Little ones

So this week I volunteered to help keep the children of my Bible study leaders. I am on the list but more the we-are-desperate-and-cannot-find-anyone list. This has absolutely nothing to do with the children, or the requirements for keeping them but solely based on my own fear.

My son was born in the peck-of-dirt years. Those halcyon days where the more dirt and grit a child consumed the more the moms believed their immune systems were strengthened. The antiseptic baby and prophylactic pup poem is probably the best way to describe this:

“The antiseptic baby and the prophylactic pup were playing in the garden when the bunny gamboled up. They looked upon the Creature with a loathing undisguised — It wasn’t disinfected and it wasn’t sterilized…”

My first awakening to sanitation with babies was when my niece was born, 2003. I could not wait to hold this tiny precious child and as I happily reached for her a bottle of sanitizer was shoved at me. I took it and cleaned my hands, then held her, but the joy was most guarded.

Anyway, here we are in this classroom. Five toddlers and one 10-week-old infant. There are cardboard blocks, a small wooden train set, a couple of bins with soft dolls and plastic baby dolls.

The inmates were definitely in charge of this ward.

The lady working with me was (thankfully) a grandmother. She had more recent experience than I. Her grandchildren live close by so little people didn’t frighten her at all.

Let me say right at the start, like horses, babies can sense fear. And react in different ways. They may cry, fearing a lack of control so total that they are suddenly plunged into an emotional abyss rather than cozy boundaries of lovingly murmured “Good jobs” or “no, no, we mustn’t hit our friends on the head with hammers…”

Alternatively they may simply run with it. WooHOO, no restrictions, let’s see how far I can push the envelope! The rest fall somewhere in the middle. So we had one little one who would absolutely not remove the little backpack calling for his mama, another wide open throwing toys, kicking those cardboard blocks, whooping it up, and 3  in the nirvana middle.

After an hour or so of unstructured play we sat everyone down for snack. Couldn’t remember whose bag was whose so we had random drinks, cookies, crackers, spilled water, wet napkins, cries for more. We tried to take a walk but 2 could not walk well (this 10-week-old baby) and the little one whose head got bonked with the plastic hammer.

As luck would have it there were some workmen who were making some sort of repairs which was far more interesting than our large-muscle exercises and walk up and down the hallway. So we one-handedly managed to corral everyone back to the room, until one got loose, saw one of the leaders also out in the hallway which reminded him of mama. Thus began the tears again. So we broke out the cookies –somebody’s cookies– and the magic once again settled in the room. An attempt to have a rest time was an utter fail, so the baby-whisperer grandmother suddenly had those ambulatory ones marching single file around the snack table. Pied Piper of babies. I hustled around the room replacing toys, stacking those cardboard blocks, putting the soft toys back in their bins in the cabinet and replacing the train cars on the tracks. So like “The Cat in the Hat”, all order to the room was restored when the big people returned and moms came to collect their children.

By some miracle.

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Poem: “Strictly Germproof”by Arthur Guiterman

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Trust

 

Ten years ago I retired from a job in New Mexico and planned to move back east to my home state of North Carolina. All my life it had been my dream to see the Grand Canyon. I invited my son to join me.

We stayed at the North Rim. It is quieter because there is nothing there but a gas station, a Park Service lodge with several rustic guest cabins and the Canyon. The South Rim is more popular, there are shops, restaurants and more hotels.

The Lodge at North Rim has a lovely dining room, a general store, saloon and cantina. Kind of its own little village on site. And some options for excursions.

Like mule rides down into the Canyon. Sounded like fun we thought so we signed up.

It is not expensive, money-wise but you basically sign your life over to the little company that manages it. There are registration forms, waivers, last rites and funeral pre-arrangements (just kidding!) But you do sign forms saying you will not hold the park service, the company managing the rides or anyone else liable in case of injury or death.

This did not daunt us. A group of about 8, we met our mules, were assured each animal had a placement in the line where they were friendly with the mule ahead of or behind it. In my case that wasn’t quite true since my mule was determined to rest its head on the right flank of the mule ahead, who was not quite so accommodating. Sorting this out was not easy. We had been strongly cautioned before we set out on our ride not to attempt to guide the mules. At all. The narrow trail down was maybe 3-4 feet wide. The mules by nature would walk the outer edge of the trail they said. Yes, I wrote that correctly. The outer edge. With a vertical drop into the Canyon of a few miles. I am dizzy just recalling this. We were also strongly cautioned that angering our mules by attempting to guide them might cause them to relieve themselves of us, hurling us down into the Canyon.

So I let this mule rest its head on the flank of the mule ahead of me. And was very tense.

This was a half-day ride so went maybe 3/4 down into the Canyon. I realized my life depended not only on this mule’s sure-footedness but on my ability to stay calm and keep from trying to control the mule. About halfway into our ride I began to relax. This mule had done this countless times. The mule did not appear nervous or afraid (not like I was anyway). I began to trust that this mule would if not protect my life, certainly not endanger its own life, thereby not bringing harm to mine. The views were breathtaking when I permitted myself to tear my eyes from the back of my mule’s head.  We got to base where we could rest, drink some water, walk around a bit. Then half an hour later we mounted up again for the ride back up the Canyon. This went far better.

We enjoyed our lunch following the ride and subsequent shower with a great deal more appreciation for the beauty of creation. Despite some agonizing stiffness from using muscles we’d not used maybe ever we did survive. And trusted. And saw a glimpse of God’s majesty.

IMG_0604.JPGLooking south off the North Rim toward Flagstaff, AZ

Transforming

So the prediction was certain there would be snow, a lot of snow. How many times the ubiquitous “they” predict, get our hopes up, bread and milk disappear from the grocery store shelves. We have an overabundance of bread and milk.

And no snow.

Years ago in one of my former lives as a travel agent I’d won a trip to Jamaica and my brother, living in Washington, DC at the time, was to accompany me. Something woke me a couple of days before departure. I looked out my patio door and saw white. Snow still falling blanketed everything. A lot of snow. I went to my son’s room and woke him to see. It was very early and we got up and watched a movie while the snow still fell. Ultimately there was about a foot of snow which was truly an anomaly for Charlotte, NC.

Though this snowfall on coastal NC was not like that one, 4 inches of snow with below freezing temperatures settles winter in pretty deep here. They’d salted the roads but we don’t have any snow plows so no real way to deal with ice or snow. We basically wait it out.

It is beautiful. It silences noise. Everything normal is changed. Browns and greys of dormant lawns and plants are covered in shining white. Sunshine gleams and shimmers and makes sparkling glints of diamonds.

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Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu making first marks

Maybe it is just weather in a different form. But snow gives a chance to see ordinary as extraordinary. It rests over and upon all it touches challenging us to see differently, to think differently. It offers a rest from the usual, opportunity to wonder and delight in new perspectives.

Picture0106180700_1.jpg A sago palm looking like not a sago palm

Though the temperatures will stay well below freezing through this weekend ensuring that, except for what the warming sun melts away the snow will remain. In a few days temperatures will rise and begin to melt all the ice and snow. The nourishment of moisture will seep into the sleeping earth assuring its life.

Jesus enters our hearts as one invited. He completes and embraces from inside. As we tentatively open our hearts to Him, His rich sustenance fills and awakens us. Our lives becomes stronger, kinder, more whole as we reach for more of Him and He through prayer and His Holy Spirit empowers us with more humility, grace, peace.

We ask Him for wisdom, He helps us discern in every aspect of our lives. In speaking and holding our tongues. In thoughts, once critical, judging, fearful become grace, kindness, hope. This is why He died for us. To save us from our sins, from ourselves.

We move forward, stronger, braver. We search and wait for understanding, compassion, truth. As His love shines on us like the sun our anger, hatred, fear, confusion melt and He gives us clarity in truth, courage, grace, love, peace.

There is a never-diminishing source of His grace to which we may return time and again, over and over, receiving his protection and mercy, no matter what. He has promised He will never leave us and He never does.

Thanks be to God.

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“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”   –Matthew 7:9-12

 

Recap, going forward

Sometimes a little introspection helps before stepping ahead. I have not been hearing much in the way of resolution-making.  It seems more of a collective sigh the end of this year rather than gathering steam for plunging into the beginning of a new year.

I have heard more of One Word. Picking a word to carry into the new year. In emails, a book I recently started reading, blog posts– oddly each of these has brought up the one word concept instead of making a to-do list for the new year.

So I am going to try this. It took me a few days to decide, but my word is patience. I have none. Or very little. And to make it interesting I am making this word an acronym.

P- prayer. This is where I stop talking (rare for me), get still, find a place to be alone. I focus on breathing (ok, so maybe prayer for me is more like meditation but it works). I get focused. Obviously this is not going to work when I am sitting at a red light that turns green and no one moves. Or I am in bumper-to-bumper traffic all lanes moving 10 miles under the speed limit and I am 5 minutes late. No, that would be where I breathe deeply, force a smile on my face or start singing. A form of prayer. Maybe. Depends what I am singing.

A- Adapt. I have never been one to be aggressive or selfish. Nor have I ever demanded everything is done my way, not even when I had a business. The best way to lead a team is let each member realize their own importance and combine ideas and efforts. So adapting… I will be resilient. Like at that traffic light. Find reasons to not be impatient.

T- trust. This is probably the biggest one. I question everything, everyone. I doubt. I counter. I take opposing sides just to prove to myself the side I believe in works. So trust. I mostly will have to learn to trust myself. Have faith. Confidence. But humbly.

I- Initiative. I cannot allow inertia to win anymore. So maybe yes, it is comfortable to curl up with a great book and hide from the world. I can’t do this (not all the time anyway). If opportunities come my way I need to consider them, take advantage of some, realize which make sense, when to stop taking initiative.

E- Effort. I am lazy! I love doing things the easy way, or encouraging others to do what I could do. Put more into little and big things. Whatever committees I am on put everything into my part. Even housework. Don’t skip dusting.

N- Nurture. Not just everyone else but me, too. Take a little time to rest, recreate. Allow responses to form rather than spouting off replies impulsively. Be considerate, thoughtful. Allow myself time. And family. Be there for them even when they are not there for me.

C- Careful. I don’t mean this in a fearful way. Taking care with what I say, how I respond, feelings that burst forth before I have understood a situation. So I want to be careful of others’ feelings, careful of the words I use. Restraint. Careful of my facial expressions. And listen. Much more listening.

E- Endurance. I have to stop running away. Away from feelings, confrontation, sparring for a purpose, values, beliefs. I have to begin to stand. For what I believe,  for what is right. And sometimes that means waiting.

So this is my word for 2018. Patience. And all that I see within it. It seems an awful lot right now… my Dad always said it’s not that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, you just don’t have enough time to chew it.

One year. I have a whole year, 365 days. I can do this.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”  —Ephesians 6:13

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

 

 

Real

So this year’s Christmas Day is dwindling  to a close. All my rantings of a week ago that many were kind enough to “like” and others to ignore have taught me (again) a very important thing. Anxiety, worry, doubt do nothing for whatever it is that causes the worry. What it does is steal that precious moment in time, and the next, and the next, until you are shaken out of the the potential joys of that moment. And those moments are lost. And whatever foggy stupor you have allowed to cloud  that future thing that has you so worried prevents you from living the realness of those lost moments.

My son and I sat in the quiet for a very short time together this evening, his last evening of his visit here. He is propelling himself into the future portion of his holiday trip, the remaining visits they will make before returning home.  I sensed his mild unease at my stillness as I soaked in his presence which is so rare for me now.

Did he remember a book he had when he was little, I asked, “The Velveteen Rabbit”?

Yes, he replied.

Was it the horse or the bunny who asked what it was like to be real, I wondered.

The bunny, he said.

So I looked it up.

” ‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.

“‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

“‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

“‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

“‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’

“‘I suppose you are Real?’ said the Rabbit, and then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“‘The boy’s uncle made me Real,’ he said. ‘That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.’ ”

So lovely, brilliant, healthy, attractive, charming child of mine, always know that you are Real. Forever. Nothing and no one can ever take it away. You are greatly loved, by One who will never leave you.

And I will try hard to remember it, too.

 

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The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams Bianco. George H. Doran Co., Publishers. 1922.

Visitors

Not like Amahl’s visitors but visitors just the same. My son and his girlfriend are coming to spend Christmas day with me as a starting point for a marathon of visiting family.

I know I should be flattered but I kind of blew it when I raised my son. I knew he was “on loan”, enough churchy friends were more than happy to remind me, many times. I was fiercely independent but unfortunately that doesn’t buy food or pay bills. So I got a job.

Several jobs, actually. One year I laughed so hard at my 1040 form because it literally fluttered with W2 forms, I’d had so many jobs. But the most important one I saw as an inconvenience.

I often hear flattering compliments when people meet my son. How handsome, how nice, pleasant, polite, interesting… and I laugh and say yes, he grew up in spite of me. There may not be another mom in existence as hard on herself as I am but honestly? I truly believe this. While my parents were alive (and we were on speaking terms) they were the ones to go to my son’s plays, pageants and parents’ days. Oh I always went to the teacher’s meetings but I missed all the fun stuff. My dad was good about taking pictures but it’s not the same.

So my son’s life growing up was not unlike mine. My mom enjoyed DAR, junior league, bridge club, garden club, book club and filled her free time with golf. My dad commuted from NC to NY Sunday nights and was gone all week. Usually once a year they took a trip out of the country and as a family we did spend a week at the beach.

Carbon copy for me, only for all their activity I substituted all those jobs.

You miss so much when you are trying to fill someone else’s shoes. I wanted very much to please my parents. Finding that this would never happen I became disillusioned, right in the middle of raising this precious child of mine. It’s amazing how sons and daughters think their moms and dads are heroes.

Until they don’t.

When my son went to college everything changed. He needed me for… nothing. He had his own car, knew what he wanted to study, even had an (only one) episode of trouble his freshman year like everyone does and got through it without me. I think there is nothing so awful for a parent to discover….. that their child no longer needs them. Maybe never did.

But there it was. Even his breakups he didn’t need me. He gets through everything without me. So when he said he wanted to come here for Christmas this year I truly did not get it. Why are they coming? To make fun? Out of a sense of obligation? Sweep me in a collective family visit dustpan? He feels guilty for some obscure reason? I honestly have no idea. The dynamic now, between him, his dad’s family (not unhostile towards me), his girlfriend (with whom I have never established a connection) is total disharmony. So I think I must be something to be checked off the list.

I even went so far as to try and make this dinner fun, texting my son to tell me what they might like for dinner. They got a pretty good laugh because he came back with complete un-festive things, off-hand, non-special ideas. So I texted back and asked about vegetables.

Nothing. No response.

I have no idea where they are even staying.

Makes me want to just scream at them: “Why are you even coming here??”

But then I’d look totally nuts. And his girlfriend is a social worker. Wouldn’t want her having me put away.

Wish me luck. No idea how this is gonna fly.

Any ideas??

Wonder

Weather anyplace is unpredictable. Having lived in several states I think at some point, because of the hot, cold, wet, ice, whatever somebody’s inevitably said “Don’t like the weather here? Wait a minute…”

That’s true anywhere. So crystal clear fall and wintry days are a gift! Terrier-mix rescue dog Lulu is bouncing back, slowly, and relishing her walks again. Not long ones, but she lets me know how much. So this afternoon while she and husky-mix rescue dog Lily were napping I took myself out for a long walk. Icy air and a breeze with an edge but the sun soaked into my sweater. The park where my dogs and I walk has a path around it little over a mile. So I walked to this park and through part of it on the path to the other side to finish my walk home.

Most people I met on the way were walking their dogs, or jogging, or ambling slowly with a friend. But each person, as they looked up their entire faces opened like sun shining through clouds when they smiled.

Maybe just an acknowledging smile, or a smile and a nod. But whatever occupied their thoughts for that moment evaporated like a morning fog and a smile shone through.

I guess it’s just a wonder to me that total strangers can have a momentary connection, a warmth shared. Some faces lifted already smiling. Others mildly surprised to see someone there, others with determined concern. But every one relaxed into the kindness of a smile.

To me it is a wonder those connections happen no matter where I’ve lived. It’s a wonder that everywhere I look I hear and see bombardments telling me and everybody else life has to be exciting, a constant party. I once fell for all that. Over-involved and it was never enough. And the more there was the less fulfilling.

I think it’s the same wit h overcommitment to anything. Work, volunteering, neighborhoods. It is flattering to some to be asked to do things but there is a limit. It can’t be all or nothing. And people will take advantage without realizing or even if they do, thinking they are doing you a favor. It is not hard to say no, and it is essential sometimes. And sometimes you realize you should have said no after you agree to do something.

For me life changes too quickly to become overcommitted. What a burden! No wonder. Pedestrian. Pedantic, as my dad would say.

So I am going to see what it is like wandering around dragging some encumbrances, I’ll call them. No idea whether I can contribute or not. Not flattered, either. I’m going to smile about it though.

When just one smile, I can see a wonder.

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