Tag Archiv: gifts

Grief, joy, loss, hope and living with contradiction

happy violinist, by hotblack, compliments of morguefile.com

happy violinist, by hotblack, compliments of morguefile.com

In September, 2015, the rhythm of my days took a radical change. I worried going into the school year what effect the addition of teaching for an hour every day would have on my writing. This, was, I would learn, small potatoes in terms of life changes. I drove home from the first day of school ready to celebrate the return of my children to school and therefore the return of my quiet days. Going here and there and everywhere, cell phones, and blah, blah, blah being not for me. A lonely life at times, but one that gave my writing a chance.  On the way I had a very straightforward car chat with God about the global crisis of displaced persons. I was tired of worrying about it. Tired of feeling sad for mothers unable to protect their children. Honestly, I said. Open the door for me to do something to help, or leave me alone from the sadness of it all.

Within half an hour I received a call about an ad hoc meeting. Could groups of people in our town do something to help the refugee crisis?  It seemed remarkably like a door, so I walked through it.

I managed to keep up with the writing until November when my new responsibilities filled every spare moment I had and some I did not. I finished my children’s novel as a consolation prize of sorts over the Christmas holidays.

I now bathe daily slathered in copious amounts of contradiction. I miss the writing terribly. I try not to remember the blog exists because when I do, I cry. I have faced the fact that the novel is not something a publisher wants (even though my very literate children sincerely love it). I have faced it as in it hurts too much to think about so I don’t. Meanwhile much of my free time remains rather taken with efforts towards helping new families resettle in a foreign land. I would not trade what I am doing. Much of the work is tedious and thankless, but alongside that is much joy and a sense of purpose. The season is of indeterminate length, but for now the season persists.

I ask myself what is next. Before September and the door I was running out of hope for finding “that publisher.” Isn’t there something kind of strange about telling yourself it’s worth spending half your life producing something you can only give away?  For the last two months, the thought of sitting down to write has simply been too painful. Part of what was beautiful for me in the writing was just the writing and what I was writing about. The other part was the belief that somehow, somewhere, sometime, it would come together in a form called a book with a thing called a paycheck. The belief in this elusive other part is no longer accessible to me.

Not that I have given up forever. For lack of a better metaphor, I’ve got the body parts frozen in the crypt waiting for the cure to be found and a proper resurrection to be had. But I’m not out waiting in line for a doctor. My mental new year still revolves around September. Right now, I’m finishing the year I’m in, but next year is anybody’s guess. I’m considering going back to school. I’m wondering if the current season will require me longer than I think. And I’m looking in the mirror wondering if there will be a rock somewhere from which I can pry open a little hope to begin another writing project. I’ve one in mind just in case.

In the space of now, I’ve a few blog pieces asking to be written. And amidst the sadness of loss in terms of the writing is a sense of quiet wonder, gratitude and yearning to get up and dance in celebration of all the unexpected gifts the last eight months have brought. Because both pictures are me right now.

cutting loose blackened by jduram, compliments of morguefile.com

cutting loose blackened by jduram, compliments of morguefile.com

 

#Pilgrims Love Pilgrimage

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Pilgrimage is good. Especially if it involves a mountain.

Four years ago we were given an overnight ski package. Our youngest was two, I am not a skiing whiz. . . I left thinking I would enjoy it because the kids were enjoying it. This is now our fourth trip to the mountain and for all of us, it is a much anticipated winter highlight.

Our traditionalist children expect the order of liturgy intact whenever possible. We leave Friday in time to settle into our hotel suite before dinner. We walk across the parking lot to the same restaurant and talk about the stuffed monkey’s hanging from the ceiling while we wait for our food. We play our billioneth imagination game (Magic Fairy).

After dinner we swim. I fidget about hotel hot tubs and keep sending people back to the pool. My husband says it’s okay. To calm me, the children swear on oath that they are in perfect health. They take vows of fidelity to sleep, water, fruits, vegetables, hand washing, and sharing. I applaud the many tricks and triumphs of their water play.

At bedtime my husband gets out the map of the ski hill and the older ones make plans. The next morning I ferry out the early risers for breakfast. We watch cartoons on the lobby television until we can’t wait any longer. I remind all breakfast comers about their nutrition vows. I smugly allow a small danish pastry after winning the yes fruit, yes yogurt, no chocolate milk, no sugared cereal contests.

We check out and pack in. For the ten minutes it takes to get to the mountain the children fight because we aren’t there yet. We arrive. With a nod to the really irritated psalms, while everyone remembers how to put on skis, kids fight about who is going too fast or slow. I use this opportunity for ecclesiastical instruction about the danish pastry, which may be the reason we are fighting. Something to remember. But only if we care about having fun, and loving each other, and a happy life.

With that part of the liturgy complete, the kids take ski lessons while adults get in a run or two. The rest of the day is free. I pack a lunch (with clean tablecloth for the well used indoor picnic tables). The kids say almost nothing because everything is familiar enough that they feel safe, but foreign enough that it thrills them and fills them. They like being pilgrims.

On the way home we stop at the same restaurant. (Last year’s bids to change either restaurant were rejected.) For all I know they pick the same things from the buffet. We say closing litanies of brave deeds and success. A few hymns of wonder in the car and a prayer or two to live at the bottom of the mountain when they grow up and the whole thing comes to a quiet Amen.

Epiphany Now

The Three Wismen Aka Halt of the Wisemen, by John La Farge.  (Because we wise women and men have to halt now and again to work up the courage to keep going)

The Three Wisemen Aka Halt of the Wisemen, by John La Farge. (Because wise people have to halt now and again to work up the courage to keep going)

Epiphany Then:

Wise men follow a star for a long time through strange lands. They are looking for a king. When the star leads them to the boy, they do not trouble themselves that a peasant child stands before them, they see a king. They kneel. They worship. They offer gifts befitting royalty.

Epiphany Now:

I don’t know how to follow a star, yet the heavens beckon. I long for that which is good and true. On my best days I pursue the glimmers. We’ve traded camels for cars, but the journey still stretches to endless some days.

It is difficult to recognize salvation in the simple and unsung. People talk about the wisemen risking Herod’s wrath, but no one talks about the courage it took to kneel before someone so unrecognized. To insist with their gifts that this unlikely baby was exactly who they were looking for.

 

So wise men three, or however many you be, here’s to a year of courageous epiphanies . . .

In the tears of a defeated nine year old in the bathroom, the siren call to set aside the lessons and love the girl. Maybe not just the girl. Maybe others, myself, the world.

In the stomping of a six year old, the insistent invitation to express my own frustration more gently.

In the lengthy explanation of Lego worlds, a glimpse of wonder. Things live and move and breathe without my orchestration or knowledge.

In the impassioned hopes and dreams of a 14 year old, a dare to throw caution to the wind and let the fire of love run madly down the hallways of my heart.

 

I took a nap on Dec. 30th. My husband met me with delight when I woke up. There was a surprise, he said. Downstairs I found him standing where the Christmas tree had been, grinning.

Decorations, lights, everything. Done, he said.

Thank you, I said softly. (The tree cannot come down before January 1, I thought. I never got to sit for one last night and look at the lights. I wanted to cry.)

You’re not happy, he said. I thought you would be happy. I’ve been excited for almost an hour.

I’m happy that you love me, I said.

Every hour or so for the rest of the day we both said the same things over again.

I thought you would be happy.

It was kind of you to try and surprise me.

The tree’s absence made me sad but the face of the man who loved me was there too. He had failed to love me as I wished to be loved. But he loved me. Epiphany.

Love has a history of awkward packaging. The baby came wearing diapers undoubtedly full at times. May we have the wisdom to recognize the moments of our salvation, the courage to kneel, and the good sense to bring royal gifts to the least of these.

Boy Man

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Tucked in among the surprises of the past week was a gift from Boy one. Bold, cocky boy with the never ending words was quiet, almost bashful coming into the room.

I made something for you, he said.

The last thing he made me was a sign for Christmas two years ago. Somehow in the chaos of Christmas, it was lost before it ever made it to my door. I’m  not a thing person really, but over that I could still cry.

Here, he said. He handed me a string of beads on a piece of yarn. On one end I detected a lopsided cross. I twisted it around seeing how to make the cross lie flat and wondered if my head would fit inside the circle.

It’s a rosary, he said looking down. I made it for you, then I kept it for a while but I thought today maybe I should give it to you. I don’t make things very much. Not like the other kids.

I looked with curiosity through plastic beads to the boy. Sometimes with pride, sometimes with frustration, still for months upon months I have been seeing a young man in his gangly limbs and brooding eyes. All that wing flapping and splashing makes it hard to remember the boy inside it all, but I touched the beads and there he was. The boy he always has been. The boy we all are.

We visited my mother’s grave a few days ago. We took things the kids had made and decorated it. Sang a song, said some prayers, and had a snack. The kids didn’t like it that we undecorated before we left. My explanations about cemetery rules didn’t satisfy so I switched to theories about time.

Really smart people say it doesn’t exist, I said. Not like we think it does with past, present and future. If your treasures were here as a gift today, they’re always here now, even if we take them.

Maybe this is how we grow old without ever ceasing to be the child we were. However it works, I have translucent beads on multicoloured yarn between crooked knots from the boy who is taller than me, to remind me that it’s true. That for all our dreams of manhood, we pray and hope and love with the heart of a child.

In my pocket my fingers touch the beads softly. If I could hold on to the gift of this picture, with what gentleness could I see the world?

And if not that, at least the grace to hold this imageof my son.

 

Windows of Time and Tea

Interior in the North of Holland tea-time. By Sipke Kool. Found on Wikigallery

Interior in the North of Holland tea-time. By Sipke Kool

Monday I invited a friend to tea. She wore a purple sweater. Deep tones that matched her long and flowing skirt. I’d forgotten that people dress for tea, but it wouldn’t have mattered. There was something about her seventy year old self I couldn’t have matched anyways.

Our farm’s not perfect, but most days we like it, I said.

Nothing down here is perfect, she said.

We talked about everything. Schools. Kids. The value of memorizing. Farms. Babies that die. Far away countries. Cows and milk production. Thirteen liters a day was a very good milk cow when she was young. Now the cows give forty liters a day. What have they done to the cows? We discussed the effects of poison and growth hormones for plants, animals and humans. Wondered about the best chickens for meat. Talked about when things go too far. When we forget we can’t control everything so we kill ourselves trying.

She told me of someone she knew who cared deeply about her home. Someone wanted to visit with her child who was in a wheelchair. No, the woman said. The wheels cannot come in the house. They will be too dirty.

That cannot be right, she said.

I told her my failed dreams of adoption, my thoughts about foster care someday. I talked about my piano teacher, Mrs. Murdoch. How strict she was, how much I hated her until I loved her and realized how lucky I was to have her.

My kids’ piano teacher was strict, she said. They didn’t mind her. I think they were used to strict with me so there was no difference. Some people didn’t like her, but I was strict and I wasn’t changing. That’s how I was. So they were used to it.

She shared my tea, overlooked the shortcomings of my presentation and gave me the gift of slow time together. She probably had clay feet hidden under the table, but I couldn’t see them. What I saw was her heart. Full up with tears. Courage. Love. Determination. And each of these in such abundance it left me quiet with wonder.

What a gift the moments when, however dimly or however briefly, we really see each other.

 

 

Gifts of last week

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Listening to a loon call with increasing intensity, then swim in circles looking while a grinning Boy two called back.

Seeing a pregnant rattlesnake in her natural habitat. The man hired by the parks to monitor the health of the rattlesnake population, happened to be taking his walk ahead of us.

Listening to the rattle of the younger snake he had caught for tagging and seeing it without being in danger.

Watching Boy one learn to drive a putt putt

An all family adventure day of canoeing, portaging, swimming, exploring and picnic

Watching Boy one determined to carry one of the canoes solo for the longest leg of our portage

Watching Girl one put two and two together in a New York minute. I had said that fishing was fine, but anything caught and kept was to be eaten, period. In a row boat with the others, she was working on her casting. She cast the line that Boy two took and reeled in. By the time it made it to the boat, there was a 12 inch bass on the other end. Long before we heard there was a fish, we heard Girl one running up the path and shouting. “It wasn’t me. I wasn’t fishing. I didn’t cast it. It wasn’t me.” She calmed only when I explained that casting was not considered catching and in fact, she did not have to eat the fish.

Watching Girl one scamper to the beach to work on her J stroke. I don’t have one myself, but the kids are getting trained up proper compliments of Nana.

Cooking with another woman and dear friend. Chopping and chatting.

A furious paddle in kayaks with my husband, each of us carting a garbage bag, trying to reach the dump and get back before the thunder in the distance moved in for the afternoon. Dawdling on the way back with mission accomplished and then the rain just starting within sight of the dock.

Playing cards at night with boys up past their bedtimes

Watching Girl two tear off to get her swim suit on for the third or fourth time in a day, turn half fish, and leap giggling into the water.

Taking a soggy, cold Girl two up onto my dry lap for warming up

Long car rides with alternately silly and grumpy kids

Time together with nothing else to do

Reading with the girls . . .

Running and Pentecost

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I have been thinking a lot about Pentecost.  I got hung up a little bit wondering why it was so small. How, I wondered, could the observance of an event that kicked off the official start of the largest, most enduring organization on earth range from a blip of remembrance to blank stares? Shouldn’t the birthday of the Christian church be a big deal?

But wanting to march in too many parades is a quick way to wind up miserable. Besides, the truth is, Pentecost passed me without much notice last year and some years before that. This year, there’s an inexplicable Pentecost bee in my bonnet. The buzz has been impossible to ignore, so I have been pondering Pentecost and what it means that God gives us mystery.

Pentecost is a bit like God showing up one day at the door with a gift, invisible of course, but no denying its existence, we can feel the weight in our hands. God says we need the gift, He loves us, and then He leaves.

Don’t worry about how everything turns out, He tosses over his shoulder. You’ve got the gift now.

For the rest of your life you know what the gift is, sort of, but you have no clue what the gift is exactly. What you do know is that since you received the gift, you are not the same as you were before. Sometimes you actually know this, like you know that standing in the sun feels warm, other times it’s a matter of faith. A lot of times you can’t see clearly what the gift is giving now as much as you can see it looking back at then.

Which I guess answers my own question about why the whole celebration has never really caught on that widely or crossed over into mainstream culture. If you tried to sell it to Hallmark they would have no way of making it tidy. If you think about it too long, Pentecost is a bit unsettling. It’s not a warm greeting card kind of feeling.

Pentecost says, Jesus came as one of you, but I remain beyond what you can imagine. You accepted a baby. Well done. Now let me set you aflame with the fire of Me. Afterwards, you will never be the same. Flesh and blood. Mystery. Forever and ever intertwined. Yes?

Pentecost is a voice on the wind. Whispers of a love that roars and takes no prisoners. One minute tearing you off your feet. Teaching you to walk again. Asking you to run. Another minute gently wiping your tears, sitting vigil with you at your private groanings.

The only question about Pentecost really, is which way to run. As far away as possible, or headlong into the wind?

History of a BB Gun

1-IMG_8324When I was about 10, my brother and I were given a BB gun. Few gifts have ever meant more to me. I owned a BB gun and I could shoot things. I feel the need to apologize now (me having been a girl and all) for the delight I took in that gun. I didn’t have any apologies then. I was a pioneer for heaven’s sake, stuck by no fault of my own in the 1980’s. Obviously, I needed a gun.

I was born believing that the end of modern technology and a return to simpler times was merely a matter of time. Call it unflinching optimism. Whenever the pioneer times did return, I had no intention of gathering herbs or stirring pots. I needed hunting experience if I wanted to save myself from the gatherers fate assigned to my gender.

Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” references the sadness of innocent life, killed for no purpose. It’s one of my favourite books of all time. I love the story, but I also know about that bird.

My goal was to get a rabbit and bring it home for dinner. Bring it in the back door, say nothing, and put it on the kitchen counter like I did it every day. Even a squirrel would have made me happy, but every time I went out walking, I saw nothing but trees and grass.

Which is when I thought of chickadees. There was a big bush at the top of the bank by our front yard. Birds came to eat the berries. They flew off en mass all a flutter when I laid down on the grass nearby, but after a while, one came back. I shot it because that had been my plan. It fell to the ground. I dropped my gun and stumbled forward knelt and touched it. It was wounded but not yet dead. I laid on the ground beside the chickadee and sobbed. I stroked it softly at first, tears falling, then realized I didn’t have the right. The miracle I begged for did not come. When it was over, I buried the bird, still weeping.

I have explained the title of Harper Lee’s book to classes of thirteen year olds. I know, I have told them. I have done this thing. The darkness is not out there somewhere. It is inside us. Not all the lines you cross can be uncrossed. It is a thing in need of many tears, a thing to look in the face long enough to be sure you can say afterwards, no, never again.

Good Gifts

I vaguely remember in the lead up to Christmas feeling overwhelmed and frustrated about unfinished lists. Blissfully fuzzy now are all such silly things. I remember the gifts, too many to count. In the telling I am happy all over again.

This year we got three days of an odd snow and freezing rain combination right before Christmas. Holidays can’t be ruined by weather, but it can make them sing a little more. I watched the rain come down and felt a little melancholy about the inevitable destruction of good skating ice on the pond.

Christmas Eve (twas the time for cleaning madly) I opened the outside door to see my daughter’s boots thrown on the snowy ground. Irritated, I commanded into the cold for her to come and explain. She didn’t answer. Her brothers smiled and pointed.

Girl one was skating. All over the yard, around the house, and out into the pasture. Instead of melting the snow or leaving divots all over the place, the freezing rain had hardened six inches of snow into a very hard and smooth surface. Christmas day kids were sledding, skating, and Cross Country skiing, all on the same hills and fields, sometimes side by side.

My favourite gift was a song. Boy one on the piano, girl one on the violin, boy and girl two singing. The First Noel. A surprise performance for me.

The day after Christmas, we went to see my brother and his family. We didn’t fight moving from beds to car. For most of nine hours travelling, we were kind to each other. We have no idea how it happened. I feel asleep that night with gratitude (and wonder). Two families of six (who see each other twice a year) were in a three bedroom house for days. The joy inside me was so loud, I hardly heard the kids.

I love my sister-in-law to death. I also find her organization inspiring. I started sorting and organizing the night we got home and for almost the entire next day. More order and hope are already flooding the place as I head into another day of home improvements.

In closing, the commentary department:

I am in the laundry room. Boy one puts his arms around me from behind.

“Thanks. What’s that for?”

“I feel like I’ve been a jerk today. I just wanted to say that.”

 

Mid morning on the first,  So what if I can’t marry a Dutch girl (like my brother did) at least I can learn from one cleaning day. The girls had cleaning rags in hand. I was arranging shoes. “We’re like Cinderella,” said Girl one. “We work all the time, but we’re really happy.”

During our anniversary celebration, discussion of marriage commenced.

“You guys fight a lot,” said one cheery voice.

I wasn’t sure how to take the appraisal. It surprised me. I was deciding how depressed to feel when boy two interjected, sincere and insistent.

“Mom and Dad don’t fight a lot, Mom’s just right a lot.”

Ah, my young shining knight . . .

Song and Dance

Image courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  Image courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As I write, the children are upstairs dancing. Three of them. No reason. Out of the blue, one said, “I’m going to my room to dance. You guys want to come?”  I think our musicals kick off on Friday night has us feeling artsy. “Sound of Music,” was a huge hit. (Juvenile search for free, legal music to download has begun.) The singing/no speaking dinner was grand. We’ll do it again and give it time to develop. One was too shy. The others had a grand time. Five year old quite enjoyed her attempts at vibrato. A highly recommended activity, I say.

Maybe it’s a small thing to hear my child look up from reading a book and announce a desire to dance. It makes me happy. My own love of dance is hampered by the requirement to move my body without a plan. I remember going to a concert once. Nothing fashionable, just a marching band on a lawn. I loved it and I wanted to clap with the music. Most everyone else was. I was inside the sounds of trumpets and flutes, cymbals and drums, I wanted to be part of the song.

I don’t remember if I was eleven, twelve, thirteen . . . but I couldn’t do it. I pictured myself picking my hands up off my chair and putting them together, but I was too afraid to try. Not sure how to start. Worried that everyone else knew how to clap in time, but I might not.

Since that day, I have learned to clap to music when I want to. For a time, I could mostly line dance (thanks to help from anyone who would go over the simplest things with me just one more time). Line dancing had the beauty of set moves to follow, but that skill has gone the way of things.

My joyful dancing, the kind without a plan, has been with my children. I danced with them as babies when we were alone. Later my children began asking me to dance. About kids and dancing, I hold to the following to get me through the occasional requests to participate:

1. It matters more that they learn the freedom and joy of dance, than it matters that beyond the confines of my imagination and the walls of our home, I have known neither.

2. Along with remembering me taller and wiser than I am, their memories of whatever odd moves I may try to incorporate into my dancing have the potential to undergo similar distortions if I can just keep smiling.

The marvel of it grows in me. My children are upstairs dancing. For fun. Maybe I was faking it to get here, but my children love to dance. Watching them, I see the shadow of small miracles. Of these I can only say thank you. Bow softly. Wonder at such good gifts.