In Praise of Absolutely Nothing

There is an art to doing nothing and I’m trying to perfect it. I have attempted in my exploration of nothingness to expand it to a blank mind, but that’s a lost cause. When I pray, God gets a lot of chatter because the body may be still but the brain just keeps on ticking.

But the act of physical nothingness is a blissful thing.

I learned on my first cruise the value of nothingness and on my second cruise put it into practice. The ship made three stops. From the moment we got on in Galveston the crew and passengers were all abuzz about venues and excursions. Alarms were set, money paid, lines formed. Me? I was practically alone in the buffet area eating breakfast, drinking coffee, watching the water, and reading.

Then I was practically alone in lounge chairs on the deck while drinking tea, watching the water, and reading.

Then when it got too hot, I was practically alone in cushy chairs inside while drinking more tea, watching the water out the window, and reading.

Then everybody got back on the boat and I retreated to my cabin and my balcony and … well, I suppose you get the picture now.

I never once got off that boat. And I have zero regrets about it. When they forced me off at the end of the week, I was rested, relaxed, well hydrated, and well read.

I just returned home from a vacation in the mountains of Tennessee. A cousin from another part of the country whom I have known all my life almost exclusively through letters, email, and more recently long text messages, met me at a rented cabin. There were two hanging hammock-type chairs on a screened-in porch overlooking the TN hills. There were no houses within view, but easy access to touristy-type stuff.

We chose the chairs.

We left the house exactly twice. Once to get groceries, once to get souvenirs for the folks we left at home. We found a nearby shop, determined to do one-stop shopping, then let someone else cook supper before heading back to the cabin and the chairs. There was a big screen TV in the cabin. I’m assuming it had a nice picture, but I wouldn’t know. We never even picked up the remote.

What I did was swing in that chair, drinking coffee, watching the mountains, talking, and reading.

Some would call me lazy and I doubt I’d argue. Some would call me uninspired and I’d probably shrug half in agreement. Some would say I had wasted my time and that’s when the argument would start.

I have no issue with excursions and touristy stuff and no judgment toward those who take part in such activities. Yet I have no anxiety or worry about missing anything because I missed nothing.

I watched the distance. I marveled as the evening mists snaked mysteriously up and out of the trees to cover the mountains before me, then in the morning watched it slowly burn away revealing infinite shades of green. I watched what was probably a hawk but what I hoped was an eagle sore over at least once a day. A bumblebee the size of a peach pit buzzed around the summer flowers outside the porch every morning. A hummingbird came once and I regretted the empty feeder when it didn’t return. At night, fireflies appeared, dotting the darkness and transporting me back to when those blinking stars lit up the nighttime lawn of my childhood.

I talked and talked and talked with a woman who has been a lifetime friend and whose expression and I can now picture and whose voice I can finally hear in my head. The richness of our relationship grew beyond measure. I’ve known her forever, but I KNOW her now.

And I talked to God. A lot. But mostly (and to His tremendous relief, I’m sure) I found myself in a quiet place of listening. I was less chatty and more reflective, more receptive. And He had things to say.

As always, God was in the small stuff. But when I sat at that cabin, looking over the valley and up at the wall of trees of those Tennessee mountains, there was no question that this was big stuff. And God was definitely in it.

So I spent a week in Tennessee and did nothing. And my life is all the richer for it.

 

 

 

 

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Apples for My Basket

Once upon a time I loved my job. I lived my job. I took it home and spread it across the floor and talked to everyone who would listen and bought clunky jewelry reflecting my chosen profession.

I am a teacher.

My students were a major portion of my world. I hugged them and loved them and was excited to see them. Everything I did was in preparation for them, everything seen filtered through how to share it with them. Stories told outside of school were about them and our time together.

I was considered a favorite of students and a teacher of excellence by my administrators and my peers. I was enthusiastic, innovative, creative, energetic, and positive.

Somewhere along the way things changed.

For the past few years I’ve found myself considering teaching different subjects, teaching different grade levels, moving to a different school, even making a full career change. Telling my daughter I was headed to Wal Mart or Target, she began to ask if it was for shopping or a job application. There were days I found myself longing for a cubicle and a computer.

This year, as my nose lifted above the water line and I took a gasping breath, I finally realized the level of my discontent. And the level of my decline. And it scared me.

Bottom line: I’m too old and inexperienced in anything else for a change, too young to retire, and too poor to just quit.

But mostly, I know what it’s like to love this job. And I want that back.

So I embark today on a new journey: a journey of rediscovery. It’s time to fall back in love with my job and my students. It’s time to become the teacher I was and still am. She’s just hidden under way too much discontent and apathy and negative experiences. Life has gotten in the way and life is just going to need to shove over. My students deserve it. I deserve it.

Recently someone I love referred to me in a message using a term of endearment and I found myself suddenly overcome emotionally. When I asked myself why such a reaction, I realized that my endearment tank was pretty dern empty right then. So I felt it strongly. My teacher tank is most definitely at a low point. I see it as a basket and it needs some apples to fill it up – those sweet tidbits traditionally tied to teachers and teaching that make this job one to love.

But this is not the place for that sort of discovery. This is the place for finding God in the stuff of life. For those interested in my other journey, you can find my experiences at another, more specific site: applebasketblog.wordpress.com. I’ll be collecting those traditional fruity trinkets, figuratively speaking, and refilling a basket far too empty right now.

Let the adventure begin. Again.

Luciano Pavarotti Makes Me Cry Every Morning

When I make the next-to-the-last turn on my drive to work, just as I pass out of the next-to-the-last school zone, I push play on my phone playlist. I’ve already set up the song and I know it will take me right up to the turn into the school drive.

“Nessun Dorma.”

Unfamiliar with opera, I looked up the story (Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot) and the meaning of the words of the song. Great story, but that’s beside the point.

Nessun Dorma.

I watched a video of Pavarotti performing it once. It was “just” a concert, not a performance of the opera. Pavarotti was standing at a mic, the orchestra behind him, so the visual wasn’t very dramatic or moving. Until the last line.

“”Vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!” (“I will win! I will win! I will win!”)

The look on his face… a desperation, his eyes at once massively determined yet terrified.

But the real treasure is the last two notes. That last “-cerò!” Even by tenor standards, these are high notes, the first higher than the second, held long and clear before dropping down to the powerful finish.

I have yet to hear that transition from one note to the last without closing my eyes. Hence the careful planning of the timing of the song since closing my eyes while driving does not allow for optimum safety. But the beauty and the power of it just doesn’t allow for normal, open-eyed listening.

And then I picture his face and I hear the translation: “I will win!” and I feel it coming and once again I’m crying.

I’m fairly certain Puccini didn’t anticipate a middle-aged woman finding heart-wrenching spiritual implications in his aria. But there is great God Stuff to be had in this piece.

It’s been a tough week. A tough tough week. I’m tired. For the last two nights, I didn’t even make it to the pillows and fell asleep sitting up with the light on. My bum foot hurts, my blood sugar has dropped scary low a few times, and the stress level is so high I practically ran screaming from a business call yesterday and I swear if Neil Diamond himself called me, I’d let it go to voicemail.

This week, Nessun Dorma has been a medicinal necessity.

I let Pavarotti sing me in each day, the opening lines mellow and almost haunting, the interval of women’s voices in the distance signaling the big finish. And I prepare myself.

“Vincerò!”

I will win. The first word starts the build-up of intensity and I feel a rush starting in my spirit – that mysteriously delicious Christmas morning feeling of knowing what’s coming and yet being almost nervous with anticipation as if it was first-time new.

“Vincerò!”

I realize on the second word that he’s singing for me too. I will win. Or rather, I have already won – by depending on the One Who has won for me. And yet, I have to actually and really, physically and emotionally, get through this day. I have to muck through this depression, rise above this stress, face the physical difficulties.

“Vincerò!”

The last word explodes… with Those Notes… and all his anguish and hope is translated in my soul and my heart as faith and assurance and I rise with him above everything else and in my mind I hear, “I will win! I will win!”

And I start to cry. Because I know it’s true.

I pull into my parking space, wipe my eyes, and step out into my day, already victorious.

Bravo, Pavarotti, and bravissimo, Abba.

 

 

The Only Grammy I’ll Ever Have was My Daddy’s Mama

I like to sing. Adele need not be afraid, but I’ve got a pretty strong alto going. I’m a fairly good addition to a choir and have held my own with a church solo or two. For some reason (probably nerves), I can’t “hear” it, though. I can never tell on my own whether it worked, so to speak. I have to rely on my trusty sidekicks (aka my kids) to give me a thumbs up or a sympathetic grin to let me know how I actually did. Mind you, I haven’t performed in a church of much more than a hundred members, and they are easy to please, appreciating any “joyful noise.”

But once I was asked by a church member to perform the solo at her junior college nursing graduation. It was a small gathering, but very formal. She asked me to sing the then-popular “Wind Beneath My Wings,” accompanied by a pianist. I’d only sung to recorded tracks, so this unnerved me a bit. When my turn came in the program, my pounding heart and I stood on the stage channeling my inner Bette Midler as I tried to keep up with the pro at the keyboard.

Neither of my trusty sidekicks were with me that day, but the church member who had invited me was smiling, so I sat down confident that I had at least not detracted from the program. Afterward, I congratulated her on her graduation and she introduced me to her family.

Her father, a tall, striking man, shook my hand and uttered the words that would set me on a new course as a vocal soloist.

“Don’t quit your day job.”

Well.

Let’s just say it put things in perspective.

The way I look at it is this: I sing, but I’m not a singer.

That would be true for several areas of my life. I can, for instance, hold my own in the kitchen and nobody has turned up a nose at any of my pies, but I’m not giving the Pioneer Woman a run for her money. I bake, but I’m not a baker.

A singER and a bakER are identified by those skills. It’s who they are. Mandisa  = singer. Duff Goldman = baker.

That’s why I bristle when good Christian people refer to themselves or to me as a sinner.

Um, no.

Do I sin? Oh good grief, yes. But am I a sinner? Not since I put the weight of that identity on Christ and let Him bear that burden for me. I do sin and repent and sin and repent and sin and…. ad infinitum, I’m afraid. But, by miraculous grace, I am NOT identified by that.

Some will then change their identity and mine to “sinner saved by grace.” I WAS that once, but only once. Now, I am just those last three words. Christ paid too high a price for me to ignore and to accept the very identity from which He died to rescue me.

I am no longer aligned with the wrong team. I am identified by my relationship with Christ. I not only believe, I am a believER. THAT’S who I am.

So I sing in the car on the way to my day job as a teachER, belting it out loud and somewhat clear. And my Audience hears me through the ears of Grace and fancies me quite good.

And that is quite good enough for me.

 

Superman’s Mommy Made His Cape and His Daddy Taught Him to Tie It

The first time I met him he had a dozen lines, wires, probes, or tubes sticking out of that tiny little eight pound body. I had anticipated this day for almost nine months and was eagerly awaiting my opportunity to gently (and repeatedly) kiss that soft spot on the top of his head.

Instead, I had to settle for gently stroking the clearest spot I could find with one finger of my freshly and thoroughly scrubbed hand.

We were concerned when it took his daddy so long to text us from the operating room where the scheduled cesarean section was happening. But delays happen in hospitals. Our fears increased, however, when his text finally came through: “He’s out.” (He’s out?) And then: “Problem with breathing. Pray.”

My heart stopped. I swear it truly did for a moment.

Nothing was supposed to be wrong. Nothing is EVER supposed to be wrong.

But a lot was wrong. His little heart was mis-wired. A whole series of miracles ensured his survival in those first few hours.

I saw his daddy, once alone, go from anguish to anger and then rapidly right back to a fierce faith from which I never saw him waver. I saw his mama set aside her own surgical pain to minister to her boy, commandeering a wheelchair so she could be wherever he was.

It was the scariest thing this family has ever been through. Our faith was tried, our strength and endurance put to the test. I saw both families of this little guy heroically rally and pray and trust and persevere.

But the true hero of all this was the little fellow I started calling Superman.

It was a lot that was asked of him. He had to endure one surgery at just a few hours old. Then four days later, he had to undergo a surgery more serious than most of us will ever face. And he’ll have a long, vertical scar down the center of his chest the rest of his life to show for it. Weeks in the ICU, months and years following up with specialists.

But we have had those weeks and months and years. Because little Superman soaked in all that faith and strength of his parents, as well as the diligent prayers of grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncle, the prayingest cousin you could imagine, and a big sister at just two years old, confused but praying. And Superman persevered. Gradually the tubes and wires came out, the monitors – no longer necessary – turned off one by one, the noise of machinery gradually abating.

He got to sleep snuggled in their arms.

I finally got to kiss that soft spot.

Little Superman turns three today.  He is an active, rambunctious, fearless little tow-headed boy who gave me a new name (“Nannie” became “Mimi”). Like his, my heart has been forever changed.

*I take nothing for granted. There is no “normal.”

*I see faith as not just a concept, but as something real, tangible, and witnessed.

*I discovered that Jesus put the handholds on the slippery sides of the pit of fear. And the more people who hang onto them with you, the higher up you climb together.

*There is a point of being so totally overwhelmed that “I can’t handle this” ceases to even be considered or spoken. You just do. Handle it. And at some point you realize you are living that Footprints poem. And you come out the other side.

Superman has a baby brother now, born two years to the day of his big brother’s heart surgery. As he grows, there will be days that he’ll look at his big brother as a hero, a Superman. He’ll ask him to tell again the story of that cool scar on his chest, maybe running his finger along it in awe and wonder.

He probably won’t even notice his parents’ eyes well up with tears as they silently breathe their zillionth prayer of thanksgiving for the life of this little man. But that wouldn’t surprise him because prayer is what their parents do.

As I watch this boy go tearing past me on his current adventure, and I’m marveling at how brave and heroic he is, my thoughts always go to them – his parents.

Imagine. Imagine just for a moment being the kind of people entrusted as the parents of Superman.

Talk about heroes.

 

 

 

If I Was a Fridge, I’d Be in the Discount Aisle

I have a tendency to get emotionally attached to my appliances. There is visual and physical contact every single day. They make my life better and easier and more convenient. They don’t ask much back from me. What’s not to love?

So when my fridge started making an especially loud and obnoxious noise last weekend, I mourned a little, knowing instinctively that our time together had come to an end.

But the sadness didn’t last long. I had adopted this particular appliance with the house. Actually, upon reflection, I realized that I had inherited from someone every refrigerator I had ever owned. So as I dragged into the appliance section of my local home improvement store way too early on a Saturday morning which had way too many other things on its agenda, I cheered up a bit knowing this would be my first fridge ever that was chosen by me for me.

At my age, that’s sayin’ somethin’.

On Sunday morning, my calendar cleared yet again to allow for next-day delivery, I watched the clock tick past the time I should have gotten called. Finally, I called the store.

[Note: This post could easily de-evolve into a rant about the business ethic of my local home improvement store. Or about business ethics in general. Or phone etiquette. Or unfulfilled promises or obligations. Or interpersonal communication. Or trust issues. Or how much coffee it truly takes to get through the purchase of a major appliance. But I shall do here what I have determined to do next time I’m tempted to enter aforementioned store to purchase anything ever again: I shall refrain.]

As it turns out, the reason my fridge was late in coming was when they unboxed it at the store, they noticed a scratch on the bottom of the door. It’s a dark color and the scratch is about three inches long. Therefore, it was, by their standards, undeliverable.

I disagreed – vehemently – the noises of my dying fridge ringing in my ear. They finally agreed to deliver it to the house for my perusal, and if I decided I could “live with” the scratch, they would knock another twenty-five percent off the cost.

Wait. Twenty-five percent. That’s one-fourth, if I remember my math right.

I don’t care if the bottom of the door had been kicked in and painted neon green. Twenty-five percent off?? For that, my emotional attachment is elevated to downright maternal possessiveness.

As it turns out, the scratch is just that – a scratch. Barely noticeable. I took a picture of it and sent it to my kids with the caption: “This is what $X00 looks like.”

At first as I passed by my brand new, personally-chosen fridge, I would glance at that scratch and smile, recognizing its value. Now, I don’t even see it. The value of the fridge isn’t in its imperfection, it’s in my overall appreciation for the whole thing. I don’t think of it as less than perfect. For me, it IS perfect.

Somebody cue the God Stuff music.

Of the concepts difficult to grasp in my life, the most unimaginable has been that God looks on me and smiles. He sees a perfect me. Indeed, He sees His Son. It’s hard not to cringe at the thought. All I see are the scratches, the imperfections, the dents and scars, some of them painted neon green.

And I didn’t come to him at a discounted price. Rather, it was the highest of prices. But He chose me anyway, the least deserving and multiply-scarred, at the ultimate cost of the life of His own Son.

As He gazes at me, He, this magnificent Abba Father, He sees His personally-chosen child. And as He looks on me, He smiles with paternal love and possessiveness. And the more I accept His invitation and allow those arms to surround and envelope me, the less dented I feel and the less I notice my own scars and scratches.

One day, my lovely new fridge and I will part company and I’ll upgrade to a newer, better model. How comforting – how impossibly, amazingly, unbelievably comforting – to know that Abba and I will NEVER part company. And yet one day I surely will be upgraded to a newer, better model.

 

 

 

 

While the Kumquats are Chillin’ in the Fridge

(With a smile and nod to Anna who told me the story…)

She squealed. She actually squealed with delight when she spotted them in the produce section – right there by the bananas.

Kumquats.

A treat from her Mississippi Gulf Coast home, they are a hard-to-find fruit and the craving had gone unsatisfied for a long time. She scooped some into a clear plastic produce bag, tied off the top, finished her shopping, and headed for the checkout.

The collection of tiny orange footballs stopped the cashier. She held up the bag, her eyes questioning.

“Kumquats,” my daughter said. “Starts with a K.”

The cashier found them on her list and typed in the code. “I’ve never heard of them.”

My daughter extolled their virtues, then noticed the bag boy as he picked them up. Our neighborhood store employs people with special needs to help with bagging and helping people take their groceries to the car. Anna had just noticed the man ahead of her being rude to this young man, so she smiled as he looked up at her, the bag gripped in his fist, the little cluster of kumquats swinging.

“What’rethese?”

“Kumquats.”

“Huh?”

“Kumquats.”

“But what ARE they?”

“Fruit! They’re like an orange. You eat them peel and all – just pop ’em in your mouth and chew them up! The peel gives it a slight bitter taste, then the inner fruit is so sweet… They’re delicious! You want to get them cold, though. They’re so much better when they’re cold.”

By now the young man is resting his entire upper body on the conveyor, turning the bag in his hand and looking at the fruit with the squinting eye of a scientist.

“I’ve never even heard of ’em! Never seen ’em before! Where’d you find ’em?”

“In the produce section by the bananas.”

“Huh. I didn’t look there.” (Her smile widened, and she winked at me when she told that part.) “I musta been going the wrong way. You know how somebody asks you in the store if you need help and you say no and then you really DO need help because you’re goin’ the wrong way?”

They nodded seriously at each other, in obvious mutual agreement. Then he sighed, straightened, and finished bagging her groceries.

I gaped at her as she finished telling the story, made even better by gestures and facial expressions.

“Is he still in the car?” I asked, a familiar comment referring to our desire to grab up and bring home someone who has touched our hearts in some way.

“I dropped him off at the park to play first. I told him the kumquats would be chilling in the fridge.”

A young man had a story to tell when he got home from work yesterday. About this new little fruit with a funny name that he had missed because he was going the wrong way in the produce section and how you just pop the whole thing in your mouth and chew it up and how it’s better if it’s cold. And about this nice lady who told him all about them and answered his questions and looked him in the eye and smiled the entire time and thanked him and called him “sir” as she left.

I’ll bet he didn’t one time think about the man just before her who had been rude to him.

How hard is that? Just being nice. Just being human. Made a day just a little better for two people. Then three. And now more.

 

I Yam Who I Yam

I spent a few days studying the book of Jude this week – a teeny take-a-breath before Revelation. Jesus’ little brother was quite the poetic writer. In railing against false teachers, he refers to them as “hidden reefs (blemishes) at your love feasts…waterless clouds swept along by the winds…fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead and uprooted…wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame…wandering stars for whom the gloom of utter darkness has ben reserved forever.” (verses 12-13 ESV)

Well.

It makes me wonder what Jude did for a living. I have no idea though because Jude doesn’t do much to identify himself. I wasn’t even entirely sure he WAS Jesus’ brother because he doesn’t name himself that way. He refers to himself as JAMES’ brother, but the only relationship he claims with Jesus is as “a servant of Jesus Christ” (verse 1).

I have to admit that bugged me a bit. I mean, if I was Jesus’ sibling, and I was writing to someone, I believe I would be very comfortable with that type of name-dropping. Doesn’t that add a bit of credence to your letter, a little punch?

But maybe he didn’t want to brag. Perhaps he was doing what I’ve seen others doing. I can think of at least one big-name writer who has an even bigger-name writer parent who does not use that parent’s name. I’m assuming he wanted to find fame on his own, to be respected for his abilities and message, not rest on the hard-earned laurels of daddy.

Jude: “Don’t listen to me because I grew up with Jesus. Listen to me because of what I have to say. Who I am isn’t important.”

But wait – that’s not what he said. He identified himself immediately as “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ.” His servanthood to his Savior was more important than being his baby brother. His truest tie to Jesus was in his salvation, not his genes.

Jude identifies EXACTLY who he is: A Servant of Jesus.

Yesterday a beautiful song came up on my feed, the familiar lyrics sort of billowing past with the melody. Repetition was what got my attention. Suddenly I heard the repeated phrase: “That’s who I am. That’s who I am. That’s who I am.”

You’re a good, good Father; that’s who You are, that’s who You are, that’s who You are,

And I’m loved by You; that’s who I am, that’s who I am, that’s who I am…

(“Good, Good Father” by Chris Tomlin)

Wrapped up in the phrase, I lost the rest of the song. I thought of all the ways I would identify – and indeed have identified – myself to someone: by family association, by occupation, by hobby, by religion, by accomplishments, by region, by belief, by whatever helped them at the time to identify with me.

Hey, Jude (had to – sorry), I think I get it now. You chose the best and most perfect identity.

So please allow me to introduce myself:

Linda, beloved of Abba, and His servant. That’s who I am.

 

 

 

 

Whoops

The way I see it, there are three Whoops categories:

1. Embarrassing moments. These can be through no fault of your own or entirely due to clumsiness, lack of self-control, or other fault.

EXAMPLE: I was in a buffet-style restaurant and had gone up to the beverage station to get a cup of coffee. It was a wooden floor and it was Sunday, so I had dress shoes on. You know, the kind with a more smooth, treadless sole.

As I was walking past a long table with a group from some other church on my way back to my long table with the group from my church, out slipped one foot, up went my arms defensively, and the laws of physics did what they do best with the contents of that coffee cup. And then they did what they do worst with the back of the pretty pressed shirt of the man sitting to my right. And also his suit jacket which was draped on the chair behind him. Which I offered to have cleaned. And he refused. Nicely. Dying. I was dying.

My tablemates – having witnessed the whole thing – looked pained as I slinked back to them. I never knew whether it was empathy for me or wishing I’d go sit somewhere else so they wouldn’t have to claim me.

2. Accidents – avoidable or un. These are the just-happened moments that you sometimes just can’t do anything about. But sometimes you can.

EXAMPLE/Avoidable: Never athletic, I chose bowling and ice skating as my two college required PE credits. A Michigan native, I had somehow never learned to ice skate and truly enjoyed learning the skill. Until hockey. In her questionable wisdom, my PE instructor decided part of our ice skating curriculum should be playing broom ball, a slightly less life-threatening version of ice hockey.

Well. I was defending my goal from the field. (That’s how you say that, right? I mean, I wasn’t the goalie, but I was still… Oh, never mind.) Along comes Mr. Mammoth, pushing that ball/puck down the court with an intensity rivaled only in the NHL. He was focused, he was smooth, he was fast. He was BIG.

At that time I was a size itty-bitty and was still shaky on the ice. But I had a job to do. I bent at the waist, assuming the position, and stood my ground. All for the 0.2 seconds it took for him to barrel over and through me like he was the locomotive and I was a mere leaf on the track. I don’t remember the hit and wonder if it’s just in my imagination that I see me on my back, spinning in circles on the ice and sliding toward the edge of the rink. Probably not.

Avoidable, see? A wiser me would have taken one look at that fullback on skates, turned around, and helped him score the point.

3. Mistakes. These are those errors that you can only sometimes correct, the big regrets. The things you hopefully learn from.

EXAMPLE: too many to choose just one.

  • The time I walked away from a woman in righteous indignation, only to realize too late that God had given me an opportunity to witness kindness to her.
  • The time I let my kid down by not coming to her defense when she needed me most.
  • The Lost Year in the classroom. A whole group of sixth graders had a non-present teacher that year.
  • That time I protected my own pride and reputation instead of the feelings of a vulnerable friend.
  • Chances lost.
  • Instincts ignored.
  • Words unspoken. 
  • Words spoken.
  • Not stepping up.
  • Not stepping down.

 

Knowing I would do it differently if I had it to do over again is not enough. That changes nothing. The real key for me has been to try to stay in this moment. Right now. Be aware and be vigilant. Keep a lid on it, but not too tightly in case the moment calls for that lid to fly off.

It’s hard. Too often, I’d rather not.

As a driver, I’m good at turning around and going back. I don’t continue on the same wrong path. But what about when I make the correct turn the first time? It feels great, is much more effective, and saves a ton of time and regret.

Twice yesterday – a day of much emotion and fatigue – I was faced with young ladies who needed to talk. I was tempted to go about my business, I wanted to go about my business, knowing I would still be able to “hear” them. Be in this moment, was the message that came through to my tired and addled brain.

And I listened, to the message and the young ladies. I put me on hold for a few moments precious to both of us, and gave them my full attention. So did it make a difference? Was there God Stuff in those moments for them? I’ll never know.

But there was for me. Because I didn’t have to turn around and go back.

 

From Whence I Cometh

We still call her “the nasty little Irish lady”. And we smile. She’s been gone decades, but it feels like she’s still here. She would dance little jigs which mostly involved swinging arms and moving feet just inches, sing naughty little songs, the sparkle never leaving her eyes. She would “saucer and blow” her coffee which to this day I regret I was never old enough to drink. I’ll bet you could stand a spoon up in it. She learned to drive at 75 years old and once cussed at a rude priest.

She lived a state away and I only got to see her maybe a dozen times a year, but she somehow maintained the position of the center of my world. My daddy was her baby and the three of us just sort of melded together.

She put out a kitchen fire by getting mad at it, fed the squirrels in her backyard, suffered with grace through a breast cancer diagnosis and a mastectomy when those were still arcane and almost criminal in their butchery, and crocheted rugs out of bread wrappers because she couldn’t bear waste.

She took care of “old people” younger than she was, always wore an over-the-head apron, and had a deep respect for any person “of the cloth” (including that aforementioned priest). Although she had a closet full of dresses (NO slacks), she had a favorite few she actually wore, including one we counted 40 safety pins holding together.

She wasn’t always goofy. After my family split up, she must have worried about me not having a mother’s guidance. So once when Dad and I were visiting, as the two of them were leaving for the store, she whispered to me, “There’s a black and red book on the top shelf of my closet. You might want to look at it.”

Well. Beautiful Womanhood Guide to Mental and Physical Development. Published in the year of our Lord 1905. I could fill 30 blog posts with the lovely tidbits in that tome. I still have it and nearly weep with love for that woman every time I look at it.

She sat always in the overstuffed rocker with the wooden swan-neck arms, an open newspaper covering her legs to keep them warm. I never saw her sit anywhere else in her house except the kitchen table. That chair is now in my home and rocking its fourth generation of babies.

She kept snippets from newspapers and magazines in her books of poetry along with handwritten quotes, parts of poems, and song lyrics. She played the organ with her eyes closed, to practice, she said, in case she ever went blind. I can still see her hands, wrinkled and spotted, the nails short, as they moved steadily across the keys. The hands on the computer keyboard in front of me visually echo the hands from my memory.

She would figure out tunes of songs she knew, writing her own code for notes and chords on pieces of paper she kept with her organ music. I never could make sense of them. Just a few weeks ago, I saw a piece of paper on our piano with Grandma’s coding on it. But it wasn’t hers. It turns out, her great-great granddaughter does the same thing in almost the exact same way. Without ever having seen Grandma’s “music”.

She knew personal pain on a level close to nuclear, yet one of her baby boy’s favorite memories is of lying in bed in the quiet of night and sharing jokes with her across the hallway. They would laugh uproariously (I come by this guffaw of mine honestly), followed by Dad’s big brother mumbling, “I don’t get it,” which would send them back into their peals of laughter.

She and a crossing guard once helped a caterpillar across the road. She could grow roses like nobody I’ve seen since, except her son. She would always stand out in the yard and wave goodbye, no matter how many times we told her it was too cold, just stay inside.

When thieves were known to steal the purses of the women in her neighborhood, she put her money into her belt and carried an empty purse. I thought that was wise until the rest of the story: She started walking with her shillelagh and was prepared to beat the devil out of anyone who tried to steal said empty purse.

She could – and did – cross her eyes. She loved to try to shock her son with stories of picking up strangers and hitting people with her shopping cart. She once told him she carried sand and a shovel in her car’s trunk in winter – not for traction on ice, but “to cover the bodies.”

She had a faith that was private but sure. Humor that was constant and multi-faceted. She loved to read and had an insatiable curiosity about the world.

I’ve tried to examine why her memory is so acute right now, her face ever before me.

I think it’s because of the face ever before me in the mirror. Although these are hazel and hers were blue, these are her eyes. Although this one is deep and hers was high, this is her voice. As I get older and engage with a new generation of babies in this thing called life, her stories are ever there, as they always were with my children, their parents. Only now I’m the grandma too and the truth and significance of that causes my heart to stutter.

She had the poor taste to leave me when I was just 18, a senior in high school. Hers was the first funeral I’d ever been to. Surrounded by a cloud of confusion, I sat in that room full of family strangers, listening to the speaker call her by an unfamiliar name, and tried to make sense of this new reality. I watched her as she lay sleeping at the front of the room. I stared at her chest, willing it to move.

Then it did, slowly up and down, the air filling her lungs again. I watched as she sat up, turned, smiled directly at me, and winked. I didn’t dare look around to see if anyone else was watching this, didn’t want to lose the moment. But then it was over and the chest was still again, the blue eyes forever closed.

I think that’s when I actually cried. But I was finally at peace, the confusion abated at least somewhat. Was it her or God? Or her convincing God (that’s where I’m putting my money)? Either way, an agreement was reached and a message sent: She is still here. She is not forever gone. In the mystery and wonder of Heaven, she is a true deposit.

I think about that when I sing naughty little songs, tell jokes with my kids and laugh too loud, and rock babies in that swan-armed chair. What stories will you tell, I wonder as I kiss those silky heads, about your nasty little Irish lady?

May I be worthy.