Friday, August 26, 2011

Back to Skool

School days, school days, back to Golden Rule days...okay, maybe not.
It is, after all, 2011, and not many of our children even know what we mean if we refer to the Golden Rule. How many adults adhere to this ethic of reciprocity? Or its inverse, the Silver Rule...don't treat others the way you would not like to be treated? We probably don't use these rules enough in theory or in practice. But as I watched the neighborhood little ones queue up at the busstop, I was trying to remember my first day of school. We were in Okinawa, and our school was a rough little quonset hut.

It was kind of an open school concept, with several classrooms in the hut. We rode a little bus across the island, and I got off at the wrong bus stop and had to walk home by myself. Somehow I found my way down a busy highway, past a dozen little Japanese shops. When I got home, my mom was frantic, and I was safe and sound. I had the safety and security of a loving home ...something I believe every child deserves.

One of the back to school customs I loved when my kids were little was one that's still practiced in Germany. All first graders receive a "schulteute" on their first day of school, and it's filled with candy, toys, and school supplies. It's just a simple, lovely celebration of that rite of passage...when your sphere of influence completely changes because your kids have this overwhelming thing called "school" to master.

These aren't my family's images...just wanted you to see what a schulteute looks like!

I've watched all the little faces of Bryan ISD's children as they've returned to school this week. Some had a refreshing summer, with vacations, family time, excitement and restoration. Others have had to endure loneliness, hunger, and insecurity as the "safe zone" called school wasn't open or available for them. It's such an illustration of the "haves" and "have nots"...the new backpacks, school clothes, bright new shoes...and the old backpacks, the ripped clothes, the old sneakers. Some are so apprehensive, anxious, excited; others are completely unimpressed. Our new superintendent has a big push: Be the One. I think I get it...I know what he the one to dream, imagine, create, solve, take responsibility, make a difference. It really does all come down to that one child, that one teacher. I have a special prayer for all my teacher friends, and for all the teachers my grandchildren will encounter this year...I think first and foremost I pray that we are all gentle with one another. The world is a nervous enough place, I want our children to feel confident and secure in their knowing...that school will be a safe place to grow and learn. And more than that, I pray that this year will be a complete adventure...with joy at every turn, that 'being the one' won't completely exhaust them, and that the year will be one of blessing and delight. I was reading in Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts, a quote by Tagore that exemplifies what I think teachers must do to make it. If we can live like this:
I slept and dreamt life was joy. I awoke and saw life was service. I acted, and behold, service was joy.
And, okay, when the going gets tough and we finally reach the end of the day or the end of the week, perhaps we should throw in that Jimmy Buffett quote, too, "It's five o'clock somewhere."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Three Places

My friend at work was presenting a theory or concept that who we are and what we are about can be tied to "three places" and I was trying to get her to expound on that idea a little. It intrigued me. What does that mean? Can it be said that you can find out who I am if I give you a closer look at the three places that mean the most to me? I am willing to give it a try.

I found a picture first of our colt in a small pasture when she was just a wee little one. I have never been an experienced horse woman. I am a horse lover, but not an equestrian. Horses represent something inside of me that I cannot get out of my system. I want the attitude of freedom you see in a horse...yet I know they are crazy-tied to their herd and do not want to be alone. When we were kids we'd visit my grandparents on their farm in North Dakota, and I must confess I love the smell of manure. There's nothing like a good old whiff of barn. When we lived on a small farm in Indiana, our neighbor raised hawgs, and I cannot tolerate that smell at all. But give me an old barn that once housed cows and horses, and I'm in hog heaven. As far as places go, I want the habitat of horses...the wide open fields, the pastures, the barely standing barb wire fence. I want the old windmill and the rusty weather vane, the round bales and the wagon full of square bales. I want the horse with grass coarsely tossed across his flanks, hooves firmly planted and listening through the dirt. Horses remind me of my children, and the relationships we share. There is a hierarchy within those relationships, a give and take, a need and want that we share with one another. Horses are extremely loyal, and I have tried hard to instill that in our family. That no matter what, we are loyal to one another.

The second place that matters to me is the old homestead, and that's kind of funny coming from a military kid because we never really had one. My folks retired in Texas, and 931 Cottonmouth Drive became home to us but I was already a teenager by then. In the backyard there was a huge live oak, and over the years my brothers built a fort in the top of the tree. I guess I hammered in a few footholds and climbed up and down their makeshift ladder, but it was a boys clubhouse and hide-out. It represents shelter to me. Stacy was the last to leave home, and we all moved off to college and our adult lives, but the tree weathered every storm and I always checked on the old tree when I'd come home to visit. It still stands at 931 Cottonmouth Drive. It's a lot worse for wear; all our old boards have fallen off, limbs have broken and dropped to the ground; lumber's been extracted to prevent passers by from being injured; but there's a skeleton of a tree left in the yard. That tree represents everything wonderful about the home my parents created for us. We had our ups and downs like all families do, but the analogy between this tree and the giving tree is real to me.

Finally, my place is Arlington. Arlington is where my parents are buried, but more importantly, it represents the life we were blessed to live. Our parents taught us that freedom isn't free, and my father was willing to give the ultimate sacrifice to insure we all lived in the world he wanted for us. He instilled those same values in my brothers. All of us kids chose public service as a way of life. As a military wife, my mother bore the brunt of my father's career choices, raising us alone for so many many days. I see Arlington, and I think of her sacrifices as well. My parents taught us how to love, and Arlington represents that love for me.

So those are my three places, and maybe there is something to this theory after all. Does each place represent who I am and what I am all about? I think maybe they do. It doesn't mean I'm done with places or traveling, or putting down new roots, but something tells me no place I go can replace these places; they are my geography, my history, my places on this life map.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Love is a resting place

It was time to go back to school this week, so I had a chance to reflect on our summer and all the busy-ness and lazy-ness of the weeks behind me. My car accident in May started the summer off with too many tests, too many doctor visits, too many questions about my health, but I tried to set it all aside and let God be mine, because He told me once in Psalm 66 that He would not reject my prayers or withhold His love for me, so I was counting on His promise in every way.

I had a chance to take care of each of my children, as they needed me in various ways, and that is a privilege that I try not to take for granted. I was glad I was able to be with Lauren as she changed offices; I was happy to care for Christi and Ryan's children while they took a much-needed break; it was wonderful to celebrate birthdays with Charlotte, Lauren, and Michelle; and I counted down the days until Carlisle's visit with his family.

I had to go back to work this week, in my new job, with lots of new responsibilities, and was grateful that God allowed for plenty of rest and relaxation beforehand. It made me think of His love, and the way He has taught me how to love. I would say that I don't love perfectly; I'm not sure who does. I am sometimes selfish and self-serving in my love, as I really want to be loved in return. But I hope if I've taught my children anything, it is the idea that love is a resting place. Life beats us up, it demands so much of us, it saps us, surprises us, disappoints us, and brings us both sorrow and joy. If we do not know how to turn to each other, and find rest in each other, we do not truly know how to love, nor do we understand how God loves us.

The whole family gathered at the lake as summer ended. Our friend, Tim Burkhalter (Images of His) joined us to take photos of each family. I love this one of Carlisle and Michelle, Shayleigh and little Carlisle. I look at my little boy now all grown up...and think about my Carlisle and his journey...a boy smack dab in the midst of 4 girls. I used to call him a boy sandwich. He knew some very difficult days as a teenager, and God redeemed every moment. While he had no father as a teenager, he had the loving example of other men in his life, primarily his grandfathers, to show him how a man loves his family. Today, his love is a resting place for his wife, and his beautiful daughter and son. I look into his eyes and see a man who knows what love means, and I am grateful for God's grace and unfailing protection.

I asked Ryan's grandparents to come over to the lake house so we could take their picture, and after over 60 years of marriage, Caroline climbed onto Bob's lap and told our friend Tim to have at it. He captured the sparkle and energy that keeps this couple's love as alive and vibrant as it was so many decades ago. I so admire their commitment and their stamina...they have shown their children and grandchildren that their love is a resting place.

Ryan had the example of his grandparents to guide him in creating a resting place in his home. Like Christi, he had seen the marriage of his parents come apart and they both knew firsthand about the wounds such decisions cause. When they decided to marry, I thought they were both so young, and I wanted them to wait. But they had found love in each other, and I had to let go and let God lead them into the life He'd planned for them. Today, as husband and wife, mother and father, they give each other and their 3 children the safety, security, and stability of a loving home, a resting place in a hectic world.

Last summer when we gathered at the lake, Michelle had just returned from a semester abroad in Spain, and Charlotte was still in San Francisco going to jewelry school, so we didn't have a chance to capture their friendship and sista-hood. I watched Michelle gather her "bees" into her lap at the lake, and admire the strong relationship she's created with her nieces and nephews. She has so much love to give, and always tastes the salt of another person's tears. She has a beautiful heart. So does Charlotte. Someone asked me to give one word to describe Charlotte and I had to use a hyphen: tender-hearted. I ask God every day to guide their path, each step, so they end up with a partner in life who helps them create the joyful resting place they each deserve.

I love the way Tim's photo captures this couple that we've grown to love so much. Mike is Michelle's brother (we call Carlisle's wife, Michelle, Bunny--but that's a secret). Mike and Lorena have spent the past 16 months planting a church in St. Petersburg, Florida. St. Pete is one of the most violent cities in the country. Crime is rampant, people are lost and searching for answers, and Mike has carried a burden for this city for many years. God led him to plant City on a Hill Church, and he will tell you story after story of how God has rescued and redeemed members of his church. 300-400 people gather together every week to listen to this shepherd offer God's love as a resting place for those beaten up by the troubles of their lives. Lorena's father went home to heaven just weeks before our gathering at the lake, and my prayer for her time with all of us was that she would find rest. But in between swimming, capsizing the jet ski, farkling, and cooking, I'm not sure she got much rest. She has many gifts, and shared her heart with us. She also happens to cook like Paula Deen, so we were not afraid to encourage her in the kitchen.

We weren't sure Lauren and her sweetheart, Chris, were going to make it to the lake when Chris tore the tendons apart in his hand but it's not easy to keep a good man down. They led the charge on the water, making sure the boats, rafts, fishing poles, and jet skis were ready for action each day. They are both active people, and are not afraid to be themselves. I admire that about both of them. Sometimes I'm so busy being what other people want or need me to be, that I'm not sure how to just be myself. Lauren and Chris have shared their pasts and are creating a future together, and in the process they're learning how to make it work, how to become a resting place for one another.

So the lake visit ended too soon once again. We would never have had the chance to get together if not for Ryan's aunt and uncle, John and Linda Wilcox. They gave us a gift we will never forget. Got home, unpacked, washed and put away all the gear, and now it is time to go back to school. Gone are the "halcyon days of summer" for another year. Life's pressing in once again. But I can say that as we gathered and departed, Christ was in our midst. He assembled us from Florida, Texas, and points in between and gave us the time and opportunity to share His heart with each other. He showed us once again how He showers us with His love, and blesses us so abundantly. I have to hit my knees all too often to ask for His forgiveness, for taking it all for granted. One of the many promises I cling to is this (and I've changed it so it sounds like it's written for me): When she calls out to Me, I will answer her; I will be with her in trouble; I will rescue her and give her honor; I will satisfy her with a long life and show her My salvation. Ps 91:15-6

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fairy Dust

Ryan and Christi invited all of us to join them at Ryan's uncle's house at Lake Cherokee, and that's where the mystery began...

... the first morning of our vacation, I woke up and went into the big house. When I returned to my cabin, I found my bed made, my towels folded, and my brush, make-up, etc rearranged.

... I asked around in the house, and found out several of us had the same kind of mysterious visit. Ryan said they had not hired a housekeeper, so we knew something interesting and precious was happening.

...I left a note: Who is cleaning my room?

...and this was the response: Dear Robin, I can not tell you where we are, but I will tell you that your friends, Lovebird and Sunflower, are maids and they fixed your room.

...that evening, I returned to my cabin at bedtime. I found my bed ready, my pajamas laid out on the quilt, my towels folded by the sink.

...the next day, I left another note: Dear Lovebird and Sunflower, Thank you for making my room so pretty yesterday. I am glad I have such nice fairies on my vacation. My friends, Ashlynn, Avery, and Tori said you might like something sweet so here is a delicious cookie to share. Love, G'ma

...that evening, the cookies were eaten, and I received this reply:

..."Thank you for the cookie!" and the pattern repeated itself.

...I had a feeling I was being pranked, but I told my granddaughters that these fairies were certainly very sneaky, leaving no clues of their whereabouts. Until the day I took my nap. The girls woke me up to tell me there was a trail outside my cabin. On the path beside my door was a trail of little pebbles and cookie crumbs that led into the woods behind my cabin. Avery and Tori explained that they thought they knew where the fairies were coming from--the woods! They said the fact that there were cookie crumbs in the trail proved that it must be the path of Lovebird and Sunflower.

....each day, my bed was made, my towels folded, my pajamas prepared for me at bedtime. Finally, we reached our last day together, and I left this note:

"I have to say thank you and goodbye because I am leaving tomorrow. Thank you for being my friends. Love, G'ma P.S. Here is a tip for cleaning my room so nicely every day. (I left a few dollars on the counter.)

...that evening when I returned to my room, my bed was ready, my pajamas were left out, I had no note, and the money I left was still on the counter. I found Avery and Tori the next morning and told them what had happened. Avery had a theory. She said, "Grandma, maybe they weren't doing it for money."

...I packed my things and prepared to leave, discussing the money situation with Avery once again. I told her I would just have to think of another way to thank the fairies, and blew a kiss into the air.

...Avery said, "Grandma, can I tell you something?"

...She sparkled, "It was not really Lovebird or Sunflower. We just made that up. It was me and Tori."

...Mystery solved! Avery and Tori, two little eight-year olds, had taken it upon themselves to become lake fairies, treating us to a little make-believe. But the larger mystery remains... did I get so lucky?

...Here are "the fairies" from Lake Cherokee-- Lovebird and Sunflower.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Soldier Boy

I have a prayer for our soldiers today, and I am grateful for the reminder to lift them up. I'm sorry that I needed the reminder, and for any offense I might cause in sharing this story.

It started with gas. I was filling up at the Valero in Temple, waiting for Lauren's sweetheart to finish at the hospital so I could take him home. The young man in the car next to me kept staring at me, and I was a little uncomfortable. I pumped my gas, put the handle back on the thingamajig, and got ready to return to my car.

He said, "Excuse me, Ma'am. Can I ask you to buy me a breakfast sandwich? I said, "Excuse me?" He said, "Can I ask you to buy me a sandwich? I'm hungry."

I said, "What's going on?" He had a pick-up truck full of suitcases, but he had a weird look on his face.

"I just got back from Iraq a few months ago, and I put the last of my money in my gas tank, and I'm hungry."

He was wearing civilian clothes, so I asked, "You're in the military?"

"Yes, Army, Ma'am."

I said, "Do you have an ID card?" Forgive me, Lord, for being so skeptical.

"I've got a VA card." He pulled an ID card out of his wallet, with his name and photo and the words, "Service related injury." I guess that's what the VA issues to injured soldiers. "I have PTSD and I'm not doing too well."

I went to my wallet, and all I had was $6.00. "You can have what I have."

"I'm just hungry. I swear. I'll go in this store right here and buy a sandwich."

I said, "Okay, I'll watch your truck." He went into the service station, and a lady got into the passenger seat. She was a good bit older than him. I asked her, "What's the matter?"

"He just got back from Iraq, he has PTSD, his wife left him, and I'm taking him to the VA but I just gave him what money I had to put in his gas tank. I'm his aunt, and my husband and I have given him all we have." She tried to hand me 11 cents. "You can have the change from the gas."

"No, I don't want that. I just wanted to make sure he really needed help." Please forgive me, Lord. For doubting this opportunity you've given me.

She said, "I don't blame you, people trick people all the time. But I know God will bless you and I thank you for helping him. He's tried to take his life twice and I'm going to try to get the VA to help him."

I said, "I know this has been a hard war on so many young people. I'm glad he has you."

She said, "Today I'm glad he has you. Thank you, Ma'am."

I feel like such a heel. Why should this soldier have to prove his need for help to me? For a whopping six bucks? I felt so angry with myself. I got into my truck and left, but pulled over a few blocks later, tears filling my eyes. Why Lord? Why must I doubt the opportunities you give me to be your hands, your feet, your heart?

I hope this soldier boy gets the help he needs. Sometimes the war feels so far away, but here he is, a young man, fighting for his life in the only way he knows how...trusting our health care system to help him make sense of his journey long after leaving foreign soil. And I treated him like a foreigner, a stranger.

I've got this boy on my heart now, and I will lift him up. And for all my military friends and family, I ask for forgiveness, and say thank you for your service, which is what I should have said first and foremost today to that soldier boy.