Thursday, December 27, 2012

Shoveling Out

A winter storm brought a heavy wet blanket of snow six inches deep. My first official act of the day was to step out on the deck, shove some snow aside to uncover the birdseed, and put a fresh supply out. The birds (and squirrels) were probably not grateful for my snow clearing--I don't want to give anthropomorphic traits to them--but they did take advantage of my "thoughtfulness". Even now I can see them zooming past my window on their trip to the deck for another helping.

Feeling like my body was made of half frozen slush, I began to shuffle around my routine while thinking about how the snow was going to affect my day and others. My second official act was to call my parents. We both agreed that it would work if we arrived there later. (It is a two-hour drive to their house and we were scheduled to spend an overnight visiting.) I knew we'd need to shovel out not just our driveway and sidewalk, but also a path to the basement sliding doors, since this was John and Leslie's moving day. Most of their wedding gifts, piled high in the basement, were going to need to be extracted by the movers through those sliding doors. After dressing and breakfasting, we created a route through the white wilderness, but first I had other people to consider.

Next my thoughts went to Bob and Becca, who were blazing their way through the winter storm from Michigan to New York City to catch their flight to Russia to see Laura. I tried calling my sister Janis first, to see if they stopped there for the night and if they had gotten back on the road again. No answer. Then I overcame my reluctance to seem to be (and actually was) a worried mother and called them directly using their cell phone numbers. They were in Pennsylvania, had spent the night with Janis, got up at 4 a.m., shoveled out, and had some rough patches on the road. Now their coast was clear, and although it was going to be tight, they thought they would make it. I sighed in relief.

By this time Jack had the snow blower going. He had bought it a year and a half ago, and the winter was so mild last year, it was never used. This was virgin territory for that clunking, roaring, red behemoth--but it did its job well. Meanwhile I was shoveling snow off the van so it would be ready for our trip. While my back was turned, Jack blew some snow on me, plastering my back with heavy slush. I gave him a look that he somehow interpreted as "so cute". I was amused, but I had not intended to show it.

Now we were almost ready to pack up for our trip. The phone rang. It was Pat. He needed a car to get to the doctor, since he had been sick with a fever for several days. We arranged to drive both cars over to his apartment and leave one with him on our way out of town.

We were shoveled out. Janis was shoveled out. Bob and Becca were shoving through. John and Leslie were shoving forward. We could shove Pat out the door to the doctor. It was time to shove on.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Best Form

Our blindness to deep realities can rob us of many joys of the present moment. If we could see the saints around us as the Lord does, see Jesus in everyone every moment, our hearts must burst with the inability to contain our awe. God loves us for who we are now, but he also knows our potential and never gives that up. He calls us onward and upward always--one of my favorite sentences from The Last Battle in The Chronicles of Narnia..

Being who we are really supposed to be: that is the best form.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Better Form

Life doesn't always go the way we want it to, and we often have to compromise or give up our preferences for others. The hard part is knowing when to give in and when to speak up. I'm very good at not speaking up and conceding before my preference is even known. I even found myself saying out loud to my husband today, "I gave up having preferences a long time ago." Was that true? Not really. What is true is that I don't think about my preferences much, since with most things, it hardly matters which way something goes. Most of the time I just want a decision made so things move forward. I don't want to spend a lot of time on negotiations, especially when I suspect that the outcome will leave me feeling guilty if I got what I wanted or resentful because I didn't.

What I most wish is that the "guilty" and "resentful" feelings would go away. Better yet, that they would be replaced by a joy in the circumstances that did work out. I am happy on the surface about giving way, but I would like that happiness to sink deep down. I am pleased on the surface when I get my preference, but feeling wary deep down that I've disappointed others. It seems that there is a deeper generosity that I'm lacking--the "cheerful giver" generosity. If I had that, then my giving way would be in better form.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Good Form

The bottle said, "Feel Good About What's in This Bottle." I like to eat oranges. I like to eat carrots. So a bottle of orange + carrot juice ought to be good, right? It turned out from the first swallow I began calculating how many days at four ounces a day it would take for me to finish off this nasty bottle of nutrition. I forgot a cardinal rule about liking things that are good for you: it's all about form.

Remember Mary Poppins? We want things that are good for us to be like that spoonful of sugar making the medicine go down. It has to be palatable. But the saccharine coating we require is not limited to medicine or food. We want a Walkman to make our jogging endurable. We want a bit of flattery to make the verbal correction seem reasonable. Like Calvin, we don't want the barfing face sticker, even if it is more truthful than the smiley face. Make the hard stuff pleasant.

When my kids were small, like all parents, I wanted to get good food down them. Quickly I discovered that the form you present it in makes all the difference. Celery is no fun, but celery with peanut butter down the middle and a row of raisins (and call it "Indians in a Canoe") is real eating. A whole apple is boring, but slice it up and use pairs of slices to make apple smiles and the doctor will never be at your door. The trick is making the nutrition fun. Somehow peanut butter always has something to do with it, too...

None of us likes discipline by itself. We want the reward that comes with it to keep deciding to do whatever that discipline is. Virtue, being its own reward, is all well and fine, but there would be a lot more goodness in the world if it was paid off with Godiva chocolate. And the more distant the reward, the harder it is to stay motivated. My bottom line motivation is to get to heaven, but on a day-to-day basis, I'm asking for the grace to get through one day. I haven't changed the goal. The top rung of the ladder is still there, I am just focusing on the rung above the one on which my foot currently rests. Like Psalty, we climb our mountains one step at a time.

So, if you want me to do a better job, tell me what I've been doing right so far. If you want me to smile more, smile at me. A kind word and a wink goes down better than a scolding. And beets cut into heart shapes will get eaten faster than ones that are just sliced. The flavor hasn't changed. It's all about good form.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Around the Corner

Yesterday Jack and I were sitting down to dinner on our deck feeling rather blue. Our daughter had just flown off to spend eight months in Russia--the end of June seems so far off right now. Indian Summer made it possible for us to enjoy our meal outside--perhaps for the last time this year--just as the moon was rising over the horizon. An orb three-quarters full in a clear blue sky brushed lightly with a few diaphanous wisps of cloud was a comforting sight. The last dregs of summer offered a quenching warmness to our drooping spirits. Jack then said something that is going to make a huge difference for me in the coming months.

"Laura could be looking up at that moon right now."

Her view would be of a moon setting in the west during the wee hours of the morning. It is ten hours difference in time, so she is very nearly halfway around the world from us. She is due to call us any minute. If she looks out while she calls, it will be on a setting sun, while ours has just risen--but it is the same sun. We can both see the same thing--so that means she is just around the corner.
Perm, Russia
Perm: Gateway to Siberia

Monday, September 17, 2012

Looking at the Small Picture

When a town is about to be flooded, everyone turns out and helps to fill sandbags to hold back the floodwaters. When a battle is about to be engaged, each man in the army picks up his weapon and does what he has been trained to do. When a large choir is about to sing, everyone stands up and sings with his or her one voice to make beautiful music together. In each of these events, each individual is needed in a small way to do his or her small part. In each of these events, if one person did not come there would be little difference in how bags were filled, or the outcome of the entire battle, or the beauty of the one musical sound. In each of these events, it is a temptation for the one individual to say to himself or herself, "I do not matter so much that if I do not do my part, the outcome will not change." This is looking at the small picture.

There is a way in which the individual is correct. One person will not make much difference. However, in all of these activities, it is a group of individuals together that makes the difference. It is for the common good that people work together to stop a flood, or win a battle. It is for the common good that each individual sings to make beauty. When we just look at ourselves, we lose the big picture and only see a picture of ourselves. We lose the vision of working for the common good--a good that may mean a great deal to us as individuals. People can exhaust themselves filling sand bags. People can die in battle. People can go unnoticed in a big choral event. When we lose the big picture, our concerns become indifferent, and selfish at the worst.

Christians should recognize that they are, by faith, thrown into a great spiritual battle. Often we forget that the  eternal outcome of the battle is already determined. We will be victorious. But while we are still present in time, the cost of the battle that we are in, and the outcome of our particular skirmishes depends on our efforts. Battles are not won by people doing their own thing. They are won by coordinated effort. A division of soldiers that decides not to obey orders and pick their own fight, endangers themselves, but also the other soldiers they have split from. They may think they are doing damage to the enemy, but because their efforts are broken off from the main army and uncoordinated, they are submitting to the "divide and conquer" rule.

Elections are coming up. You may be thinking to yourself--my vote will make no difference. It hardly matters. You are right, only if you are the only one in the fray to put down their single weapon and go home. If you just look at your small picture, like many others tempted to do so, the big picture will get grim indeed.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mystery of Joy

The steps up to the temple did not fill Simeon with trepidation that day. It seemed a great burden had been lifted from his aging body as he mounted the steps with a lightness and joy that he had not experienced in years. He was lean and spry and free of the decrepitude that ravages most men of his years. Not stooped or faltering in his gait, he was known in the temple for his vigor and zeal for the house of God. But joy had not been his for long stretches of his memory. Today was different. An eagerness distracted him from the normal civilities he paid to temple authorities, and many a beggar along his route was disappointed to find that, though he blessed them with a small coin as usual, he did not smile at them and bless them in words. Long before he reached them, his mind had raced ahead, and he was inwardly smiling at what was to come. He was not present to the beggars’ needs that day, but they did not mind. He unconsciously strewed a trail of wonder and anticipation along the way that strengthened them, and they followed him with their eyes for as long as he was in sight.
     Simeon turned as he reached the top of the steps and looked back over the crowds swarming and heaving below in the courtyard. His eyes searched like a beam trying to spot the object of his attention, and he put a hand to his heart to steady his rising excitement. No, he was not mistaken. This was the day. How was he to get through it? How could he wait even one more second? But the discipline of long years of duty embraced him, and he found he was able to function quite normally, though within him a bursting heart seemed barely capable of continuing to beat. He knew not what he did, and only a few of his closer friends detected his distraction. Among them was his younger brother, who immediately noticed a brightness in Simeon’s eyes, a slightly upward curl at the corners of his lips, an indefinable glow about his countenance. But even the brother’s thoughts lingered only momentarily, shrugged, and went back to absorption in the cares of the day.
     Simeon had not long to wait, and in the end, the moment took him by surprise after all his years of vigilant waiting. He simply turned around and found himself face to face with a couple. A man in the strength of his maturity stood before him. He was a typical working man—strong and confident and decidedly poor. He gave his name—Joseph—and stated his purpose, circumcision for their boy. Simeon nodded and turned to the woman. She clutched a child in her arms, a bundle that contained her whole world. It was only a moment that she held her gaze on the child before she looked up at Simeon. Then, he knew. Her eyes revealed to him the deep longings of his heart, and he was caught up in a terrible dismay of confusion. It was the child! The child! But why did he also long for the mother? She was just a child, too—and yet she was all mother. And he knew that she knew what she held, and he wanted her to love him like she loved her own babe.
     And then he discovered the babe in his arms, he knew not how or cared how it got there. He was staggered by the weight and groaned aloud in amazement. Joseph quickly grasped his arms, as if he feared the baby would be dropped, but Simeon found that he could bear it, and the man stepped back assured of the child’s safety. The next few moments were so full that he could not afterwards make an account of it. He knew he fulfilled their request, he knew he spoke to them, but he could not repeat what he said. Words, strange to his ears, flowed over his tongue, and he gave them utterance. Words he would never have chosen, never even thought, nor dared to speak. Words that filled him with both fervor and profound grief. Words that came like the tide which cannot be held back. Words to that sweet girl-woman face that clouded it with care. He could not have stopped those words, and afterwards he reproached his Maker for choosing him to say them. And his Maker simply said, “Peace.” And then the little family was gone.
     It was still early in the day, but Simeon could not go on. His strength had left him. He made his excuses and stumbled home. Weariness swept over him, and he could just barely drag himself to his mat. He lay there used up, and his years were heavy on his bones. He wept and laughed and wept some more, and then he closed his eyes. His breathing became very quiet and he settled into a peaceful rest.
     Later that evening, in a humble stable, the young mother cooed to her baby as he nursed at her soft, warm breast. When she had finished suckling the child, she laid him in a straw-lined crib and covered him tenderly. Leaning back, she thought about the strange words spoken to her in the temple. The old man was another one gifted with the secret. First there was the angel, then Elizabeth and Joseph. Somehow even shepherds knew, and wonder of wonders, wise men from far away had come to acknowledge the Lordship of her babe. Her thoughts wandered back to the old man, and she prayed for him in this, his hour of need.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Late August

The last lazy days of summer
Weigh heavy on our spirits,
But time makes them fleeting--
A cold draft in their wake.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Broken Bone

It ain't easy
To do your thing
When one poor arm
Hangs in a sling.

To type at speed
Just won't happen
And forget 'bout
Doing clapping.

You can't raise up
Arm above head
Or roll over
At night in bed.

If you just sneeze
Or cough or wheeze
It sends a pain
Down to your knees.

And an arm load
Of things to bring
Is reduced to
One hand--one thing.

It won't last long
But till I heal
God grant me grace
For this ordeal.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Working Out

With a broken collarbone, I'm discovering lots of new challenges and puzzles to solve. I suppose you could be bummed about simple things becoming difficult, but I find it stimulating to have all kinds of obstacles to overcome. What are some of those things?

Typing with one hand for starters. I'm starting to get some speed up!

Getting dressed. But let's not get out of order... the first challenge in this department was getting undressed. The pullover shirt was dicey. I could get my good arm out, but pulling the top over my head (even with help) was not to be done without some heavy breathing and urges to scream. I can do a bra now with one hand plus one finger and thumb strategically placed and immobile. The biggest problem at the moment is that most everything I wear pulls over my head. I have one long-sleeved button-down shirt (very old) and a few fancy blouses. Fortunately I have one buttoned PJ top.

Taking a shower. Without a sling. I haven't even attempted to wash my hair yet. That will need some attention soon. It's not the shower itself that is so hard, but getting dried off afterwards. There are just places that can't be reached. Thank God, I don't live alone.

Coughing is unfair. It takes you by surprise, is very painful, and leaves you in need to blow your nose because the tears got going. One-handed nose-blowing must be accompanied with a mirror to make sure nothing is under-wiped.

Here's a basic: sleeping. Positions are limited, changing those few positions difficult, and you don't want to get into a position you can't get out of without help. Pain meds make it possible to sleep sitting up, however. But they upset your stomach, so you don't feel like eating. And since you're not doing much in the way of burning calories, you don't need to eat much, especially if you don't want to gain 50 pounds before this ordeal is over. So you see, it all works out!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Beauty and the Best

Although I only viewed a few hours of the closing ceremony of the Olympics, I was deeply disturbed by the performances and overall atmosphere that was presented. Pagan is the best word I can come up with--it was a worship ceremony of humanness. The vocal performers were the most unsettling--strutting onto the stage with their defiant gestures and brazen costumes. Designed to inspire awe and arouse emotions, the event seemed to only stir up bestial drives and shallow values. The immodesty and crudity was stunning. It saddened me that the best and most beautiful of athletic performance was sullied by this shameless side show.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

One of the verses of "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" is:

They say that breaking up is hard to do
Now I know, I know that it's true
Don't say that this is the end
Instead of breaking up I wish that we were making up again.

I have to admit that I've never broken up, having had only one boyfriend who I married. We don't intend to break up. Perhaps breaking up is hard, but staying together, making up over and over again, is really hard and really worth while.

Jack and I like books. We have read books about marriage, books about communication, books about parenting, books about keeping romance alive, books about how to get through difficult conversations. We didn't do everything perfectly, but we learned from our mistakes.

The Olympics are on right now. If you want to see people doing things that are hard to do, that's where to tune in. Imagine a Marriage Olympics. A select few married couples have a talent for marriage that make it look easy. The rest of us are like those petite gals on the balance beam, teetering this way and that, occasionally falling off and climbing back on. If we could see the years of practice, the falls, the awkward jerks behind that one flawless gold-medal winning performance, we would be encouraged.

There are times when a relationship must end. It is clear it is not working. Figuring this out early on is better than later on. I don't know what that is like and try not to judge what I don't know. I do know that not breaking up, choosing to stay and work it out because that's what you both want, that IS hard to do.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pass the Kleenex

Well, the wedding happened. Everything went off without a hitch. The bride was radiant, the groom was handsome, and tears were shed. They are off honeymooning and I can hardly wait to see them again.

I look back on that momentous day and realize a certain terribleness in it all. I'd better explain fast. It was terribly happy, terribly bittersweet, terribly sweeping in its finality of how things were and now are. While we rejoice with achingly full hearts for the wonder of a new loving family, a parent at a wedding has a heart breaking for the little boy who has grown into a man, or the sweet tot who is now eager to be a wife and mother. I cannot watch Fiddler on the Roof without bawling my eyes out when the father sings "Sunrise, Sunset".

Time is merciless, and love is ruthless on our hearts. We can't stop life from moving on, but we so much want to say "Stop, stop. I need to hug and kiss that little boy one more time before he is grown and gone." I can't complain. We did do a lot of hugging and kissing, and spoke words of love. We rejoiced at the maturing and thrilled at the miracle of a new love story. Mom plays an important role in a boy's heart, but sees the inevitability of another woman taking that place, and the need to bow out gracefully. I could not be happier about the number one women in my boys' lives. They all made excellent choices for a life partner, and our family is richer and fuller with each new addition.

The nature of love, however, is to cut your heart open, bare and vulnerable. At the time it happens you hardly realize how you have exposed yourself, since you've been anesthetized with feelings so thrilling you are not sure your heart can contain them. And that is the irony--it can't. It must be cut open to expand. And somewhere down the line the pain of love catches you up, and you find yourself crying that your baby has been replaced by a toddler, then by an adolescent, and finally by an adult walking out the door, happy to be leaving your home. And that same person will never come back the same. Don't misunderstand me. I am not sorry and clinging to the past. But I am now paying the price for loving with my whole heart. Pass the Kleenex.

Friday, May 11, 2012


When growing up,  it was inconceivable that someday I would look at the people I lived with and think of them as not being in my "family"--but it's true, if I define "family" as a nuclear group of mother, father, and children. Yet so it is. I am now a mother and not a child in the family I hold most dear. My parents and siblings are not in my "family", but they are important and special nonetheless.

When raising children, you get inklings of what will happen when they grow up and marry, and suddenly you are on the outside looking in at their "family". You have become "extended" family--someone that they stretch to include. With one child married and two more committing themselves to their brides this year, my "family" is shrinking and my extended family is growing. I feel a wistful happiness for them. So much excitement and living is ahead of them still.

I do not, do not, do not understand the joy people feel in being empty nesters. All I can think is that they endured parenting, always looking to the day when it would at last be over. It probably isn't that black and white. Maybe the teenage years were rough? I loved having teenagers, and I think my teenagers knew that. We filled our house with teenagers, our own and all their friends. I could never bake enough cookies.

When people ask me why I had five children, I have to quick decide if they can take the real answer: because I couldn't have ten. There were days when I longed to run screaming from the house, but most days I loved my life and my brood and wished they would not grow up so fast.

Having a granddaughter has been a great comfort to me. Although she always prefers mommy and daddy to me, and I love her for that, it pulls at my heart when she reaches for me.

Change is hard, but stagnation is death. I will learn to appreciate the quietness, and being able to have a rational conversation that isn't interrupted a dozen times. I will be able to keep up with my housekeeping and perhaps have time for some postponed projects. I'm just hoping that life doesn't get too quiet, orderly, and predictable. I don't want to be bored till death!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Stepping up in the Queue

I have vague memories of my great grandmother, hardly anything really. There is a photo of her sitting in an armchair by the window of her room in a nursing home. And I recall one time waiting in the car while my parents went in for a short visit. It was a long time ago and I was very young. There is some confusion about what I remember--was it what I remember happening or what I was told about?

I can say a lot more about my grandparents--the three that I knew. My material grandfather died about the same time that my great grandmother did, and I feel the same confusion with him about my "memories". The other three grandparents lived to be ninety or more. Grandmother Zugg lasted the longest and best, living to be ninety-six and mentally sharp to the last day.

Both of my parents are still alive,  healthy and active--and approaching the ninety year landmark. At least, they are past their mid-eighties and showing few signs of the permanent wind-down.

My sixtieth birthday is a year and a half away. My husband just retired at sixty-five, and in a few months I can say that most of  our children are married. One child already has his own child.

Five generations. One has passed through the veil into eternity. The next is moving closer. Barring any tragic missteps, soon my generation will be first in line. Life is like stepping on an escalator in an eternal queue.

Slipping Down the Ladder

I have one married child. A second one is taking that plunge in little more than a month. It's a happy occasion, but bittersweet. Every parent has to recognize that they are now just a little further from the center of their child's affections. This does not mean that the child cares less for you, but that others, spouses for starters and children later, have stepped in front of you. This is as it should be.

Oftentimes this is also the beginning of a deeper revelation for the child of just what you gave to them, sacrificed for them, and how you blessed their lives. They find themselves now following your example, and feeling the cost. Then there will come this moment when the light blazes on. It might be triggered by something that touches them, but more likely by an act of their child in which they recognized themselves. Perhaps it was an act of deep ingratitude, or careless acceptance of a great sacrifice. And they understand how thoughtless a child can be and how much the child will take your best for granted.

I am fortunate. All of my children have eyes to see. And I have eyes to see, too. I see signs that they will outshine me as parents. I weep for my faults. I rejoice in their gains.

I am fortunate in what I was given. My parents did the best they knew how.

So although we continue throughout our lives to slip down our children's ladders of prominent place, if we are lucky, they will treasure where they came from.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Paying Up

It's been a mild winter. Not much snow. Only a few bitterly cold days. Lots of sunshine. I shoveled the sidewalk once. It didn't really need it. We haven't used our fireplace as much. My car never slid on the road, and the tires never started spinning without traction. One gets the feeling we're going to cruise right through this season and never quite experience it. There's been nothing to it.

Few challenges in life are like that. I don't mean the things we worry about that never happen, but the things that are unavoidable and unwelcome. Only a lucky few can get through life without a trip to the dentist to fill a cavity, or win that scholarship that would have made getting an education so much more reachable, or land the job of their dreams before the old sheepskin has gathered any dust. We do our best to brush and floss, study hard, and write the perfect resume. Cavities, hard under-rewarded work, and lost careers happen to most of us.

There are a lot of trite things said about challenges--mostly overcoming them. I like to think of them as the hot sauce in the chili, the burn in the whiskey, the ouch in the band-aide pulled off a hairy limb. They bring tears to your eyes. Pain reminds you you're alive, and that's a good thing!

So as I look out on an unseasonably warm winter day, squinting at the brightness of it and notice the buds swelling much too soon, I am uneasy at the easyness of this weather. I like to pay as I go and distrust situations where the bottom line is something unknown and brushed off. When the bill comes in, I'll have to pay the price.

I distrust this winter. Come spring the bill may come due. I don't want my spring bulbs to pay the price.