Friday, December 17, 2010

Who's Watching You?

Years ago my two preschoolers and I were the first ones out after a winter storm. Not even the snowplow had been by yet as we blazed our own trail across the pristine canvas of white. I went first and, upon hearing squeals and giggling behind me, turned to see my small son and daughter leaping from one of my large footprints to the next so that the snow wouldn't come up over their boots. I can still picture their rosy cheeks and blasts of frosty breath from a mouthful of baby teeth. The symbolism of that moment was not lost on me and is forever etched into my memory.

These two children are now grown but my days are still full of young people who look at me with sparkling eyes, brimming with hope and innocence. This past week I helped out at our school as they prepared for the annual Christmas musical and was struck anew by the power vested in me as a leader. I was assigned the job of teaching actions to go along with the music. There was a lot of finger snapping, hand waving, swaying from side to side combined with the humor of dyslexic me trying to do everything backwards for the kids to copy. At one point, I scratched my head (because it itched), and a dozen kids scratched their heads, too. I joked with the teacher who was sitting next to me, "Wow! This is POWER!"

Last night was the final performance and all the kids grades 1-6 sang an unrehearsed song for the offertory. The song was familiar to the older kids but somewhat new for the little ones--especially since it broke into parts where the boys and girls were singing different things at the same time. I realized that I didn't know the words all that well myself and was disconcerted to look up and see 40 pound bespectacled Katie in her red plaid Christmas dress staring right at my face from the front row, ready to sing whatever it was that I was singing. I quickly kicked my brain into gear and found the words I was looking for and the towheaded first grader heartily sang along with me. I didn't feel so much like laughing then.

How sobering to realize that everything we do, everything we say is being watched. Not by security cameras and the internet--those are insignificant compared to this. And though it's popular to worry about our carbon footprint, what about the ones that last forever? The way I treat others and the words that come out of my mouth matter. Little eyes scrutinize my every move and take big jumps to land in the footprints I am leaving.

Lord, help me today to walk your straight path and let the words of my mouth bring glory to you and encourage others.

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." Colossians 3:17

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Grand Scheme

Age gives so much perspective. We tend to think that, once we're adults, we are done growing but we are always becoming something more, something deeper. Another layer is added to our souls and we don't always even notice. It took becoming a grandparent for me to grasp how much joy I brought to my own grandmother.

Last night, the grandboys slept over. Ron doesn't do well with middle of the night kicks to the kidneys so he headed to the guest room, relinquishing both little darlings to me and the comfort of our queen-sized bed. (Which shrank as the hours progressed: Small children have no respect of personal space when it comes to sleeping.) I awoke many times as they abruptly shifted positions, usually over the top of me, mumbled in their sleep, or asked, "Is it morning yet?" and told me,"I need a drink," every half hour. Once awake, I'd take advantage of the light coming in our window to admire their sleeping faces, long lashes against flushed cheeks. I pushed their hair back from their foreheads and fell asleep closer to them than they ever let me get during the day.

I remember childhood sleepovers with my own Gram. She had a big, soft bed and an old mirrored dresser filled with silky nighties that smelled like Occur! perfume. I would snuggle under the covers enjoying the companionable warmth and weighted dent of a bigger body next to mine. It was luxurious. All was well in my world. On those nights, did my Gram wake up and watch me sleep--damp wisps of hair against sunburned cheeks? I can imagine now what a treat it must've been for her to snuggle with the busy child who had no time for such nonsense during the day. Or the long summer days she must have hidden laughter when I told her elaborate stories or showed her my muscles as she gazed into my serious, sweaty face. I understand, now, how easy it was for her eyes to sparkle whenever I walked into her house, to drop everything and give me her full attention.

I always knew how much I loved her. I am just beginning to realize how much she loved me.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Transfer of Love

Peacefully she lies cradled in our arms.
Our fingers trace the outline of her face
Downy brow to button nose.
Tears of pain now tears of joy
She is altogether lovely.
She is ours.

Veiled, she appears behind the crowds.
The music swells, all rise to face her.
Tightening her grip on his arm they approach,
Hearts flood with emotion no words can express.

Toddling first steps,
Lisping phrases,
Eyes bright with wonder.
A tooth under her pillow,
A fort in the trees,
Braiding wispy hair.
Wobbling bike wheels,
Laughter rings.
Front row seats and backstage passes,
Childhood is a vapor.

Work-worn hands lift delicate tulle from her face
He kisses her cheek.
"Who gives this woman to be married to this man?" the script demands.
"Her mother and I," the thick reply.
Eyes lowered, we step back.
She steps forward
With the New Him.

Her back is straight and confident
Heaven hears their words.
Ringlets of blond frame her face
The same brow, the same nose.
Tears lay heavy on her lashes but she only sees him.
She is altogether lovely.
She is his.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Rise and Fall of Communication; When Words Overwhelm

I have heard much lately in the media decrying the negative effect technology has had on our ability to communicate. "How times have changed!" said the woman about to turn 50. I can vaguely remember the days of party lines--when several families shared a single phone line distinguished by unique rings; a hey-day for eavesdropping, a continual test in patience as you waited for the line to be free. Once homes got their own individual lines, people could call anyone in town. Long distance (from Ashby to far-far-away Fergus Falls) was a luxury that was rarely indulged because of the cost and poor quality of connections.

My grandmother died sixteen years ago thinking the greatest thing to happen in the communication arena in her golden years was the popularization of CB radios. I remember the unit she had set up in her dining room and the rough-and-tumble handle she gave herself; Misty. She was thrilled to have a static-filled conversation with amiable truckers who passed by on I-94. Now, when we want to talk to someone who's out and about, we have cell phones. Gram and all her friends eagerly awaited the delivery of the local newspaper each week so they could read the social column and find out who ate supper with whom, and who motored to where to visit which relatives. Now, when we need to have all those intimate details in the lives of others, we have Facebook. Ahhh....communication on the rise!

My own children can barely remember a time before laptops on every lap, Blackberries in every backpack, Facebook, Skype, and Twitter. Kids don't pass notes anymore--they text. And each invention gives us faster access to others than the one before. Few children have written a letter by hand, attached a stamp, mailed it, then waited two weeks for a response. "Isn't that what the Pony Express was for?"

I vividly recall the excitement I felt the first time I sent an email from our old Gateway and, seconds later, heard the thrilling words, "You've got mail!" Magically, something launched out into the air from Philadephia to California and came back to me: My own words!! I'm sure Alexander Graham Bell could not have been any more delighted.

Little more than a decade later, good old email is bleeding at the wayside of the information highway. We have launched into much faster connections that require far less effort. Email didn't demand proper greetings or closings. Texting doesn't require capitalization, punctuation, or even spell-check. In fact, it has its own abbreviated language, LOL!

Instant technology has impacted our society in countless ways. Who knows how many lives are saved because anyone--anywhere--can access 911 in an emergency! What a blessing for families of missionaries and servicemen to be able to see their loved ones and talk over Skype? What grandparent isn't thrilled to get a photo text of their grandchild's new tooth the minute it bursts through his baby gums?

And yet, could it is a gift with strings attached? People of all ages are now expected to be on-call 24/7. A 12 year-old can't walk down the street or sit down to a meal without texting friends. A working mom isn't allowed a day blissfully shopping or lunch with a friend without answering her phone 25 times to settle sibling disputes. Anyone who wants you for any reason (or just happens to be bored) can contact you at the far reaches of the earth in the blink of an eye. And heaven help you if you don't respond in a timely manner. (Which, under no circumstances, should ever exceed an hour.) If you don't return calls you are inconsiderate and rude. If you don't update your Facebook status for two days, people worry that you are dead. Apparently people can't exist without knowing what you ate for dinner or how you will spend your Saturday afternoon.

We are smothering each other with closeness.

Don't get me wrong: I am a huge fan of technology and social networking. I love to see my 2 year-old granddaughter who lives three hours away when she first gets up in the morning sitting in her jammies eating cereal. (Which is the exact same reason I don't Skype many people myself. I don't wish to be seen first thing in the morning as I sit in my jammies drinking coffee.) I also love Facebook. I love how it lets me stay in daily/weekly contact with friends on both coasts and updated on the lives of many families I work with in the community--connections I would not otherwise have. I'm happy to get frequent news on my own children and grandchildren on the days I'm too busy to call them. But I wish there were rules of etiquette that came along with new advances in technology. I fear we are getting tech-savvy faster than Miss Manners can keep up. I don't wish to accept friendship from someone I have never met. Neither do I want peripheral "friends" stalking me and never writing on my wall. Facebook says I have over 200 friends, but do I really? How many of them would I call if I had a crisis in my life?

And don't even get me started about my cell phone. Since birth I have disdained carrying a purse or baggage of any kind. Yet, because not every garment I own contains a pocket sufficient for carrying a concealed phone, I am constantly looking for it. I have lost my phone in the yard, in the car, in public bathrooms, in the ditch under piles of leaves. I spend hours each week looking for it and/or wishing I had remembered to charge it. What to do? I have considered having it surgically attached to my body. Then, it could be wired to receive electricity from my heart so it would always have battery. In fact, if I had a bluetooth attached under my hairline, I could walk around talking to people all day long and never even have to think a thought to/by myself!

Which brings me to The Fall: Not only can we speak our minds in an instant, we are expected to respond just as quickly. Sadly, because we can communicate every thought that flashes through our little heads in a blink, I fear we have lost something important: The ability to think before we speak. Or the privilege of "disconnecting" for any part of any day just to decompress from all the closeness. What began as a blessing of connection becomes a prison of obligation.

In our current abundance of words and unlimited access to others, we must pay special attention to what we communicate to them. Solomon said of excessive verbiage, "...there[in] is much opportunity for sin." Or, in more current vernacular: "The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words." Prov 10:19

Since to stop talking altogether is unthinkable, we would do well to heed the ancient (strangely appropriate) instructions of Paul to the people of Colossae: "Everything you say should be kind and well thought out so that you know how to answer everyone." Col.4:6

And remember the wise words of our elders: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Porch Theology

We three sat on the front porch, wrapped in fleece throws, sipping coffee early this morning. Such is the month of June in Minnesota. I, in the swing, Ron and Stephie in the rocking chairs, surveying the yard we've been busy fencing and landscaping these past few weeks. A squeaky sound caught our attention. We looked up to see Mimzy, our cat, making running motions against the glass of the picture window with her clawless front paws, hinting at her wish to join us.

"That cat!" I said to Stephie. "Do you know what she did the other day?" We all regarded our furry feline, the perpetually bratty "child" who never ceases to provide us stories to scoff at, with a mix of anticipated amusement and irritation.

"I told Dad that the yard is perfect, now that the gates are in place, for Mimzy to come out and have some recess from the house. Dad expressed his doubts that she would stay in the yard, but I insisted I would watch her. And I did. The first day, she slunk around the entire perimeter of the fence, pausing only to stare wistfully beyond. It was hardly the blissful success story I'd hoped for but I brought her in with me to try again another day. The next day, I took her out again and nearly dropped my iced tea when, within minutes, I looked up to see that fat thing perched on the top rail of the fence about to leap over."

Stephie laughed. For an animal that seems clumsy and day-dreamy most of the time, we have found Mimzy in some pretty ambitious places.

I sipped my coffee and turned my back to the prisoner at the window. "Seriously, is she never happy? First, she has complete run of a climate-controlled, three-story house with two litter boxes that are kept very clean. Food appears magically in her dish whenever she wants it and there are always treats for the asking and fresh water. She has access to the softest beds, the best perches in a dozen window sills, and the comfy couch-backs. She is pampered and brushed and petted and adored. When we notice her desire for more we offer her the yard: Now she has a shady porch with new furniture to lounge upon while she watches birds at the feeders and fountain. There are patches of flowers to hide in, sunny rocks to nap on, and butterflies and bugs galore to chase. But is she satisfied?"

Stephie noted, "She's just like Adam and Eve! She thinks you're holding out on her!"

"YES!" I exclaimed. "Surely there is something more out there beyond the glass window, beyond the picket fence! I saw her as she searched the fence for an opening that first day--she didn't even have a plan, just 'I need to get out of here!' And what is 'out of here?' Why, there's the busy cat-squashing street mere feet away with the squirrel remnants to prove it! And stray dogs that would delight to grab her hairy little body and shake it lifeless--her with not a claw to defend herself! Doesn't that all sound like fun? She's so dumb!"

Yep. It's true that "Curiosity kills the cat." It isn't just human nature to never be content, apparently, it is also feline nature. To be curious without wisdom is dangerous. And that is where we found ourselves this morning--remembering a garden that was not perfect enough. The one thing Adam and Eve were told they could not have was the one thing they felt they must, at all costs, obtain. Oh, how we have hated rules and boundaries ever since! We regard them as awful, restricting, chafing limitations imposed by a joyless, power-hungry Deity. But what if we regarded the Thou Shalt Nots (what we can't have outside the fence) as the Thou Shalts (all that we're allowed INside?)

Thou Shalt: Love God So Much That All Else Pales in Comparison
(Embracing what matters most and will last forever)

-Respect & Honor the Name & Person of God
(Remembering that God is God and you are not)

-Remember to Rest
(Enjoying work without working yourself to death)

-Treasure Thy Parents
(Learning from elders' wisdom and living long enough to have honor returned)

-Protect and Preserve Life
(Giving the weakest and most vulnerable equal safety and value)

-Be Loyal to Thine Own Spouse/Honor the Covenant of Marriage
(Experiencing security in relationships of faithfulness and trust)

-Be Truthful with Thy Neighbors
(Expressing words that have meaning)

-Be Content and Thankful for Everything Thou Hast
(Acknowledging that every need you have will be met)

Oh, to be learn contentment in our own gardens with our own stuff with a God who loves us enough to protect us with limits! We can learn a lot from a cat.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Letters to Heaven

This was a weekend for remembering. And I found myself remembering you, Gram. I went with Dad to the cemetery in Alex because I thought it would be good for me to know where all the family is buried. I have never been a big fan of cemeteries. I feel so out of place there, like an uninvited guest in someone else's yard. This is a place to be reverent, I've been told, and to show respect. I always feel uneasy.

It is a sweltering day, the only relief from the heat a wind that whips against us and bends the flowers low. The cemetery is such a big place and it's easy to get turned around. Grandpa Swartz is buried here, I take note. And near him my uncle Jerry and Aunt Sally. There is the big Sexton stone with your parents' markers beneath. And Grandpa Thompson. And you--Delores Elaine Thompson--these sixteen years since October 1994. Mom and Dad set pots of flowers on all the graves and water them from a metal bucket. You would have smiled to see who all else was along: Kath, and her three sons that you have not met. And Kim and Amy are with me. Remember all the many hours you played with them and let them take pictures of themselves being silly with your camera, all the game shows they watched from your couch, all the treats you indulged them with? They remember. You watched them play with their dolls and laughed at their vivid imaginations. You said, "Someday they'll be I wish I could see that. But I won't."

"Oh, SURE you will!" I responded glibly with the naive invincibility of a 30 year-old. I thought I could convince us both that you'd never die.

In 1997 I gave birth to another daughter, Victoria, and she is with us, too. Whenever I say her name I think of your own beloved aunt, Victoria, and her house nearby on Lake Darling. You would have loved this child so much. And little Kim and Amy are mothers now, too--four small children between them running amongst the gravestones, straining to carry a pail full of water. These are my grandchildren. I am a grandmother. I am not "Gram" like you, but I am, "Nema." Having these little people in my life has given me a new perspective I did not have before. There are so many things I wish I could tell you now, so many things I understand that I did not know then: How I want to give them the world. How I want to protect them and worry when they run with sharp sticks. How sad I feel when they are punished even though I know it must be. I want to be the kind of grandmother I had. You were the best. I couldn't wait to tell you things that happened in my day and you had all the time in the world to listen until I ran out of things to say. I've never known anyone who has cheered louder for me or been more interested in the everyday details of my life as you. If I can reflect a small portion of that love to my own grandchildren, I will consider my life a success.

As we step away from your grave site, we pass an obscure marker in the ground almost overgrown with grass. Dad pushes it back with his foot and reads the name, "Angeline." He reminds me that this was your childhood friend who died of cancer at the age of 20. Dad says, "Someone said that you are never really gone until the last person who remembers you dies." Then he adds, "I am probably the last person who remembers Angeline." Except for me, Gram. I remember her. I remember you telling how she had a vision of Jesus coming to her in her pain at the end of her life and how Jesus took the pain but told her he wanted her with him. I remember that story, even though I never knew Angeline. I remember how sad your face was when you talked about the little girl you played with and how old I thought twenty was then and how far away death seemed for all of us.

And now you are not with us. There is just a granite stone marking a place in the grass along with hundreds of others--so many it is hard to find your name. But you are close in my thoughts. Not a day goes by that I don't think of you and miss you. And when I die you will still not be truly gone because my children and their children will remember us still. And we will be together. And all the stories I have saved up to tell you all these years can be told. We will have all the time we need. To remember...

As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field;

the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children.

Psalm 103:15-17