Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I talk to these dogs, and I think they know exactly what I'm saying. I have been accused of hiding cookies in my pocket to insure I have their full attention, but I'm not ashamed of that. I think dogs are among the 7 Wonders of the World. As it turns out, there's a lot of disagreement about what the seven wonders are anyways. I think Chichen Itza in the Yucatan is pretty amazing as pyramids go, but dogs stack up higher in my opinion. I can't argue with Christ the Redeemer in Rio; there is really no other icon like it on earth. The Colosseum in Rome is pretty hard to beat, too, but it's manmade, unlike a labrador retriever, so the dog is just naturally more miraculous. The Great Wall is amazing, so they say, but I'll take a long path with a good dog any day. Machu Pichu is not a bad name for a dog, if you ask me. And Petra in Jordan is beautiful, but again, man-made, and there's just no contest. The Taj Mahal will probably always rank on the short list of wonders, so I concede that it probably won't get bumped off the list. I've had my share of wonder dogs. I had a dog when I was a kid: Tuffy. He was a dachshund, with more torso than tuffness, and he lived a very long life. It was one of my mom's recurring nightmares, the day she backed the car into the garage to unload groceries and ran him over. We had nursed him through broken bones, spinal troubles, seizures, innoculations, and heartworms but he bit the dust in the darn driveway. When I worked at Graves Mountain Lodge in high school, my friends gave me a little Beagle pup as a going-away gift. I'll never forget telling my mom when I flew into Dallas from Virginia that we had to pick up my luggage in the cargo area. She met Otto and fell in love, just like I did. Otto got bitten by a rattlesnake in our backyard, and Dr. Jimmie Aycock, God love him, nursed him for 3 days before little Otto succumbed to the venom's damage. When I got married, our first dog was an Irish Setter, Rusty, who tried to dig his way out of the house during thunderstorms. He drank from a puddle when he was 8 years old, but as it turned out, the puddle was run-off from grass that had just been watered and he was poisoned by the arsenic in the lawn chemicals. It only cost a couple hundred dollars for the autopsy to figure that out. I carried him into the emergency vet office in Savannah on Bo's shelter-half, and he was buried in that little pup tent. We bought Hobo for Carlisle when we were in Indianapolis, and a boy never loved a dog more. The memory of that golden retriever chasing my golden-haired boy across the cornfield will always make me smile. We lost Hobo in a car accident and the whole family bawled like babies for days. God how we loved that dog. It took a while, but we got another golden retriever, Tramp, and she filled that gaping hole that Hobo left in our lives. Tramp was a jewel. Loyal, lazy, joyful. She gave us a litter of 9 puppies, and we still get Christmas cards from some of them. When we got the call from the cemetery that Bo's gravestone had been installed, we made a family trip to Bushnell National Cemetery. Tramp walked way ahead of the kids, and laid down on Bo's grave, marking the place for us. She died shortly after that visit. None of us handled her loss very well. We waited a year, and a neighbor asked for our help. Buddy was an older dog who needed a home and we welcomed him with open arms. A big, fluffy Golden, he thought he was a lap dog. Loved to sleep on the couch, could eat a whole tray of chocolate chip cookies off the kitchen counter, and liked to talk. He would cross his legs before he'd ever have an accident in the house. He slept beside me every night until he was too old and infirm to climb the stairs, and I spread his ashes over the lake he loved to swim in. Now I'm dogless. I have two loyal friends at Christi's house, Cookie and Emma, who stay with me when Christi and Ryan are on the road. Cookie's a rescue, a great big white shepherd who is very attached to her people, and Emma, the little schitzpoo who adores her peeps as well. They feel secure at Grandma's house. Sometimes I borrow Lauren's labs, waiting for the day when I get another dog of my own. I'm being a little cautious because those attachments are so strong and so tough to handle when they're broken. But I know my Wonder boy is out there, just waiting for me to claim him.
Monday, June 27, 2011
I've heard it said that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your Prince, and if that's true, then my girls have smooched a few toads. Ever since they were little little girls, I prayed that God would start to prepare the hearts of the boys that would grow up to be the great men that they would each marry. We are still on the hunt for those guys. Perhaps the thing each girl has in common is their uncanny ability to see all the wonderful attributes each frog has to offer...he can hop really far, he has very few warts, his skin is the most beautiful shade of chartreuse...you get the picture. I am going to change my prayer...that God would make those frogs the kindest, most generous, most respectful amphibians out there, so we can quit wasting those sweet kisses on the wrong kind of frogs. Frogs are cold-blooded, and we really don't want that kind of man. Frogs move about on their bellies, and we don't want a man who does that either. Frogs lack scales, and excrete mucous through their skin, and that's just plain disgusting. Did you know that a frog sheds his skin all the time, just yanks it off his head like a sweater and then eats it? That's just gross. In order to eat, a frog squashes his eyeballs down so he can swallow his food. We've actually seen a few men eat like that, and it's not appealing in frogs or menfolk. Most frogs are all ribbit and no relationship, they move from mate to mate. Did you know frogs have top teeth, and no bottoms? We met a suitor like that, and no teeth is a red flag, for sure. Not the right match for any of my girls. I'm ready to call in a herpetoculturist to get some help for these 3, but in the meantime, if you see these beauties, go ahead and give 'em a kiss. They're actually the finest lillies in the pond.
A dream came...I was caring for my parents, elderly, infirm, they needed me. I was their helpmeet. Washing, cleaning, cooking, nursing care...loved being with them. As they aged, I felt a lump/bump on my shoulders/back. It began to swell and grow. I wondered why no one noticed. Parents continued to age, needed care, and the lump continued to increase in size. Covered it with my sweater, tried to make sure no one noticed it. Turned my body in a position away from others so they wouldn't notice. Continued to grow. Father died. Grief. Burden continued to grow. Felt heavy but others didn't seem to notice so as long as I kept my back turned I felt I had hidden it. Mother needed more care. Loved being with her, caring for her. Gentle relationship. Tender. Burden on my back/shoulders got heavier. Turned away so she wouldn't notice. Looked in the mirror. I could see it. Wondered why others couldn't. Mother died. Lonely. Continued to care for children in my home. Burden grew. Felt grief. Wondered why the burden had grown so large but I could still function, do what was expected, felt joy but confusion over why the burden was so large and yet seemed invisible to others. Finally died. Went to heaven. It was a large open field, full of wildflowers. Saw God at the edge of the field. Ran to Him. As I ran, burden jostled on my back like a heavy backpack. Yet so happy to see Him. Let Him hold me and hug me in His arms. Felt overwhelming joy and rest in His arms. He held my face, asked me why I looked troubled. Still had burden like a heavy weight on my back. I told him I didn't understand why I had struggled so ...that I carried this burden in my earthly life and it had become a heavy but invisible weight for so long. He reached down to the ground, picked up a blade that had the color of bone. He reached for the backpack-shaped burden on my back and tore a wide hole in the canvas. Out of the burden flew hundreds and hundreds of butterflies. Every color under the sun. I wept. He told me the burden I had carried was the most beautiful thing about me...what I saw and felt as a weight was his beautiful gift to me. I understood His perspective for the first time. What I perceived as difficult, even unbearable, was beautiful in His sight. I woke up from my dream...
Friday, June 24, 2011
Interwined. That's what wisdom is. It's intertwined with our understanding of our relationship with our Creator. As I was writing A Woman Like Me, I had a dream about Wisdom. She was wrapped in a deep purple robe, and she sat on a throne. At one point, she set her robe aside at the hem, and I could see a complex woven design. On the surface, it was a beautiful robe. But beneath the fabric, there was such texture and symmetry. I really struggled with what this meant. When I woke up, I was curious about how a woman could be on a throne, and why the Bible referred to Wisdom as feminine. I studied God's word and discovered over and over that Wisdom is referred to as "she"...this led me to study deeper, looking at how our Bible intertwines one scripture, and another, and another. The Proverbs 31 woman has always been really intimidating to me...how, how, how, could I ever measure up? If you've never read a "Catholic" Bible, you may have missed the Book of Sirach, which reveals so much we need to know about wisdom. There's a lot of argument about whether or not the Book of Sirach is inspired, and because it's in the Apocrypha many folks never read it, they just extract meaningful quotes from it. I think the bottom line is that Wisdom is one of God's attributes, and our word comes from the feminine version of the Hebrew word hokmah, so we refer to wisdom as "she" but never as an entity separate from Him. There's no way in the world I want to get in the mix of a Protestant/Catholic discussion. Here's what has meaning to me...God calls us to develop the character traits of a wise woman, and that is hard work. We will spend all of our lives cultivating a relationship with Him that makes us worthy of being called "wise"...we will never be wise apart from Him. The world is a tough enough place without Protestants and Catholics harping at one another; instead we need to pray for wisdom for ourselves, and for each other.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Bo, in Greece, about 50 years ago.
My kids will probably say that this blogpost is "too religious" but there are times when God puts something in my heart and I just have to share what I'm thinking and feeling. I love the way Mike is preaching at COAH, because he points us as Christians to the cross, to the cross, to the cross. That is our true north, you know? I was listening to Mike's tv recording at City on a Hill Church as he talked about our requirement as Christians to follow Light rather than darkness that is dressed up as light, and I was thinking about his description of us as objects of God's affection. I think it is hard for some of us to believe that we are the object of His affection. If you have ever endured hardship or tragedy, it is hard to believe that God in His love and affection would allow tragedy into your life. There is, in that moment, a paradox. I love God, therefore I believe He is my Protector. But the same God, My God, My Protector, will allow me to lose everything for His purposes. It's a really tough dichotomy. God shared with me not too long ago that He had given me wisdom for our family that I needed to share more openly with my children. As my kids have begun their adult lives, I've let go more in that arena, wanting them to build, deepen, and find water for their own spiritual growth. I have felt both fear and confidence in "letting go" --acutely at times. At other times I've wanted to reign them back in to tell them what to believe. I think the reason we have all had a hard time believing that we are the objects of His affection goes back to losing Bo. Children are not supposed to lose a parent in childhood. Children are supposed to have a mother and a father who watch over them all their lives. But the world doesn't actually work that way. I look at the friends we have who've traveled around the world to adopt orphans. I look at the friends we've invited into our home who've lost both parents through death, divorce, or desertion. And I understand that because we each have free will, and sin, that there is no guarantee regarding the path we each take on this earth. I know there is a future and a hope for us that far exceeds our expectations. We have to grasp something really important. It is not enough to seek God, we must follow Him. So I want my children to gain a deeper understanding of what love our God has for us; knowing that the more we understand this love, the more likely we are to trust Him, to seek Him, and to follow Him, no matter what happens in our lives. I want them to understand that in His mercy, He allows hardship. But again, there's that paradox. The thing that allows us to understand this and believe this is faith, and I can't give that to anyone. So every day, I ask for a renewal of my faith, and my mind, so that I may discern, and my children may discern, the will of God for their lives, even when that Will involves sorrow or hardship or challenges or trials.
Romans 12:2 ESV says --Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Mike showed me today that as God perfects His will in me, in us, we are the object of His affection, and this perfect Father will never leave us, forsake us, abandon us. In fact, He loves us with joy.
Monday, June 20, 2011
My guest room's been kind of a hodge podge, and I asked Christi for help. Christi's invested a lot of time and energy in studying interior design--she's got an eye for color, style, uniqueness, and I've watched her create one beautiful room after another. Her talent's something she kind of hides from the general public in the flow of her day. She's too busy being a wife and mother to toot her own horn. So, toot, toot, Christi---thanks so much for making this space into a beautiful spot.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Photos: Grandpa, celebrating with his granddaughters and holding his new great grandchild. Ryan, great dad to my grandchildren. Carlisle, father of twins.
We need fathers. Sometimes the world gives us a different message...the message that once fathers contribute their DNA we're done with them. But this is off by about 180 degrees. Fathers have gotten a bad rap. Some deserve it. But like most stereotypes, we can't trust the truth about fathers we meet in an archetype or a cartoon. Fatherhood isn't a role, it's a relationship. If boys learn this early on, they'll be better fathers regardless of how they're raised. We don't have to guess what that relationship is...we have Our Father to show us the way. If every man would study the provision of our heavenly Father, he would understand exactly how to live his own life for his family. That's my prayer today...for us to celebrate men who understand this, and pray for those who don't, and ask God if He would prepare the hearts of young boys who one day will...
Friday, June 17, 2011
My parents are gone from this earth. I know this because their house is empty now, and their cars are gone from their driveway. Their mailbox now has someone else's name. I don't have any cards or letters from them in my own mailbox, and my phone never rings with their cheery hello. When I call their phone, the number has been disconnected. Yet they are here with me as surely as this monitor, this keypad, this morning. I have several friends who are losing their parents right now, and I want to comfort and encourage them. I want to tell them to hang on tight to each moment, but then let it go, and create a new moment. When my mother was leaving this life, she was in the ICU at Scott and White. My brothers and I camped out on the floor of her room. Stacy, the baby of our family, and Todd, the rascal, and Steve, the protector, and I all stayed near her side. The family stories we shared with each other were both bittersweet and hysterical, as they all involved our mother. We prayed with her and for her in every moment, and in every breath. Yet I have to believe that our laughter and our stories reached her heart as a kind of thanksgiving, that in every tale we told she could hear us saying, "Thank you, Momma...thank you...thank you..." The nurses had to come into her room and ask us to quiet down at one point, and we were all duly chastised, but our mirth at the life we shared was precious to us. At night, Todd and Stacy would go out in stealth mode to see what bedding they could round up, a spare mattress pad, a pillow, a chair, and we slept. If you've ever stayed at a hospital, you know that there is no such thing as day or night, but we tried to quiet ourselves through the evening, matching our quiet breathing to the sound of our mother's ventilator. We touched her hands, ran our fingers up and down the tiny veins in her wrists, rubbed her shoulders and feet. We wanted to touch her, to communicate somehow through our fingertips our love and gratitude. For my friends who are saying their own goodbyes right now, I would tell you to cherish each moment and appreciate its simplicity. It is what it is. And yet it is so much more. It is holy and sacred but don't be scared. Tuck each sight and sound into your memory banks, because these things will sustain you when your beloved mother or father is gone from your side. Our world doesn't allow us to stay in the moment for very long...we are always on to the next thing, the next task, the next event. I would tell you to stay. Stay in the moment. Be present. It is a gift you are giving your loved ones...and a gift you will cherish for always.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
I get to be Michelle's mom. That's not a title I take lightly, because I love that kid. She was such a tough little daughter to begin with, making me use up every bit of patience I had to teach her how to be a sweet little rascal. She's always been a glass half full kind of girl. Now she's a glass overflowing kind of young lady. She's been alternating going to school and working full-time since high school, and she's getting ready to start a new chapter in her life. When she graduates with Honors in December from the University of Houston, she'll have a triple minor in Spanish, Medicine, and Business. Any employer out there would be lucky to have her. She's the funniest person I know, and the most committed. Someday she'll be a great mom, but in the meantime she showers her nieces and nephews with love and devotion. She embodies beauty to me, and I love her. I get to be her mom. Love you, Belle
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Avery was desperate to have us watch Little Manhattan on the Disney Channel last night. It turned out to be a love story, and during the course of the movie we talked about love and boys and boyfriends and movie stars. It was revealed that our little Avery, in the privacy of her own little pink bedazzled bedroom, had planted a kiss on the poster lips of Justin Bieber. Avery's 8. I have some questions for the Disney folks. Can you be trusted to deliver stories and messages from popular icons that I want my granddaughter to emulate? If your programming is geared towards children under age 12, 24/7, are you going to promote morals and ideals similar to those her parents are instilling in her? Just where do you find your Justin Biebers and Miley Cyruses, and how does a modern family compete with the power of such images and icons? I'm glad my daughter and son-in-law monitor what the kids watch, and turn such viewing into opportunities for discussion and teaching. And Justin Bieber along with all the other teen angels just better watch out, because each misstep may bring dire consequences from one grandma who might exercise her matriarchal duty...by using the "off" button on the remote!
Friday, June 10, 2011
I told this story to our staff at school, and someone asked me to share it again, so here goes: I was starting a new teaching year at Valrico Elementary a few years back. It was a brand new school and we were all excited about our brand new classrooms, brand new desks, brand new books, etc. I was going to be teaching 4th grade, which I love to do, and had prepared all the student desks with their names, etc. I had been "Harry Wonged" that summer, so had also written a letter to each of my students, welcoming them to a new school year. I had all 28 desks ready, and the morning got rolling. I got student 29, and ever-prepared, made him a name plate and got his desk ready. I got student 30, and ever-prepared, made her a name plate and got her desk ready. I got student 31, and less-prepared, made her a makeshift name plate and got her desk ready. I got student 32, and lesser-prepared, scribbled her name on a notecard and asked her to sit down. I got student 33, stared at my principal when she asked me to take him, and got a desk from the hallway to make room for him. Finally #34 came to the door, with nothing but a piece of masking tape reading "Derek" taped to his shirt, and with no more desks, I cleared off a place at a table next to my desk and asked him to sit tight until we could find a desk for him. I asked him his last name, and first he said Smith, then it was Jones, and then it was Smith, and finally he decided on Jones. I could tell he belonged in a special ed. class, and I knew it would just be a matter of time before he would be placed in the most appropriate class, so we all got down to work. Well, Derek was a handful. He had that kind of acrid, sweet smell you sniff sometimes when you walk by a dumpster. His clothes were filthy. He could not do the most basic tasks we were doing, and he had trouble staying in his seat. I had my hands full. By the end of the day, the counselor came by to tell me they couldn't figure out where he'd gone to school the previous year, and we were sending registration papers home with him on the same bus. I had a pretty good feeling we would not see him the next day, as there was no program for him at our school. Wiped out, I rearranged desks for Day 2 and went home to prepare for the next new day. Tuesday morning, in walks Derek. Same clothes. Same smell. Same piece of masking tape on his shirt. I asked him for his registration papers and he said he gave them to his mom. I asked him for more information, and that's all he could provide. I let the counselor know that Derek was back, and we got busy with our day. Again, he was into everything, hard to manage, very hungry, unable to do the work, and did I mention he was into everything? The other students whispered about him, and I gave them each a stern look, trying to get everyone to understand that Derek would not be with us for long. I had to buy a school lunch that day because he'd eaten my sack lunch mid-morning. By the end of the day, the counselor came by with more paperwork, a school letter in school stationary, and a big safety pin. She pinned the paperwork to Derek and told him he had to bring it back the next day. Whew, I was whooped. Who was Derek, and why would no one claim him? How could a parent just put him on a bus with no more than a first name? How could they leave a child so vulnerable? The counselor talked to the bus driver, and asked for her help, but she said all the kids just got off the bus in inner city Tampa and then scattered, there weren't any parents down there meeting the bus at the bus stop like they did in our school neighborhood. I felt sure we would not see Derek again. Wednesday morning. Good morning Derek. No paperwork. No envelope. Same clothes. Strong smell. Dirty face and hands. Hungry. He wolfed down the pbj I brought for him, then the banana, then the juice box. I showed him a pack of cheese crackers he could eat later in the morning. My 4th graders were precious but running out of patience. Derek got too close, went through their stuff, wouldn't leave them alone, and tried to get attention in every way he could imagine. By mid-afternoon, I told the counselor we had to have help with this situation, even if it meant calling CPS. Derek was obviously at risk. She agreed. I wanted our students to write a sample essay for me, so I could get an idea of how much work we'd need to do to pass the FCAT (Florida's version of the TAKS) so after reading our novel, The Best School Year Ever, I asked them to write for me: Describe what the best school year ever would be like for you. Derek got his paper and pencil and went right to work, even though he'd not been able to do any written work all week. He asked for help with spelling. Teacher, how you spell school? I spelled for him. Teacher, teacher, how you spell principal? I spelled for him. It was easier to spell for him than it was to tell him no. I was just trying to get through the day. Teacher, how you spell teacher? I spelled for him again. Then he asked for help with spelling the hardest word: Teacher, how you spell hope? It stopped me in my tracks. For a kid like Derek, how do you spell hope? I was bereft. I touched his shoulder and gave him the letters he wanted, but could not give him the help he so desperately needed. The counselor arrived at dismissal time and told me she'd be riding the bus home with him that day. As they left, I gave Derek a hug and told him I loved him. He hugged me back. When the counselor got to his bus stop, Derek walked with her to his home, the locked door of a homeless shelter where he met his mother each evening. They waited in the line until his mom arrived. And of course, like all great counselors do, ours made sure Derek got the help he needed. But Derek changed me as a teacher, and I'm grateful for that little boy. Derek taught me a lot in the three days I was blessed to be his teacher. I hope he's doing okay, wherever he is.
Monday, June 6, 2011
I love to make something new from something old, so I guess my summer "to do" list will include a few projects like that; repaint that old headboard I found in Germany while we were "junking" 20 years ago using that "chalk paint" that Christi found on a blog somewhere...distress those two old end tables to go with the headboard...make some curtains for the guest room that actually reach the floor...take a minute to go through some more boxes in the garage and get rid of some more junk before I acquire any more junk...reload the bookshelves with books in some kind of orderly way (tough for a librarian)...get rid of old clothes that will never fit me again or ever be in style again (wait a minute, stirrup pants have redeeming value)...what about your plans? What's old that you want to make new again?
Saturday, June 4, 2011
I've been working at a TAP school for the past year...once I figured out there was no tap-dancing involved, I learned that it means we spend a lot of time on school reform and on teacher improvement, from learning new methods, practicing old methods, and honing our personal skills so that we are more effective as teachers. We were asked to write a Christmas letter to ourselves, as if we were giving ourselves a gift, and this is what I wrote. I read the letter again as the year ended...because the year ended so unlike I thought it would. Not only did the year end, but my job ended as well, and I've started a new position managing 5 libraries. Most teachers are so hard on themselves, and I admit I am in that same bunch. I don't celebrate my success enough, and think too much of what I shoulda/woulda/coulda. I wish I could remember to remember to remember what I have to say to me:
You have been through a lot my friend---there have been so many changes in your life and I have watched you as you've tried to embrace them, handle them, welcome them--but I know it's been scary. A new school- how exciting! But those old childhood doubts and fears creep in--will you fit in? will they like you? will you be happy about your choices? Have faith, friend...you have a good head and a loving heart, and the world is better because of you.
As you go into this fall, think about communicating your love of reading to your students--because it's through the knowledge and wisdom of literature that we can find our way. Share that. Our kids lack a roadmap--they don't see their future or their hope, so share the way with them. Also, I hope you'll reach out to connect---create relationships. Don't be so shy. You are a cool person, and hiding your "cool" side doesn't serve anyone. Remember that Sunday school song about hiding your light under a bushel? Let it shine.
Okay, I do wish you joy, peace, and all good things. Your deserve them.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
I feel an awesome sense of responsibility when it comes to my grandchildren. We are creating our family legacy, one memory at a time. It makes me think of my own children, and the kind of mother they needed. I am not always sure I filled the shoes adequately, but they are loving and kind in their reassurances to me. They fill me with such gratitude.
I've been thinking about why God allows certain events to shape our lives, and what our response must be as we travel the paths He presents to us, and I was thinking about why alcoholism had to have such a pivotal role in my life. I am not, nor have I ever been, an alcoholic, but I have lived with alcoholism during my childhood as well as in my marriage, so what is it about this disease and me? It has been a teacher, for one thing, and perhaps more than anything else it led me to the cross. When I asked God for help, He always answered. But I remember asking people for help, professionals in the field of alcoholism, and their answer to me was "the alcoholic must hit bottom." I remember such confusion over that answer. What they didn't tell me, and I had to discover, was that while an alcoholic must hit bottom, each family member or loved one has their own rock bottom, their own ground zero. My ground zero happened when my husband would not get help at what I perceived to be his rock bottom. When I saw there was no way further down, around, under, behind, no detour, only one emergency after another, I found the only way out was Up. It was at my own ground zero, when everything in my marriage was demolished, that I realized I had to leave and rebuild. I have wanted to share this with other men or women living with this disease, just in case they are still waiting on their loved one to hit rock bottom. I think we must each acknowledge what our own ground zero is, and make decisions to prevent the devastation that hitting bottom brings into our lives. I want to say to them, don't wait until you hit rock bottom, because you may not have the strength or courage to rise out of such ashes. It takes a certain amount of strength to ask for help, from any source. The foundational work done in a twelve-step program can protect you from knowing what it means to be surrounded by ruins. As I've travelled those 12 steps over and over again, perhaps the biggest part of my legacy will be trying to teach my grandchildren that God is their Rock, their Fortress, their Deliverer, and nothing can destroy that foundation.