Even So. . .

I finished my breakfast of eggs and avocado, a bowl of yogurt, took another sip of coffee, and just sat for a minute, looking out the window.

What shall I do now?

An hour and a half until I leave for the appointment.

Do I clean some things out of the fridge? Work on the magazine article? Pull some weeds out of the garden while the soil is wet and loose?

Then the words came to mind, to heart.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Dear child, you don’t have to do anything. I love you now

Yes, God, I know but I should. . .

                                          I have to. . .

                                              I want to _____ more.

                                                  I want to be more ______.

Beware the “more,” child. Hush for a minute and listen to Me. I love you before all that, despite all that, regardless of all that.

I love you simply because you are Mine. 

That I get. I have kids. We have been up, down, over, and through some tough stuff with those kids. And despite all the stuff that was less than perfect, I love those kids almost beyond my comprehension. Simply because they are mine.

I know no matter what happens today, at the end of the day, my love for them will be the same as it was in the beginning.

And so it is with God.

How blessed are we that we should be called children of God.

 

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A Timely Surprise

There was some excitement on the mountain this week.

Our family is vacationing at my in-laws’ cabin in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom like we have every year around the Fourth of July since they built the place 30 years ago. This year we came up on Sunday, but our oldest son stayed home in Connecticut to work. He drove up on Thursday to join us here. When he came, he brought the mail.

I was washing the dishes when my husband quizzically handed me this beautiful glossy magazine:

WRCover

I knew the Woods Reader was going to publish a story I had submitted, but I didn’t realize it was going to happen so soon. I quickly dried my hands and flipped through to page 24, and there was my story! I was thrilled! The magazine is absolutely gorgeous. It only began last year, and it’s filled with all the things we love about the woods.

Incidentally, my story is about this cabin and the reasons we return to these woods again and again. I had written the first draft several years ago. I thought it would find a home elsewhere at that point. Little did I know, years–and many revisions–later, it would be nestled snuggly in amongst the pages of this beautiful publication. A better place indeed.

When you find your passion, keep working at it.

Even when it gets tough or mundane or doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

The joy is in the journey.

And who knows what tomorrow holds?

 

porch magazine

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Back to the Ice Age

 

(Published in The Green Mountain Trading Post on January 11, 2018)

In preparation for the arrival of our new refrigerator, I removed the magnets and school calendars and shopping lists and coupons from the old refrigerator door. I found a horizontal surface for all the paper and stuck the magnets on the file cabinet in the office for the time being.

The new fridge arrived all shiny and promising. Since I never seem to mind what we get because I’m not fussy and my treasures aren’t here on earth anyway, I let my husband pick out the new appliance. Of course, it’s stainless steel. Sleek, modern, metallic. It’s what everyone is getting these days. I think he enjoyed picking it out. My daughter enjoyed filling it up. Then it was my turn to finish the job. I would stick the magnets and papers back on the fridge. I gathered everything I had relocated and brought it into the kitchen. I picked my favorite magnet, the one I bought for myself at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Museum. It has a picture of a stamp bearing Stowe’s portrait along with the quote: “There is more done with pens than with swords.” I held it up to the fridge door to stick it there forever. It didn’t stick. I tried the magnet bearing Tim’s soccer photo from when he was seven. That didn’t stick either. Neither did David’s little league photo magnet. None of the magnets stuck. My heart sunk. We now live in a time when magnets and memories don’t stick to refrigerator doors.

When did we decide it was ok to sterilize the kitchen? Pretty soon all kitchens are going to look the same. Stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops, and no personality.  It used to be that when you went over a friend’s house, the first thing you did while they fixed you a cup of tea was examine their fridge, and by taking in the  baby pictures, kid’s artwork, and grocery lists, you learned their story. You learned what they cherished. Now if you want to know someone, you have to look inside their fridge. That’s way more intrusive.

The fridge was a place of honor.  If you got an A+ on a spelling test, it would win a place there. It was a place to post the news: a cousin’s wedding announcement, an invitation to a party, a wish list for Santa. It was a place to express yourself. All newcomers to Grama Shirley’s would know she was smitten with Tom Selleck and a member of his fan club when they saw Selleck raising his bushy brown eyebrows at them from the photo on her fridge.

Some people were spare in the items they chose to post there. Their news was always timely, their photos always current. They used magnets to keep things tidy. Others had photos and papers stuck on there with magnets but also stuck with scotch tape. Some would cover the entire refrigerator doors and even the side.

If we no longer need magnets to adhere memories to our appliances, what will buy for Grama as a souvenir on vacation? She had lighthouses from Maine and moose from Vermont. How is it that these things that I grew up with are going to start showing up in antique stores as Americana?

We could express ourselves with what we stuck up there and with the appliance itself. We used to be able to choose the color we wanted to coordinate with our room or our personality. Remember the gold and avocado refrigerators of the 70s? Now everything is stainless. Some would call this progress, but it reminds me of Henry Ford saying of the Model T in 1909 “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it’s black.”

And they call it stainless, but who are we kidding? As soon as you touch it, your fingerprint shows up. The old models could hide a little dirt and some chocolate smudges. It made it easier to get away with things like food thievery and maybe putting off wiping down the doors for a while. Now we can’t get away with anything, but its saving grace may be that the smooth semi-reflective finish does make it easier to dust for prints when someone helps themselves to the last scoop of ice cream.

My son is sixteen and the day we replaced the fridge he told me he already missed the old one we had placed by the curb for some lucky passerby in need of a new used icebox. I asked him why he missed the old one. “It was warmer,” he said. I’m just now realizing the pun in that. At the time, I was caught up in his budding nostalgia. He meant the look of the off white appliance was warmer, and with its lived in look, more friendly when you walked into the room. His follow up remark about the new fridge was “This one looks like a cryogenic freezer.” It was a good quote. I’d like to post it. Since magnets no longer stick to refrigerator doors, I think I’ll use tape.

 

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Limited Visibility

 

The north wind doth blow,

And we shall have snow

~nursery rhyme

We are in the midst of a blizzard. A writer friend of mine who sees the world more poetically than most says she is “snuggled home enjoying the beauty of the storm.” I’m semi-snuggled in a cozy corner of my own thinking on that perspective. Wondering where the beauty is in that fierce wind raging from the north, blowing snow horizontal, covering the plow’s progress on the road.

At least this was a storm they predicted. They saw it coming on the radar and told us it was coming. We all ran out for milk and bread and prepared to hibernate for the day. Here in northwest Connecticut, a blizzard is a break from the norm. It provided us with the coveted “snow day.” We don’t mind hibernating for the day. We even hope for it a couple times a year. All the while knowing we wouldn’t want this every day. Life in the tundra is okay for a day, but not for every day. We’re okay because we know it will end. Sometime tonight they say. So we snuggle and sip cocoa and watch movies, storing up energy to shovel the heaps of snow later, make paths through the white stuff to navigate our lives. We plan the clean out.

Life’s storms–we can’t predict those. Sure, there are the cynics who expect tragedy, a crisis at every turn. They are the ones to say, “I told you this would happen.” Maybe they are surprised when things run smoothly. I’m not one of those. I prefer not to have an Eeyore perspective on life, but I can’t say I’m surprised either when challenges arise. Although I can’t forecast them, I know they cycle around. The wind will rise, the going will be slower, tougher. Maybe we’ll have to hunker down and wait out the storm. Who knows for how long?

The tricky part comes when we have to lace the boots and step out in it–brave the storm. Visibility is low. Maybe we can’t see our hand in front of our face. But we look down and see our feet in those boots, and, once we can see the next step in front of us–sometimes even before we see it– it’s time to take that step.

E.L. Doctorow said:

“Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

I knew this was true for writing, but after having recently read Nancy Ortberg’s Seeing in the Dark, I realize this is also true in life. She says:

“We get a glimpse when what we want is a panoramic view.”

That’s where faith comes in. I can’t see all of my life mapped out. (Maybe that’s why although I find maps fascinating, I’m not good at using them. I like to pinch my fingers on the screen and spread them out to zoom in on street names and landmarks. Don’t show me the whole county. I can’t navigate that far!)

I’m learning that when the future looks uncertain, it’s okay. It’s not that there isn’t a wider landscape out there. The world will not end even though it may look that way. As I tell my dear friend, “Something will happen!” (Incidentally, did you know there are still people who believe the Earth is flat? But I digress. . .)

The storm will eventually clear, at least enough for me to see the next step. See that little line in the upper right hand corner of my website? Where it says:

“We are only given enough for today

but always enough for today.”

(Did I just quote myself? I guess I did.)

I wrote that when I started this site a few years ago. When I wrote it I was talking about provision, daily bread, manna kind of stuff. Today, to me, it also means we are only given enough direction for today but we are always given that for the day.

Like when I walk into school in the morning as a substitute teacher. I don’t always know what my assignment will be. I certainly never know all that my day will entail. (Who does?) But most days I know what school I will be working in, and I know the hours of operation. I have a basic idea what my job will be. (I will not be shingling a roof or performing a root canal.) Stepping into the school office in the morning is good practice for the different weather patterns of life. We wake up with maybe some idea of the pressures and pleasures our day will hold, but we have no real way of knowing the details.

Some days the air is sweet, the sun warm on my face. I step lightly into the world. Other days, I’m snowed in with no place to go until the storm subsides. I can try to fight it or, like my friend, I can enjoy the beauty of the storm. I wonder again,

Where is the beauty in the storm?

Huddled safe in the sanctuary of home, we listen to the wind howl. When we can do nothing else, we can marvel at the awesome power of it. It is, after all, stronger than we are.

But that’s not enough for this searching soul. After reading Ann Voskamp’s 1,000 Gifts and The Broken Way, I am challenged to find the gifts here.

When I look, I see.

Snow splattered artfully on window screens. . .

Snow drift sculptures changing gracefully in the wind. . .

Drift

Hundreds of words on the screen where before the storm there was only white space. . .

Gifts all.

 

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Resolution 2018: Just DON’T do it!

I’m not hoping for a better year in 2018. I hear well wishes at every turn, and I appreciate the sentiment, but I find myself seeking a more meaningful, honest response to their greeting. Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t want to repeat 2017. Although parts were wonderful, parts were also almost unbearable. Like all the well-wishers, I’d like to think–to hope–this year will be easier on the nerves, less stressful, more manageable and full of sunshine, but I know better. I’m not a cynic; but in this instance, I need to be a realist. This year will hold its own set of challenges. It’s not that I’m really anticipating anything particularly catastrophic. (Those of you who’ve checked out The Farmer’s Almanac may have more insight.) It’s just that I’ve lived on this planet long enough to know better than to think that all sorrow will be eradicated with the turning of a page on the calendar. There will still be wars and famine, weather events and crime. These things will always be with us.

Instead of hoping for a better year, I’m hoping for a better me. I’m not talking about typical traditional New Year’s resolutions. There are no vows here to run five miles a day or start drinking my coffee black– God forbid! I’ve tried those kinds of resolutions in the past. We all know they don’t work, and we only get more depressed when our will power weakens and we resort back to our creature comforts. (And how does my cutting my sugar consumption serve the greater good? From a global perspective, who cares?) For me, the goal is grace. For myself and others. I’m not talking about waxing theological. The idea is maybe bigger than that. I’m simply saying let’s cut each other some slack. Face it–life is hard. Everyone is going through their own brand of stuff. I think we all recognize that, but we don’t always act like we do. I can’t fix the world. But I can work on me.

I can do something we encourage kids to do. When faced with a situation that might be confrontational or adversarial, I can try to think before I speak–or post or text or react in traffic. Is what I’m about to say (or gesture) kind? Is it helpful to the other person? Or is it just a reaction based on my current emotion? If my anger is driving my response, a red flag should go up. And then what? My best course of action would be to pause. It seems like such a simple act, but how often we forget and allow knee jerk reactions to replace kindness. We forget we have an option. There is power in the pause. It is there that we take control away from our emotions (a place that usually get us in trouble) and transfer it instead to our rational brain. It may be argued that this ability is what separates us from other animals. When we act (react) solely on our emotions, it usually manifests itself as animal behavior. When I think before I (re)act, there is a better chance I will not say or do something I will regret later. There is a better chance I might say something that might actually help the situation, might build the other person up. (If nothing else, remember the adage: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.)

If you can, take a moment over that sweet creamy cuppa and think on this idea of pausing for that fresh breath of rationality. Be empowered.

 

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Zuzu’s Petals

“Whatever you do, just don’t lose heart.

Keep on pushing back the dark.”

~Josh Wilson

One of our family’s Christmas traditions is watching It’s a Wonderful Life. This black and white film from 1946 tells the tale of George Bailey, a man down on his luck who wishes he had never been born and then, with the help of an angel, gets the opportunity to experience how different things would have been had he received his wish. Every time I watch the movie, it brings me joy and every time, something new stands out. This time I was struck by the instant change in George at the turning point of the movie. When he initially goes to the bridge in utter despair to end it all, even the smallest things bothered him–the finial on the stair banister, the drafty old house. Even the things he loved:

 

“Why do we have to have all these kids anyway?”

 

Then the turning point. The realization that he is here, alive, with the ability to fill his lungs with oxygen and open his eyes to the goodness in the world. And to have his loved ones recognize him. One of the most disturbing things to George when he was experiencing the world without himself was when people–most of all his wife Mary (who wasn’t his wife in the world where he didn’t exist because he didn’t exist)–when Mary didn’t recognize George, we the audience could tell it broke his heart. That was the final straw.  He realizes just how blessed he is and when he decides he wants to live again, he instantly comes to life. His whole demeanor changes. The movie seems to speed up. Like someone hit the fast forward button.  Where even the smallest things irritated him prior to his epiphany, now even the tiniest blessings bless him. He finds his baby girl Zuzu’s petals in his pocket and they elate him. He hugs his kids and wife Mary so tightly, kisses them. Even the non-blessings are welcome. His bad ear and bloody lip are cause for celebration.

 

Don’t you wish it were like that in real life? That we could snap out of the doldrums quickly and appreciate the gift of the present–the now?

Maybe the secret is to do it backwards. Maybe, as Ann Voskamp says in 1,000 Gifts:

 “Thanksgiving precedes the miracle.”

Find one light in the darkness, one star in the dark night of the soul that could illuminate the rest of the darkness. If instant joy eludes us, maybe we need to take the first step. We can start by naming one thing we even like. Reach deep into that pocket and pull out those petals. Feel the softness, drink in the vibrant color.

It’s contagious, you know.

It will spread. An attitude of gratitude tends to build on itself. And we don’t have to wait for an angel to show up in order to have our own epiphany.

We don’t have to have a George Bailey experience.

We can more easily have a Grinch experience.

Remember when the Grinch hears the Whos sing “Welcome Christmas”?

 

Fah who For-aze

Dah who dor-aze

Welcome Christmas
Come this way! 

 

He paused his Grinching–just for a moment–and listened. The listening opened his heart just a bit, but that bit was enough for joy to seep in, take root, and expand to break that heart of stone and transform it into a heart of flesh.

Let’s do that. . . Let’s listen to the song. . . Let’s reach in and find those petals in our pockets.

 

Let’s pick up the pen and commit a courageous act of defiance against the dark.

 

Let’s name the gifts.

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Forever Changed

My son missed the bus. It was his second year in high school after having been home schooled since fourth grade. I was still homeschooling my two younger children. I would have to wake them up early to drive him to school for 7:23am. My husband had already left for work. It was very cold outside.

My son was apologetic, and his siblings woke up without grumbling. I was the one grumbling, but I tried to keep it to myself. On the ride to school, my nine year old daughter marveled at the ice crystals still on the trees, sparkling in the peachy glow of sunrise.

Later on that morning, my sister contacted me. There had been a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. My pulse raced. I got a lump in my throat. My husband taught at Newtown High School, just down the street from Sandy Hook Elementary. I grabbed my laptop and stayed glued to it all day, horrified by the surreal events unfolding, wanting my husband home safe with me. I gave the kids independent work to do. I couldn’t teach them that day, and I couldn’t tell them about the nightmare that their father may or may not have been involved in.

He texted me later. He said he was safe and he’d be home as soon as he could. I told him there were hugs at home waiting for him. He replied, “And kids.” My heart ached for those families whose kids would not be coming home that day. It was so close to Christmas, too—the season of anticipation of joy and wonder, the expectation of warm family gatherings. It would be so different for those families now. So different for us all.

That night with my husband home safe, he related some of the story to me. His class had been in lock down. He and his students huddled under desks in a corner of his classroom. The doors were locked and black paper covered the windows. He prayed. Over the coming days, weeks, and months he would share more memories of that fateful December 14, 2012, but that night he told me only what he could manage to say and only what I could manage to hear. Then I left him on the couch and tended to my chores in another room.

As I vacuumed I realized how blessed I felt to be able to do even a mundane task. I could process the horrors of the day while I cleaned up crumbs from the floor. So many moms would not have the strength or the desire that night to bother with such petty things. And the fact that my son had missed the bus that morning, well, I saw it for the blessing it was—an opportunity to spend a few more minutes with my kids.

Two days later, we searched for a Christmas tree at a local farm. Again I felt blessed by the sheer act of walking quietly through rows of evergreens with my family. It was peaceful. Although our hearts were broken, we were whole. We were together. Along with the peace, I also felt a little guilt.

When Christmas morning rolled around, my husband worried, as he always does, that the kids would not be happy enough with what he viewed as sparse offerings beneath the tree. I reassured him, as I always do, that the kids would be happy with their gifts. I reminded him that no one in our house should be anything but completely grateful that day. And every day.

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