Scene from a Ballpark

Scene from a Ballpark
Orioles' Adam Jones - 2nd Image by Keith Allison - Creative Commons
Orioles’ Adam Jones – 2nd Image by Keith Allison – Creative Commons

The father and son walked a bit ahead of me as we exited Camden Yards on the second night in August. At first I didn’t realize they were together, because the father was white and the son was black. But then I saw their hands.

They were holding hands. To stay together in the crowd.

This wouldn’t have been notable, except that the son was about 13. I know because I have a son that age who is also nearly as tall as me.

As I got closer, I expected to hear a conversation I’d hear in my own house, but it wasn’t like that at all.

This boy was slurring his speech, and when he turned his head, I could see that it took effort for him to form words. But he was joyful in his attempts. And he was saying hello to every person who passed him.

A few returned his greeting.

Most glanced in his direction and then moved away.

Then one man struck up a brief conversation with him, asking him if he’d enjoyed the game.

My heart gave thanks for this generous soul, because the moment he engaged the boy, both he and his father turned toward the man and gave huge welcoming smiles.

The boy named a couple things he’d liked – the four home runs, cotton candy – and then something he didn’t. And the banter that ensued was typical Northeast stuff – a repartee of “no-way-c’mon-yeah right-don’t gimme that.” And for a bright moment, the boy was not “special needs.” He was just a kid at the ballpark with his dad.

Valuing a person means recognizing the sacred within – the holy that comes from beyond the boundaries of time, space, body, gender, race, or ability. Thank God for those who know true beauty when they see it.

No More Summer Scrooge

No More Summer Scrooge

 

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I used to hate summer. I was a Summer Scrooge.

I only lightly concealed my loathing of the heat and humidity. I never wanted to be outside. I harbored resentments – for my fair skin that burns like bacon, blue eyes not meant for bright sunlight, and tender feet that just won’t tolerate hot cement, sand, or even flip-flops. Strange, you think? It’s true. The thought of something stuck between my toes all day long makes me cringe.

But my feelings were a prison of my own making.

It’s amazing how years can go by before you realize that you’re missing out on whole seasons of your life because of the way you look at them. 

I’ve learned – the words that ring in my head and my heart frame my perspective.

So, 7 years ago, I decided to make summer different. It happened like this….

I had a friend who seemed to treat every day like an adventure, even if she never left her home. One weekday afternoon, I was sitting in her bright yellow kitchen while she cooked, eating olives from a ornate blue and white bowl that was part of a set.

“I love these bowls,” I told her, which matched a platter covered in cheese, crackers, and cured Italian meats.

“Thanks! They’re from Portugal. We got them when Tim* was stationed in Rome.”

Five of the six kids we had between us were yelling and charging happily all over her house, occasionally running through to snatch a slice of provolone or salami.

“And you’re using them today?”

“Why not?” she laughed. “What good are they doing in the cupboard? I use them all the time!”

“What if they get broken?”

“Well, then they do,” and she tossed her long hair as if to say, ‘But we really used them, didn’t we?’

That small exchange made an impression on me. Yes, other people had told me, “Use the good china,” but until that moment – I guess I hadn’t heard the message: Live today.

Even as a stay-at-home mom doing the usual thing on a random Tuesday – Live today.

And I decided to make a summer plan.

In the beginning, my summer plan entailed my own physical happiness. I found a non-sticky sunscreen and decided I was worth the expense, shunned capris and shorts and settled on the fact that skirts were more comfortable for me in the heat, and discovered that playing in the pool with my kids actually is more fun than sitting on the side watching them.

But by leaping those physical hurdles, I also found strength to focus on my deeper, emotional hurdles. Like how to use the summer months to draw closer to my children emotionally, when holding them at arms’ length would be easier for me. I’m an introvert with currently very extroverted children, and all this ‘togetherness’ can be challenging.

But the summer is time we will never get back. So I’ve learned to pray and ask for discernment from God about how to spend these days well.

I don’t always get the answers I want. As one would expect, there is less time for me and my pursuits, and in the short-term that can be frustrating. (i.e. I’ll be blessed if I can write one blog piece a week from now thru August!)

But because of my willingness to bend to Him, He is helping me to make the very most of now, learn from the past, and have fewer regrets later. It’s a hard thing to admit that I’m a better mom to my third six-year old than I was to my first child when he was six, but good parenting is about continuing to grow, and I so desperately want to be good – for them. I am being formed into the woman I was intended to be and the Creator is creating the best summers of my life.

This coming week, we’ll be on vacation, and I intend to spend equal time on the beach reading and building sandcastles. But I leave you with some recent words from my youngest son.

He and I were driving to the gym in silence when he blurted this out. I scrambled to get it down as soon as I could. I was in awe of what I’d heard, knowing I had to preserve it forever. He said,

“Every day is special. 

Because God is always with us.

And every day is a birthday.

And a new baby is born.

And a new house is built.

And a car is fixed.

And flowers are planted.

And gardens grow.”

 Amen.

Every day is special.

 

 

*Not his real name.

Warrior in the Rain

Warrior in the Rain
Photo by Ryan Wilson. Portland, Oregon. unsplash.com.
Photo by Ryan Wilson. Portland, Oregon. unsplash.com.

This morning I was reconsidering a post I started last winter and never finished. Sometimes that happens. I drift along, writing about a moment that captivates me, but then I’m not sure why I had been told to pay attention. The lessons we learn can be months – or years – in the making. Today, as summer dawns, I’m leaning forward to hear His whisper on this memory.

Cold rain pelted the colonial streets when I dropped my kids off at school this morning. 38 degrees and gloomy. I was turning left when a couple started to cross the road right in front of my car, walking a black Lab.

I saw her first.  She was bundled up in a parka, hat, and scarf, and working hard to hold on to the pulling dog, who was giddy over his outing despite the weather, his tail whipping him into a full-body wag.

Then I looked at him. He was oddly serene – a dreamy, almost complacent expression on his face – and he had chosen strange attire. His muscles were lightly concealed by a t-shirt – and shorts! He held an umbrella over the woman, even as the driving rain splashed against his bare limbs. His gait was strong and steady, but ever-so-slightly unnatural. 

Then I saw it – his prosthetic leg.

I assumed he was military, a warrior injured while serving our nation. But it could have been an auto accident or something else, of course.

Nevertheless, in the two seconds I studied his face, I saw resolve. Perhaps the kind that comes from having faced fear and done the next right thing despite it. Or from the hard work necessary to overcome a challenge you never thought you’d encounter.

Why was I directed to remember him?

Maybe because we all face obstacles to a smooth walk.

Despite my best efforts, I still struggle with comparing myself to others, fear of judgment, paralyzing perfectionism, and an inner critic who won’t shut up. When no one is counting on me, I’m also rather poor at time management and start projects I don’t finish. Then I worry that somehow these failings will become my legacy.

I could resign myself to these negative thoughts and let the foes of my spirit finish me. I could assume that I can’t improve my gait.

Yet I believe that God is pulling for me. His Word is replete with promises of His Love. 

And He is sovereign over all – even over the various forms of darkness that plague my mind, creating muddy puddles on the sunniest of days.

He says,

…be transformed by the renewal of your mind…

-Romans 12:2

This is a command. To allow myself to be made better. To be made new. By Him.

Through Him I will find the long-term resolve I’m looking for.

My ability to walk naturally through life without fear or pain is directly related to my willingness to yield to His Love.

Can I yield a bit more today?

Riveting Like Rosie

Riveting Like Rosie

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I’ve always liked “Rosie the Riveter,” the iconic WWII figure famously portrayed in this painting by Norman Rockwell. Years ago, I had a copy of this print in my office. Rosie symbolized the thousands of women in industrial jobs who replaced men gone to fight. She embodied the spirit of a new phase in American life.

I look at her and I see Resolve. Tenacity. Perseverance. Strength. Courage.

And I know that under her tough-as-nails exterior, she was also tender and womanly. To convey her feminine charms, some artists even portrayed her with noticeably red lips.

I can relate to Rosie’s “taking care of business” attitude, and I suspect that most American women do.

But I also wonder about her quieter moments. The ones where she kept her home together. Held her kids. And perhaps marveled about the way thousands of little bolts can hold one big vehicle together.

I have a riveting gun too, you see. It’s just invisible. Its’ bolts are tiny interactions, layered one on top of another over months and years until hopefully, finally, in the end, my contributions will have aided in the creation of a self-sufficient and loving adult. Three of them, in fact. At least, this is what I envision.

I get so consumed with trying to make sure that everything is powered down and in place that I can forget the beautiful whimsy of working on long-term projects that are large, grand, and so very, very important. And also so very different, complicated, and not “projects” at all – but God-given gifts who are entrusted to me (and my husband) for a time.

I can fail to really see each one of them at all. 

That is, until I experience a moment like the one I experienced tonight. Because – let’s face it – my kids’ growing up experience isn’t just about them, is it?

It was all normal enough – laying out my son’s clothes for school tomorrow.

Except that tomorrow is his last day of kindergarten.

My baby’s last day of kindergarten.

His navy blue shorts and white shirt suddenly looked so, so small.

A metaphorical hammer was coming down on my head as I realized he wouldn’t fit into these clothes come fall. They are already tight, and he’s our last child.

He’s my baby.

I stood there. Suddenly fighting to breathe.

I ran to his bed, where he lay, silently sleeping.

I stroked his hair. Touched his cheek. Held his hand.

Wiped tears from my face with the back of my other hand.

There were so many projects I had planned to do this year while he was spending days in kindergarten. Some got done. Others didn’t.

And? No one was keeping score.

But like Rosie, I was doing the work of a new phase in my own life.

Invisible rivets. Laying down the foundation for what will be when he  finishes 1st grade, and 2nd, and 12th, and so on.

A new phase means changing some things and building on others.

I think of Rosie. She says…

Look ahead with Resolve and Courage. Be Riveted to Hope.

When Did We Stop?

When Did We Stop?

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When did we stop?

When did we stop walking through our lives with wonder?

Looking for the next amazing thing?

Seeking out another delight?

Expecting a miracle around the corner?

A bunny in the bushes?

That we’d surely see…while wearing shockingly purple glasses with no lenses….just because?

When did we stop dancing through life knowing the wonderful was coming?

The promise of it has always been there.

Let’s reawaken our souls to it today.

However far back we need to go, let’s go there. Let’s go back to when we simply accepted that there was so much we didn’t know, and we just trusted, and lived in awe. 

You visit the earth and water it,
make it abundantly fertile.
God’s stream is filled with water;
you supply their grain.
Thus do you prepare it:
you drench its plowed furrows,
and level its ridges.
With showers you keep it soft,
blessing its young sprouts.
You adorn the year with your bounty;
your paths drip with fruitful rain.
The meadows of the wilderness also drip;
the hills are robed with joy.
The pastures are clothed with flocks,
the valleys blanketed with grain;
they cheer and sing for joy.

-Psalm 65:10-14

Did You Ever Get a Thank-You Like This?

Did You Ever Get a Thank-You Like This?

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We attended a wedding and got a thank-you note. But I wasn’t expecting one. The bride and groom had already sent us a note for the gift we’d given them. ‘Hmm,’ I wondered as I opened it, ‘maybe they were worried they had overlooked us, so they’re sending another one.’

Nope.

“Thank you both so much for joining us as we celebrated our big day. We hope you both had a great time as well!!”

Who does this?

Who spends postage to thank guests for their presence, instead of their presents?

Almost no one. And that’s why it’s so remarkable. And sweet.

The truth is, we are grateful to have special people with us, in good times, bad times, and in-between times. The trouble is, we neglect to tell them we are thankful that they are there.

Jesus said, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Something to think about.

When You’re Trying to Measure Up

When You’re Trying to Measure Up

I was at the gym yesterday (a minor accomplishment in itself), and I took a pure barre class. I think of it as “Ballet for Dummies and Non-Dancers.”

We didn’t have a barre on the wall; instead, we used folding chairs, balls, and elastic straps for balance and resistance. I hadn’t been there for awhile, and it showed.

The full-length mirrors made it possible for me to check my alignment (or lack thereof) during each exercise and, like three-way mirrors in department store dressing rooms, they dispelled any illusions I had about my physique. Further, the rubber bands we used proved that my arms are not as strong as I thought they were.

In short – I’ll just say there is work to be done. And I am loathe to do it.

But I made it through the class, vowed I would be back, and trekked off to the locker room to shower and get on with my day.

That’s when I heard her crying – a woman in the aisle of lockers adjacent to mine. She was on the phone, upset, and angry.

“I’m at the gym, God damn it!!” she said. “I’m trying!!”

I’m not sure what the conversation was really about. Whether it had to do with fitness or myriad other things. But I could tell her spirit was depleted. For whatever it was that was bothering her, she needed reassurance. She needed help in letting go of expectations – her own or someone else’s. She needed to know unconditional love.

This world would have us believe that we are measured by our output. That we have to perform every day. That these things determine our value. But that’s not the Truth.

We are loved beyond measure, simply because we ARE, by One who calls us “lilies among thorns.”

Today, as I tend to my sore spots, I will rest in that.

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Are There Serpents in Your Garden?

I hate snakes. Really, really, really HATE snakes.

I know, I know. Not all snakes are bad. But when I come across one, everything in me recoils. And last week, I came across three. So I’m not feeling any intellectual “warm fuzzies” for them right now.

One was under a pile of dead leaves that I picked up – with my hands – while gardening. (Lesson learned. Use a rake.)

The next – a baby – crawled into the basement through the back door, which my husband had left ajar. (Open screened windows are OK. Doors? Not so much.)

The last snake startled me the most.

One of our hounds was sitting beside the backyard fence, howling at 9:30 p.m. In a valiant attempt to be neighborly, I grabbed a flashlight and briskly set off across the lawn to fetch him. On the way, I stepped over a long silvery line in the grass. I realized what it was a split-second later. I shined the beam back onto this creature (who probably thought he could avoid humans at that hour) and I clearly saw a bulge in its middle. Yuck. Thank God for good foot placement.

None of these serpents were poisonous. And none of them were longer than 15 inches. They were probably all very young. A herpetologist would say that the presence of brown snakes and rat snakes indicates a healthy ecosystem, and would suggest that I should be grateful for natural control of the rodent population. There’s significant merit to these views, of course. Snakes were designed for a purpose. But my nerves don’t typically respond to logical arguments.

A quick Google search revealed that snakes in MD are most active in spring and fall, and they are biurnal.

Well, then. Now I know. Snakes. Night and day.

Evidence of what's out there.
Evidence of what’s out there.

I’ve been working hard to overcome this creepy mental obstacle – ignoring my bad dreams and reassuring my husband that I will continue to help with the yard work. But having serpents in the garden dulls its shine, doesn’t it?

Serpents are reminders that things are not the way I want them to be.

I want to see flowers, but not snake skins. I want cool shade and warm sunshine, but I don’t want to share them – with creatures who don’t have legs.

And it’s the way snakes have invaded my sanctuary that irritates me.

They are stealth. Quiet. Ugly.

They inspire fear.

They are not unlike the whispers in my head that slink into my creative thoughts and rob them of joy. You know the ones….

Why are you doing this?

You are not good enough. 

No one cares about your point of view. 

Your contributions are irrelevant. 

There are so many other people saying and writing the same things. 

You should give up. 

Ignoring the serpent, setting him aside, or disturbing his surroundings with bold noise so that he’ll shove off and go elsewhere – is hard, hard work. And some days, pushing past his lies takes all the energy I have. 

But we are called to be brave. We are called to be faithful to what we know is Truth.

So we move forward.

We cultivate our garden so its’ blooms overshadow anything ugly lurking within it. 

Election Conversation

Election Conversation
Photo by Michael Browning, www.unsplash.com.

My goodness the candidates and pundits are busy these days. The election conversation just never ends. TV, social media, magazines, newspapers – everyone is putting in their two cents. It has never been easier to promote your point of view, or to ask questions intended to make someone else defend or reconsider theirs.

People like to say that this election year is “the worst,” and in some ways, it just might be. The characters are sure colorful, and the mudslinging seems to be getting worse every day. But then again, my own personal history reminds me that division along political lines is nothing new, and it often becomes ugly because arrogance and self-righteousness run deep in our human hearts.

Around 8 a.m. on November 8, 2000, I went to my voting precinct in Arlington, Virginia. There were, of course, many candidates on the ballot that day, but two were attracting the lion’s share of attention. Bush. And Gore.

The line to the precinct door snaked around the side of the building and then back and forth in gentle curves like a fat roll of ribbon candy. I got in line and resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be there for awhile.

About 10 minutes into my wait, I somehow started chatting with the elderly black woman in front of me. She was a beautiful, petite woman with salt-and-pepper hair, bright eyes, and an easy laugh. We talked nonstop for at least 30 minutes about where we’d grown up and our current lives in Northern Virginia. Naturally, she told me all about her grandchildren, and I could see how proud she was. I felt a deep enough kinship with this sweet woman, that when we ascended the steep steps leading into the building, I was perfectly comfortable encouraging her to be careful.

A yard or so from the precinct door, she looked at me with an earnest smile and said, “So I guess you’re voting for Gore.”

“Uhm, no actually,” I replied.

Her eyes grew wide. She seemed startled.

Then, she turned away from me.

As she squared her shoulders and faced the front, I heard her murmur under her breath, “I thought you were nice.”

I stood there – stunned and uneasy – for the next few minutes until we were finally admitted and each assigned a voting booth.

At the time, I worked for the Close Up Foundation, a nonpartisan civic education group, and I wrote books about federal policy for high school students. Our texts were designed to encourage young minds to think about issues from myriad points of view before forming political opinions. From that experience, I learned that issues are not simple. There are no easy answers. And NO candidate is a perfect choice. We all do the best we can with the small minds and limited information we have, and the experiences that form our consciences.

At Close Up, I worked with many people whose political opinions differed from mine, and a few of them became beloved friends.

Because when you live in close proximity to others and take the time to listen – really listen – to their stories, it’s nearly impossible to develop resentment and hatred toward them.

If we think we know more than the next person…

If we think we have perfect solutions…

If we think ‘our guy’ is going to make everything better…

then we are arrogant.

And we are wrong.

“Those people” – the ones I don’t hang out with – the ones who seem different from me – God made them, and loves them, and has called me to serve them with His Love.

So before I enter into another tense conversation, before I send that snarky email or post an incendiary link, I’m going to think…

What does Love require of me?

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” 

-John 13:34

Seeds for an Appropriate Time

On a bright spring morning, a walk does my spirit good. And as I circle my block, I come across her garden.

I can almost see her standing there in the shadow of her home, wearing spring pastels and kelly green tennis shoes, pointing out weeds and asking her husband to pull them. Her white hair shines like a crown in the sun. Her eyes dance and her arms wave a happy hello as I walk up her front path.

But she’s been gone to heaven for some time now. And her husband, too – last June. I still miss them – just as much as I did the day I learned that Mr. Schab had at last followed his wife Home. 

So I stand looking at Mrs. Schab’s garden. Her flowers are beginning to bloom.

First, I see a single red tulip.

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Then the blue vinca minor (periwinkle).

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Then the viburnum.

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And her bright pink azaleas.

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Colorful, vibrant life springs from the brown, hard earth.

I seldom see their family visiting the house anymore. I suppose it’s been mostly cleaned out.

But you can’t remove everything that’s been planted, deep in fertile soil. You can’t strip it all – even from ground that appears, on the surface, to be nothing but weeds.

The garden renews my hope in the Promise. That with God’s help, our tiny seeds of peace and love – in our families, communities, nation, the world – will surely blossom into something beautiful, when the appropriate time comes.

As the earth brings forth its plants,

and a garden makes its growth spring up,

So will the Lord God make justice and praise

spring up before all nations. 

-Isaiah 61:62