deal?

So, I can’t walk to school on my last day gazing at the frosted fields by Laurel Lane and the sun shimmering above the pines that stand sentinel near the big yellow house while contemplating the end of a chapter and the beginning of another.

Why do I think my life has to be like a Meg Ryan movie?

Haven’t I figured out by now that endings and good-byes don’t always wrap up nicely with a pretty bow on top? Not everything works itself out on top of the Empire State Building.

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I sped off  in the convertible.

Harried and un-made up, my hair splayed across my face, I parked and then tried to finagle the box of gifts out of the car, a vehicle I do not like for several reasons, one being the utter inconvenience of putting anything bigger than a Chinese take-out bag into the back seat. I managed to drag the box across the parking lot, retrieve my big key from my coat pocket to unlock the school door, then bumble my way down the corridor. Once I got the box into the classroom the day became like every other day.

All the normal struggles, all the normal resistances.
All the normal reminders, all the normal encouragements.

There was some reading and a little writing.
There was an uneventful music class and a skirmish-free recess.

I read the last chapter of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, thankful I didn’t choke up like I do every year when I get to place where Imogene Herdman bumps into the grace of God for the first time.

I handed out my gifts and a fourth grader made a speech complete with a bow. There was a group hug and then it was time for coats, hats and mittens to be gathered up. I led the last trek through the hallway to the waiting bus. One last goodbye and that was it.

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That’s how it is with children.

What you see is what you get.
And what you get is them.

Children don’t care that good-byes are awkward and messy. They don’t hug quickly and they don’t divert their eyes. They don’t get it over with. They just stand there and look at you. They tell you exactly how they feel.

They put plastic jewels in an old puzzle box wrapped with lined paper because they want to give you something that sparkles. They will draw a picture of you and when they hand it to you they will tell you they love you.

On your last day you get their best coloring page, one they’ve worked on for weeks and were saving to hang in their room.

On your last day a wrapped gift made for someone else is pulled from a backpack and given to you instead.

“Aren’t you going to unwrap it?”   Oh…yes, of course.

Peeling away the paper you see the photo of a child who just days ago rested in your arms after saying terrible things; a photo where she has refused to smile for the camera.

“You’re going to put it on your fridge, right?”  Yes. Yes, I surely will.

Shortly before it was time to go home, I watched a child, unraveled with rage, rip up his papers and books. In his fury he threw everything, including the gift I gave him, fragile and sentimental, across the floor.

A child sitting next to him motioned for me.  “Did you see? He threw your gift.”

I know.

“What if it’s broken?” 

I think it’s going to be okay.

And it was. I don’t know how I knew, I just did.

Moments later, I watched as the sobbing angry child, tears streaming from his face reached his arm back, reaching, reaching until his small hand folded over the gift and, lifting it ever so gently, he placed it back on his desk. Unbroken. On my last day.

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Let Nothing You Dismay

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All five of my children broke through the womb when the frost hit hard.

The first two at Thanksgiving and another on the fiftieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day. Two more came near winter’s end when everyone is longing for spring, but the snow keeps piling high.

My babies met winter on their first day out of doors. They were swaddled in fleece, the first barrier I put up against the cold. Five times I pinched a blanket and laid it above their noses in an effort to keep the wind chill from stealing their breath. Five times I turned from the front seat, unbuckling my seat belt to adjust a too-big knitted cap from sliding off to one side and down over one baby eye.

Birth is the first trauma.

It is a traumatic thing to be pushed out of the warmth of a liquid cocoon only to be mercilessly squeezed through a narrow passageway, the plates of our skull shifting to protect our brain while the rest of our curled up body straightens out for the first time.

We aren’t even breathing yet as we descend into who knows where, and when we do, getting air into our lungs for the first time isn’t always easy. Some of us open wide and gulp oxygen right away, but many of us are silent…until the umbilical cord gets taken from our necks. Some of us need help, a quick jarring to loosen the fluid in our lungs before we gasp…before we breathe.

Our mothers were never more closer to their own death than when they gave birth to us. It’s a wonder that any of them went through it more than once. Yet, most of them will tell you this sort of thing doesn’t matter one bit once their baby was placed in their arms.

All that squeezing and contracting.
All that pain and fear.

The trauma of birth is a fading mist when a mama meets her baby for the first time. Birth is the last bit of trauma any child should ever know.

But the world has fallen down.
She has broken herself and trauma is everywhere now.

Children who should be playing and laughing and dreaming are fighting and crying and nightmare-ing.

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I know because I hold trauma in my hands every day.

I hold it until it goes limp in my arms. I quietly rock it back and forth, back and forth. I wipe its tears and I stroke its hair. I whisper that I care and that it’s going to be all right,  even though I know for some, it won’t be.

Humans can’t fix this kind of trauma because no one can fix the human heart.

So many grown-up humans think they have the answer; the right social service, the tailor-made program, but not so grown up humans know they don’t. Because these little ones will tell you there is still no food in the cupboard, but there are needles…there are bottles. They will tell you there are backhands and ugly words and there are evictions and cardboard boxes.

And they will tell you so much more by not telling you anything at all.

My mother told me not to tell and you can’t make me tell you anything.

So they roar.

When I hear the roar of a child that is the roar of trauma, I feel something shatter. The world breaks apart just a little bit more. It doesn’t make sense, but in the middle of the roaring I come closer. As I do, I pray under my breath…O’ God, O’ God, O’ God…heal the despair, comfort the dismay.  It’s hard to know when to move toward fear and loathing. It doesn’t make sense that holding tight to trauma can be a comfort in the end. When the roaring stops and the broken child is spent, there is rest.

It’s what I need to know this Christmas. That there is, and will be, rest.

God rest ye merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay…

That not even the trauma or brokenness of a child can completely unravel me.

Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day.
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r
When we were gone astray…

Do these children instinctively know somewhere deep inside of them that all has gone astray, so roar they must? Is not their roaring the proper response to trauma and all that has gone wrong with the blue planet?

These children roar the roar of injustice.
They push and shove against neglect.
They bite the pain of abuse.

Because no child, after leaving the safety of the womb, their lungs heaving for the first time, should ever have to know trauma again.

For to us a child is born…

The Ancient of Days has come.

The brilliance of God has squeezed through a birth canal, the plates in his skull shifted and his body unfurled until He too, opened His mouth and gulped air.

…to us a son is given…

A Son given to us by way of the thorn, the lash and finally the cross, the ultimate instrument of torture and trauma that heals all traumas, forever and ever.

From the place of the cross it is He, the Lion of Judah who gets the last roar.

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Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy.

 

 

Lion image courtesy of Basehead Art.com    

When Your Teaching Days Are Numbered

20171109_123313 (1)Joy wells when I see that so many leaves are carpeting the back yard right now the whole place practically glows. The trees, black and brown outlines against an opaque-blue dawn, stand sentinel over what they’ve just deposited all over the ground.

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Even though, technically, what has been strewn onto the walking path at the back side of the house is dead, it is beautiful. The kind of beauty that chokes the throat and brims the eye. I don’t know why my heart sings when I see it, it just does.

These leaves.
I don’t have the heart to rake them up.
I decide to let them be.

I wade slowly through a magical pond of yellow.

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Earlier in the week, leaves from the red maples at the front of the house were gathered and now sit as three mounded triangles all browned up and dead for real. I’d raked them up days ago, but the next day it had turned bitter cold, and after coming down with a bout of shingles, I didn’t have it in me to deposit them to the mulch pile. I’d spent the better half of the day before hauling pile after pile to the bamboo patch, but I pushed myself too hard so these last three would have to wait. Their days are numbered. It is just a matter of time before I drag them to the outer darkness that is the side of the house where I’ve been dumping leaves for the last twenty years.

Even the golden beauties in the backyard will eventually curl on themselves and brittle up. They will most likely blow away, ending up in the Little Androscoggin River at the end of the road.

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There is always one day in late Autumn when the wind howls hard and long and all the lawn carpets get scraped clean, the debris swooshed into the stream across from the winter berry bush I prune every year for its splash of red.

Everything is numbered. God, Himself, is in the numbering business.

Leaves on trees.
Grains of sand.
Stars in the heavens.
Hairs on my head.
Days of my life.

Apparently, some things are meant to be counted.

The children in my classroom love to announce they know what the biggest number is, the number that is the last number ever.

I’ve heard this refrain for the better part of seventeen years. The biggest number  they come up with is always something like ten million, billion, ka-trillion,gajillion, quadrillion. Right, Mrs. McKellick?

I always smile and say, Remember, there is always ten million, billion, ka-trillion, gajillion, quadrillion… and oneWhen I say this, every single time the child face falls and darkens. Then, suddenly they smile, too, when they realize that counting numbers goes on forever, because forever to a child is a magical thing.

Some things are meant for forever, like souls and love and faith and hope.
The very words of Jesus that speak and are still speaking go on and on into eternity.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

Some things are meant to end and will, like suffering…hate…despair.

“and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

All these march to a timetable we do not know.

Yet, there are timetables we do know, where flesh and blood live out a daily routine. It is here that we do some of our own counting.

I step into the Art room at school on a Thursday and like every other Thursday before, it’s the same. The scent of hot glue and wax crayon mixing with the odors of paint and wet paper assaults my nostrils. Here the cacophony of children’s voices, sometimes joyful, sometimes irritating, pierces the ear as the stuff of creative abandon gets played out in forty minutes. I love it.

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I have three more Thursdays. Three more Thursdays where I will watch over young humans furrow the brow and squint the eye to bring about their next masterpiece. Three more Thursdays where I get to scrape glue off my hands and dodge permanent marker being wielded by an unaware fourth grader. Three more Thursdays to encourage the maneuvering of scissors around tight spaces and I get three more Thursdays to look one of those humans in the eye as he holds up his creation and I will say with all honesty, “It’s beautiful.”

All my Mondays through Fridays at Elm Street School are numbered.

I know this like I know the leaves in the backyard are numbered, having given up their summer splendor to die for a little while.  My time at school is waning like the last fade of Autumn. So I wade through the hallways slowly when I can, thinking that here too, is it sometimes magical. Some days you can actually see it;  the wonder, the understanding of a concept, a truth, come to life all over a child’s face.

Winter is coming and this chapter is coming to a close. However,  this life being God’s glorious art room,  I know there will be color again.

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The Long, Slow Closing Of A Door

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There are so many doors.

Some swing open with a gusto and close with a bang. Others open with a slow creak and need to be pulled shut. Some doors never actually close. They come up against the door frame and just stop, a shaft of light coming from the in-between place of in and out.

Some doors seem to not want to open, and the jiggling of the handle and the grip of a key that doesn’t want to fit leaves one to wonder why is there a door here in the first place if it’s so hard to get inside?

There are doors with glass in them and doors with busted out glass. There are new doors where the paint lacquer shimmers on their fronts and there are old doors where the paint has peeled back and the wither and weather of old wood is exposed.

Doors invite.
Doors keep out.
Doors expose.
Doors hide away.
Doors include and doors exclude.

There is a narrow door.
And there is a door where the Ancient of Days knocks and asks to come in.

Then, there are doors that cannot be seen. They are a metaphors. Like a door that signifies the beginning of a new opportunity, or the door that closes when it’s time to move on.

The long, slow closing of a door begins for me today. Thirty school days from now a door will shut. Eighteen years at Elm Street School will come to a close.

After almost a year of ruminating, muddling, talking, seeking counsel, and many, many conversations with the Lover of my soul, it has become clear that it’s time for me to walk out the door and whatever happens when one leaves something behind, I’m to embrace it all.

It hit me last Saturday morning while watching my grandson play his last soccer game on the lower field at Elm Street, that it was my last soccer game at Elm Street, too. Despite the mist that surrounded me that day, I was suddenly struck with the clarity, that in the days to come, there will be many “lasts.”

How do tears spring up so suddenly that you have to grip your lawn chair and grit your teeth so hard to keep from crying because you don’t want the parent sitting next to you to think you are a crazy person who cries at soccer games?

When a door closes slowly, you see everything in slow motion. The space gets smaller, more detailed, more specific. The images of what is closing around you gets etched in your brain. You remember.

I’ve got thirty days to remember it all.

Walk Toward It

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Dependence on God is no easy thing. At least not for me. Every day I am confronted with Some. Thing. I am given an opportunity to decide. Sometimes it’s a big thing, sometimes it’s a little thing. Nonetheless, I am deciding every day whether to trust this God I say I believe in. That I tell others is brilliant and kind. Who is awash with love and mercy and gladness and smiling and favor and peace.

This Father of Lights, where there is no shadow or turning.

But there is shadow in me. The shadow of fear, whether realistic or not, whether founded in good sense or not, matters not. Fear is a thing.

I board a plane set for California this evening and it has been this anticipation of boarding and then flying that has created shadow. I do not like to fly. I am a terrible passenger, even in a car. I know from whence it all came, but that does not matter. What matters is this question. How do I live my life in dependence and trust given all the strengths and weaknesses I have that make me who I am? How do I trust when I want to control everything? I have to make a choice.

Tim Suttle in his book, Shrink, asks it this way-

     “Which choice will best reveal my weaknesses and my dependence on God? Which option requires me to rely on God’s power, not my own?”

He goes on to say,

           “It is all I can do to resist the impulse to hide my own brokenness. I don’t naturally want other people to know my struggles. I want to pretend as if I have my act together. But that is not where the power of God resides. The power of God resides in weakness.”

So this shadow. It tries to cloud everything about this trip. The chance to travel, the gifts that have enabled us to go, the opportunities to meet others who love Jesus, the chance for divine encounters, not to mention the opportunity to bask in the California coastline with my love. All this is in on the table for me and my mind keeps going to that plane.

I want deliverance.

Until then, I will walk toward the shadow. I will roll my luggage into the airport. I will wait in the boarding lounge and look at all the people who will be traveling with me. I will ignore the pitch in my belly when we’re called to board the plane. I will walk down the ramp, my head up, my chin definitely up and I will step up and into that narrow doorway and follow my husband to our seats. I will say hello to the person sitting next to me. When it’s time, I will snap on my seatbelt and then…I will breathe.

Sometimes you just have to walk through the shadow, you have to walk right towards the thing that scares you, because in that moment you are becoming the bravest person you know. In that moment, it is what dependence on God looks like.

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Images provided by Videezy.com and GoogleImages

The Real Truth Of Birth

It was a beautiful early summer day much like today when my mother labored at home with the last of us. I was two months shy of my seventh birthday. I knew my mother was pregnant, “expecting a baby”, but I didn’t really know what that meant exactly. I just knew a baby was coming. From where, I didn’t know.

I spent the day doing what I always did in early summer. I played outside. Most likely I was somewhere in my imagination under the big tree in the back yard. I wiled away the hours…I dreamed and imagined and conversed to myself all day long. I didn’t know my mother’s body had begun the rhythmic squeezing and letting go that is the work of giving birth.

My mother had never given birth at home before. Myself, along with my two sisters and brother, were brought through her legs in that sterile, operating room style that was the late sixties.  My parents weren’t hippies or homesteaders, they were pretty conventional people. My mother looked like Mary Tyler Moore in the Dick Van Dyke show, with her black bob and skinny capri slacks.

This baby was the fifth in six and half years, and the only push back my mother gave doctors was declaring “no more gas!” after I was born. Me, being her first, she went along with the mask being put over her face and ether being pumped into her body. When she awoke from this sort of medically induced coma, she couldn’t remember why she was in the hospital.

“Why, Mrs. Hayward, you’ve had a baby. A little girl.”

My mother vowed at the moment never to miss another birth again.

But laboring at home was based on another decision. My parents were on a journey, searching for God and trying to live a life that pleased him and laboring at home seemed to be a way they could exercise their trust in him. But I knew none of that.

I remember the sunlight dappling through the trees and the smell of new grass as the day came to a close. I remember Mrs. Alberta ushering me and my three siblings into her little house and showing us where we would sleep for the night because in the morning there would be a new baby.

Mrs. Alberta was a little old Dutch woman, round in face and body, and always in my mind, wearing a dress and an apron. She talked funny and was deliberate in her gestures and speech. She lived across the way and said she was going to help my mother. I didn’t know what kind of help my mother needed, but I got into a bed with stiff, white sheets and laid there with the rest of the kids wondering.

I don’t know if it was night still, or early morning, but Mrs. Alberta came and roused us from sleep, quick, firm…”Let’s go see.”

I remember running to the house. I think it was the dining room because on the table lay a rectangular box, tan on the outside, white on the inside. There she was. My baby sister. Black curly hair. Fat cheeks. I remember thinking, “Well, that makes five of us,” then wondering if me being the oldest meant I would have to take care of her.

I remember my mother on a bed or a couch looking really happy and really tired. I felt the same way when all of my babies finally broke through, but especially with my fifth one. I knew she was my last.

One day not long after my sister came, I saw a lot of blood in the toilet and it scared me at first. I remember looking at it and wondering where it could have come from and then suddenly, I knew. I knew it came from my mother and it was connected to my sister and that it was okay. I was about to turn seven and I had a revelation that somehow life is in the blood and blood is life and that the spilling of it can be a good thing.

Many, many years later, I was to discover how true indeed this is.

The mystery of life, the darkness where birth begins in water and blood is seen in all it’s glory on a cross.

No ether here. No masking the pain and suffering.

Jesus was not going to miss this for the world.

It was so we could live in dappled sunlight forever.

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