Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hiding in the Canopy

The calendar may show the end of April, but the stiff winds of March have yet to subside. No sooner have I swept the leaves off the back porch, a gust from the east waltzes them back under my feet. And don't even get me started on the futility of fixing my hair or trying to spray paint the outdoor chairs.

Despite these obvious drawbacks, another blustery day is always welcome as it keeps the heat away and makes outdoor playtime more enjoyable.

Wyatt wasn't too fond of the wind, however. He shrieked and stomped upset feet as the wind blew away a coveted thistle seed he'd found for his "collection." But then he also delighted in finding a dandelion puff, his breath sending its dozens of tiny seeds aloft....well, that is, he was delighted until he realized he couldn't get the seeds back.

The central focus of our afternoon, though, was the towering tulip poplar tree behind the swing set. My children were drawn to its small, lower branches whose dancing leaves beckoned them to hide among their full spring foliage.

Around and around the trunk each child stepped, jumping from root to root, pulling off leaves, trying to climb the too-slender limbs, and looking for bugs to examine. Surely with this hard a breeze, at least one caterpillar had fallen to the ground and had to start his heavenward climb once again.

Yet, as we looked up in the tree's canopy, it wasn't a caterpillar that caught my attention.


Thousands and thousands of those quasi-transparent, leaf-sucking bugs lined the under-sides of most of the leaves. Wyatt wasn't impressed with my tales of their how they could destroy a plant...and why should he? They didn't look too dangerous; in fact, he had to hold the leaf still and squint to see them.

As I sat there wondering what I could possibly do to kill these bugs, I caught a flash of bright red, then orange. Ladybugs. Some with their signature polka dots, some quite plain, their little legs scurrying up and down the highway of limbs and leaf stems as they searched for an aphid to munch on. The calvary was already on its way.As we went back inside for a nap, I looked back at the tree. From a distance, there's no evidence of the war being waged beneath those lush green leaves. But whether visible to the naked eye or not, each moment, there are daily battles for life being fought around me. If only I could see...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Not the Why but the Who

The first word of the article's title caught my eye. "Saviors." Not a word I see often in the news...or at least not outside the Religion section.

I'm used to that term being a proper noun with one specific definition. Confused, I had to read the full title several times before I realized Jesus had nothing to do with the story.

"Saviors as tornado hit: A table, a wall, a freezer."

I grumbled aloud at this usage of the word, as if the author would somehow hear (or care) what I thought about the title.

Then, I read about this weekend's nasty line of thunderstorms that pushed across the South, spinning several tornadoes through the skies of Louisiana and weaving one particularly destructive tornado across Mississippi.

As the story related, when the tornado hit, one man survived under a table in a church. Another survived when the wind picked him up and slammed him against a cinderblock wall, which crumbled only after stopping his body from being swirled upwards into the tornado. And a third, the wife, survived behind a freezer.

According to the news, these three inanimate objects were "saviors."

But who kept the table in place? Who made the cinder block wall hold together just long enough? Who held down the freezer with His hand?

No recognition of the Who in the article.

But in the debris of what used to be a church, a member "found a hymnal opened to the song, 'Till the Storm Passes By.'"

Yes, that's the Who.

Till the storm passes over,
till the thunder sounds no more,
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky:

Hold me fast, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand,
Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Something About Daddies

There's just something special about being a daddy. An Opa or a Granddaddy both have that same aura of wonderfulness about them, the same ability to make my children light up, squeal, do a happy dance, and run full throttle into waiting arms or startled legs.

It's not that the children don't love me as their mother or their Oma and Grandmama. It's just that we women simply aren't daddies.

Try as we might, we don't play the same. We're responsible for the day-to-day discipline. We have "that" tone of voice to compel immediate obedience. And I must admit, our activities are generally a lot more boring or are located indoors where the fun is definitely not. Who can blame them for choosing to dig a trench or build anything with a hammer and nails over folding laundry or weeding a flower bed?

Unless someone is hungry, sick, or injured, mommy will be chosen last.
But what boggles my mind is when daddy has to do boring jobs...the children still knock each other down to do it with him!

Little bodies that won't stay still for me to finish one short Clifford book or put on two shoes stay perfectly still as they ride with daddy on the ditch witch that creeps forward much slower than a three-legged turtle. The same children who scream in anger when I sit at a traffic light curl up quietly in the cab of Opa's tractor while he removes the disks.

Crazy as it might be, I'm ok with that. In fact, it makes me smile to see my children want to spend time with the men in their lives....and to see the men want to spend time with them, too.

Photos: Wyatt with his daddy, digging the trench for the underground electric line to the house.
Oma and Amelia walking to the house while Amelia points at "Daa!!!"

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

High in the Sky

One small seed takes root deep inside and grows. Soft fuzzy hair. That baby smell. And although I'm still not sure when it happened, that seed has become a wiry little boy, long stick legs shooting upwards in yet another growth spurt.

Today, that growing seed wanted to climb a much older seed. Planted long ago, its lanky limbs reach skyward, not quite as high as the rooftops but still as majestic as an oak in its display of a full set of spring leaves.

Granddaddy has to help Wyatt reach the first limb of tree #1. Rough bark leaving raw, red scratches on tender skin, he climbs upward.

Unsteady at first, he straddles a lower branch. Then, he starts to move upwards, shoes hindering toes from closely grasping branches and feeling the sureness that can only come from a barefooted climb.

Ten, then fifteen feet in the air, he stops to see the world from his new perch and looks upward for another branch to take him higher.

Twenty yards away in the porch swing, my inner video player fast forwards through all sorts of scenarios--falling and breaking something, frantic driving to the ER, wearing a cast for months.

After ten minutes of biting my tongue, my mouth finally stops his ascent. "That's high enough Wyatt."

It's a command I have to repeat more than once as hands and feet almost unconsciously seek to defy the effects of gravity. Eventually, he asks for help getting he can climb tree #2...and tree #3.

His daddy and I had hoped the 8 foot high mountain we purchased the children this past Christmas would be enough.

But the taller he grows, the higher he wants to climb.

That's something I understand.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Treasure on Earth

My earliest memory of her was as the rather odd lady in the library who seemed to know about every book on the five foot tall shelves that divided the closet-sized room in half and lined the walls of the room.

Most mornings before Sunday School, I would enter the odd-smelling, cramped church library to find Mrs. Rosealea sitting alone at her small desk filled with new books not yet processed, an ink pad, pencils for signing my name, a box with cards from the checked-out books, a stamper with the rotary-dial date, and sometimes a few dessert-plate sized camellia blossoms.

Sometimes, I chose my own books. But more often, she followed me around, pulling book after book off the shelves, telling me why I needed to read it or (more often) how it reminded her of some real-life person or event. I would always politely listen and nod my head, but inside, I was hoping she would just finish the story so I wouldn't be late for class.

Most Sundays, I would leave with more books than I intended on taking, some that I never actually read. Somehow, I always felt guilty putting back some of those "suggested" books that just didn't seem too interesting to a young girl.

As I grew into an adult, Mrs. Rosealea was still the oddest woman I knew. But I loved her for it. Her life was not easy, but her smile and laugh were ever-present. And she showed me true concern for others' souls as she visited and matter of factly shared the gospel. Her boldness was (and is) something I could never match.

When Mrs. Rosealea went to heaven a few years ago, she didn't leave much earthly treasure behind. Today, her daughter called, offering my family, and several others, the chance to dig up some of her left-behind plants before the property sale was complete and the land bulldozed under.

As my father dug up a sampling of daffodil, snowdrop, and glad bulbs; a small seven-sisters rose; purple iris tubers; and several other unnamed flowering plants, I thought how fitting it is that the plants Mrs. Roselea carefully cultivated will now add beauty to several houses around our community.

Her memory will live on...not in the plants, but in the treasured stories I will remember in my heart each time I weed the flowerbeds or smell the flowers' scented blossoms...and when I tell my children of a woman they never met, but whom they would have loved, too.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Our Hat-Wearing God

Monday is my get-a week's-worth-of-work-done-in-five-hours day of the week. It is the one day in seven that my mother comes over to babysit so I can "catch up" on all the household nonsense.

Washing and folding laundry, vacuuming the floors, boxing up last season's clothes, or baking a month's worth of breakfast know, all those things that don't go over too well when it's just me + three small children who want all my attention.

I've told my husband numerous times that when she stops coming over to help me, I'll probably just go ahead and have a nervous breakdown. Or give up completely and let the dust bunnies take over my house.

This past Monday was busier than usual because my mother hasn't been here in three weeks. Such a long hiatus meant my usually unkempt house was unbelievably out of control.

Even before she walked through the door, I was already moving in hyper drive. One important task on my list was to box up the Easter decorations. Down came the wreaths, the stuffed bunnies, the plastic eggs, and the five baskets that just didn't want to fit back in the box they came from.

At one point, I did have to stop and search for the Jesus figurine who was not only absent from the tomb, but absent from his usual spot by the angel. But other than that, I mindlessly tried to rush through this chore.

And that's when Wyatt came in to find me putting away the wonderfulness that is Easter. As expected, he proceeded to pour out as much angst as his three-year-old self could manage while simultaneously peppering me with dozens of questions about why was I putting up the tomb, what about egg hunting, and (when everything else failed) "But why?".

As I pulled out the sunflowers and red, white, and blue decorations for Memorial Day, he picked up a circle of hydrangea flowers I sometimes use to encircle a candle on our dining room table.

" It's a God hat," he said matter of factly, trying to make the circle stay on his head.

I didn't get it.

"It's a God hat," he repeated, then said "ouch; it hurt my head."

Only then did I realize the connection my small child had made.

This past month, he's loved touching his Grandmama's crown of thorns that she made years ago and displays each Easter. Where I saw fake flowers needing to be shoved in a hole so I could get back to work, He saw the crown of thorns worn by the son of God.

All I could say was, "Yes, son. It's a God hat."

Friday, April 9, 2010

Review: Charles Foster's "The Sacred Journey"

Charles Foster’s The Sacred Journey is a well-researched look into the notion of pilgrimage in the various religions throughout history while drawing on his (and others’) more modern experiences on the road.

Delving into Scripture, he seeks to prove that God is biased for those who live life on the fringes as a nomad, arguing that although one is not theologically obligated to do so, one needs to go on literal pilgrimage to the margins in order to escape the worldly, comforting trappings of mainstream society that tie her down. Only as a wanderer on the pilgrim journey can a person truly find the kingdom of God, can she truly (and literally) walk with Jesus Himself.

Foster spends much of the book exploring the how, where, and why of pilgrimage, emphasizing that the journey, rather than the destination, is the important part of pilgrimage for the Christian. At times, Foster’s playful, flippant prose borders on the irreverent, and I am sure many could be offended by his off-hand comments about God the Father as a “hippie.” But to do so would mean you miss his point, which is taking an actual pilgrimage, an actual journey as a nomad, can teach you what has true value for the kingdom.

And this is where Foster and I disagree. Although the back cover states the reader will learn how to “approach each day as a pilgrimage,” that’s not really the case. The reason for this is that Foster does not believe in metaphorical pilgrimage.

He hedges a few times, especially in the last chapter, but it seems evident based on the sheer bulk of his argument to the contrary that he believes a literal pilgrimage to a literal place is the only way to really understand the kingdom of God. As such, he misses the concept that in an A.D. world, the literal pilgrimage over actual geographical locations has been replaced by an interior landscape with an equally powerful pilgrimage of the soul.

Overall, this book is polarizing--you'll like it or hate it. I wanted to throw the book a few times, especially in the chapter where Foster haphazardly deals with Scripture.

But while I’m not likely to ditch my family for a week and backpack to a foreign, dangerous destination, my heart does feel the desire to move, to travel. And I do find his insights a worthwhile read in terms of helping Christians free themselves from the trappings of life that seek to keep their focus on what’s truly going on in the kingdom of God.

I receive nothing for my review except for a complementary copy of the book from Thomas Nelson Publishing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My Own Desert Places

There's just something about an untenanted house that makes me hesitant to walk away, close the door and turn the key. It seems ridiculous, but as I lock the door, it's as if I'm abandoning a living being. I can almost hear the boards sigh in loneliness.

Driving down the street, no one would know today was different from yesterday in this old house. The vinyl still needs a good pressure washing. The roof needs the winter's leaves swept to the ground. And the trash cans wait, as usual, at the curb for tomorrow's pick up.

As far as the world is concerned, nothing has changed. But whereas yesterday, this house held two beating hearts and all their earthly possessions, today it is empty.It's the emptiness that makes the sadness wash over me, causing my shoulders to droop and my jaw to clench in reaction to emotions I don't want to feel right now.

The hollow echo of footsteps as we walk from room to room. The overly loud click of the light switch. The large open spaces for my children to run through with glee. These are the reminders of what is gone. Of who is gone.

Empty houses always affect me this way.

This afternoon, I remembered the poet Robert Frost was also disturbed by the vast emptiness he saw...not in a house, but in the universe and in himself. The concluding stanza of his poem "Desert Places" reads, "They cannot scare me with their empty spaces Between stars--on stars where no human race is. I have it in me so much nearer home To scare myself with my own desert places"

In other words, I've got it all wrong. I can feel sentimental about the old memories. I can mourn the ones who are gone. But no matter what it symbolizes, no matter what memories it holds, an empty house is still just that--a nonliving box composed of boards, nails, and sheetrock.

The emptiness I should be worried about? The kind found within the human soul.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Much Needed Reminder

It's so easy to become full of myself.

To casually move through boxes on the calendar, ticking off one activity after another...

and feeling pride that I am keeping my head above water despite the waves of busyness crashing at my feet.

Feeling pride that I am ahead in my Bible study,

that the house is moving along more quickly than we ever dreamed possible,

that I'm caught up in my schoolwork,

that everyone is healthy.

And then God drops me to my knees.

A friend's newborn baby struggles to hold onto the strand of life, and me, a nation apart, unable to do anything but cry and pray.

Another beloved pet taken away, this time by leukemia.

A brother and sister leaving for a life away from home.

A personal bout with an unexpected illness.

And then,

face to the floor, I remember...

I am but dust.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A First Supper

At Easter time, our family remembers Jesus' last days on earth: his final entrance into Jerusalem to the sounds of praise and palm branches; his last moments of prayer in the garden; his final steps as he walked like a lamb to a slaughter to endure mock trials, flogging, crucifixion, and death.

We also take the time to remember the last supper he ate in the upper room with his disciples.

"Last" events are precious, are what we sometimes remember the most. But firsts can be just as memorable--a first kiss, first child, or first home.

So, tonight, my family did something a bit different--we had a first supper.

On the front lawn of our soon-to-be new home, my husband built a fire as I fed hungry little ones some pureed veges on the front porch.Rough saw horses and a warped sheet of plywood served as our table.Stripped bamboo stalks speared hot dogs and marshmallows for roasting.
And an empty cardboard box made a kids' table with cement blocks for chairs.Most people probably wouldn't consider this the way to have a "first supper" in a new home. They'd probably wait until the house was finished before having a celebration (or at least until it had electricity and working plumbing) .

But there's a reason for gathering together now. My brother and his wife leave Wednesday to start their new life in Washington D.C. with the Navy Chaplaincy. That means they won't be here when the walls are hung, the paint is dry, the boxes of dishes are unpacked, and the beds are made so we can sleep under the roof of our first home.

Tonight, in a house where the interior walls are still see-through; where the stairs are still formed of mere roughly cut wood with exposed nail heads; where the floor is still a plain gray cement slab...

At this house, we blessed a first supper and broke bread together with our loved ones.