faith, life

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

There’s not much to do when the heat index is 105 degrees so we went to a movie, a documentary, actually, about Fred Rogers.  

I loved Mr. Rogers when I was a kid, I watched him everyday.  I credit him for shaping me into the kindhearted individual I am – or at least was. 

To quote Ouiser Boudreaux (Steel Magnolias), “I’m not as sweet as I used to be.”

I loved Mr. Rogers as a kid, but I didn’t realize his brilliance until I sat in that air conditioned movie theater on Saturday.

Mr. Rogers planted a seed deep in my heart which sprouted into a belief that God loves me,  even though he never mentioned God.  In fact, I didn’t know that he was an ordained minister until I was an adult.

All I knew as a kid was that a kind man who cared about kids, who cared about me, was out there and my little-kid brain extrapolated that into believing a kind God, who cares about kids, who cares about me, is out there, too.

We evangelicals of the 80’s and 90’s had it wrong.

Back when I was a fully indoctrinated evangelical, I was taught that God’s name had to be blatantly emblazoned upon a thing in order for it to be “Christian.”

Christian music had to mention His name, repeatedly.

Christian authors were suspect if their writings didn’t include doctrinally approved Christianese.

But then I started to listen to God more closely.  He said He is Love.  He said He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  My adult brain began to extrapolate that to all that is loving, true and life-giving.

A song about forgiveness is a song about God.

A writing that is noble, pure and true is a writing about God.

A movie that spurs me on toward love and good deeds is a movie about God.

On the way home my daughter said, “My favorite part of the movie was when the minister said Fred’s show preached a better sermon than anything you hear from a pulpit.”

Amen.

“Fred’s work,” he said, “was love your neighbor and love yourself. It was a communication right into their hearts.”

Right into my heart.

Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

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life

A Mighty Four-Year-Old Fist

She sat, legs outstretched, hair towel-wrapped, back against the wall, on her bed in a rented house in the historic part of town. An old house near the tracks, just barely safe, just barely respectable, just barely far enough away from the drunks in the flophouse. Her out of place sophistication and beauty did not go unnoticed by the beer guzzling neighbors on her right and on her left.

She called her little house the meat in a redneck sandwich. It was a temporary dwelling, until she got back on her feet.

She was on the phone, midway through a dreary conversation, when her daughter appeared beside the bed and took the receiver from her hand.  Clenching her little four-year-old-fist she spoke into the mouthpiece loud and clear:

“I want to know why you don’t live with us anymore!”

There was a pause. She held her breath wondering how he would answer. She wanted to know, too.

His stern reply came through loud enough for her to hear:

“Put your mother back on.”

She was stunned. Stunned by the courage and stunned by the cowardice.

That sweet, gentle, smart little girl with the impressive vocabulary had a question brewing in her little heart that her mom knew nothing about.  It had been over a year since her father left, and she was just now asking it.

Perhaps it took more than a year to muster the courage. Perhaps at two-and-a-half she didn’t know what to ask.  Perhaps she hadn’t noticed, until she was four, that the dads of other kids lived with them, so why didn’t he? Perhaps she had thought he was away for a while and the while had grown too long.

“I’m just as surprised as you are,” she replied after being berated for putting their daughter up to it, “and someday you are going to have to answer her question.”

Courage inspires. Cowardice disappoints.

Sitting on her bed, receiver back in its cradle, she was disappointed.

The only answer she had ever gotten when she had asked the question was, “Marriage isn’t what I thought it was going to be and I don’t want it anymore.”

But in that breath-held moment she hoped he would muster enough courage of his own to give his daughter a gentle, truthful, more specific answer. Or at least a gentle, truthful promise to talk with her about it later, in person, when he wasn’t caught so off-guard.

But he chose angry defensiveness instead. He chose his discomfort over his daughter’s brave, vulnerable, broken, suddenly demanding little heart.

Sitting on her bed, receiver back in it’s cradle, she was inspired, impressed, in awe.

Her little girl was BRAVE.  Her little girl was going to be okay in life. Her little girl had the courage to ask tough questions, to risk anger and disappointment, to speak up. Her little girl had the courage to ask for something more than the status quo.

He never answered his daughter’s question with words, but he answered it.

He answered it in the choice of his second wife, a lovely woman who is kind and nurturing and not the sharpest tool in the box, not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Sometimes she marvels at the fact that he doesn’t appear bothered by the dullness of her bulb.  But, then, she supposes, perhaps that is what he imagined marriage should be.

And (@ANNELAMOTT), if she remembers correctly, his you-know-what was kinda’ small.

 

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family, love

Tender little Hearts

I’m still thinking about the girl from Thursday.

And I’m wondering whether she overheard an adult blithely say of her older brothers, “They’re probably dead by now.”

Not stopping to think about how those words would affect a young heart.

Where else would she have gotten the notion?

Adults may think, She’s adopted now, she is being provided a good life.

And leave it at that.

But her life didn’t begin with the adoption. There were already people residing in her tender little heart when she arrived. People she cannot forget. People to whom her heart is still connected.

And thank God she cannot forget them.

Thank God her heart is still soft.

But I saw a budding hardness in her pleading eyes.

And I’m praying that it will dawn on someone.

That children are not mini adults.

That they need answers and reassurances.

That no information is worse than unfortunate information.

And that we will all be better at respecting and protecting childhood.

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life

Group Therapy

She came through the back door, removed her backpack and kicked off her shoes.

“Group therapy is intense.”

“What was the topic this week?”

“Mothers.”

“Oh boy.”

For those who are new to this blog, my daughter is in grad school working on her masters in counseling.  Since her group therapy class began three weeks ago they have discussed their issues with the counseling program, one another and now their mothers.

“There are a lot of bad mothers,” she sighed.

She paused and said, “It’s not so much the things they did that make them so bad, it’s their refusal to own up to them. My classmates’ moms’ versions of their childhoods make them wonder whose house they grew up in.” She paused again and said, “They’re the opposite of you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know how you sometimes apologize for things that were no big deal?”

“Yeah, that’s because when you hold your baby, you want her life to be perfectly healthy in every way – physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally.  When I first held you, I resolved to do my best to give you a happy, healthy, gentle childhood, to do everything right. Now, when I look back, I realize that I could have done some things better. And when I think of those things, I apologize.”

As an aside, I’ll share one of my regrets right now, for the benefit of those who are still rearing their children:

I wish I had given her chores.

Looking back, I realize that doing chores gives a child a sense of competence. It builds a belief that they have something to contribute.

I didn’t give my daughter chores because, as a single mom, it was quicker and easier to just do it myself. I didn’t give her chores because she was always playing so nicely and quietly in her room and I didn’t want to disturb her creativity.

But now I regret not giving her the opportunity to feel like she had something to contribute, not allowing her to build an early sense of competence, and of being a needed part of the team.

So when we are driving along in the car and my thoughts go there, I apologize.

And she always replies, “But I am competent. And when I lived on my own I knew how to clean my apartment and my house.”

“I know,” I say.

It’s not the skills she is missing. She doesn’t appear to be missing anything, but I still believe there is something to be gained by doing chores as a child, and I wish it had occurred to me then.

Yesterday morning, as my daughter was unloading the dishwasher, we continued our discussion from the night before.

“I guess it comes down to this,” I concluded, ‘the difference between a good mom and a bad mom is not in the mistakes we make, it’s in how we handle them. When you love someone, their feelings are more important to you than saving your own face. So you apologize.”

It’s just too much of a double whammy to be deeply hurt, and then to have the person who hurt you deny it happened – or minimize it – making it abundantly clear that they love their reputation, their pride, their fantasy of who they are way more than they love you.

Love covers a multitude of mistakes.

pumpkin

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Jesus, life

Six

If I were six again, I’d spend a perfect Indian Summer Day in the Son.

I’d stand in the center of the swing set gondola and pump it really high and sing at the top of my lungs.  I’d sing to the sun, and I’d sing to the Son.  It doesn’t matter that I’m tone deaf, I’m six.

Then I’d go exploring.  I’d examine a caterpillar’s cocoon.  I’d run compass circles all over the neighborhood, the trees would be the spikes and I would be the pencil.

I’d run home just long enough to grab an apple, some cheese and some graham crackers and then run out again.  I’d sit on the gondola and eat, marveling at the way the air cools and the sky dims slightly whenever a cloud slides in front of the sun.  And how quickly it brightens and warms the second the sun is revealed again.

I’d talk to God the whole time, asking Him questions – tons and tons of questions – and telling Him how much I love Him.

In the late afternoon, I’d come home and take a nap on the living room floor, right in the center of a sunbeam.  I’d wake to the aroma of onions sautéing in butter and I’d stand next to the stove to watch my mom cook, unaware that I was passively picking up skills.  I’d ask her tons of questions and babble about my day.

Then I’d sit down to supper – something comforting like goulash.  My dad would talk about his day and I would smile, wolf down my food and sprint across two backyards to my best friend’s house.  We’d lay in her hammock and laugh.

At the end of the day I’d have a nice bath, put on some clean jammies, crawl into my trundle bed and fall asleep talking to Jesus.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Life’s a Candy Store.”

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life

Early Morning Magic

Early morning on Mackinac Island

Early morning on Mackinac Island

The early morning has always been a magical time for me.  It started in childhood.  Once a year my parents pulled my six sisters and me out of our beds at four a.m. and loaded us, still in our jammies, into the station wagon, seats folded down into a nest of pillows and blankets.

My sisters all went right back to sleep, but I was too excited.  I laid there, gazing out the window at the darkness and the occasional headlights, waiting for the sun to rise.

Sunrise meant a stop for breakfast, and wriggling into our clothes.  It was usually just after 6:00 a.m. and my dad had a couple of hours of driving under his belt.

Lunch was always eaten in the car – passed from a large bag filled with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or, in my case, butter and jelly sandwiches because I was the only child on the planet who did not like peanut butter (not counting all the kids who are allergic to it), cookies and plums.

Hotel rooms and restaurants could get pretty expensive for a family of nine, so my dad drove straight through.  Twenty hours from Detroit to Jacksonville.  A quick stop for a fast food dinner, and then tucked into bed at grandma’s house around midnight.

We rented a cabin up north for a week every summer, usually with our cousins.  Every morning, a half hour or so before 6:00 a.m, I would hear stirring in the kitchen.  My dad, uncle and two male cousins would be making sandwiches, filling thermoses, and eating a quick breakfast before heading out for early morning fishing.  I wasn’t allowed to go, it was just for the men, they said.  But they couldn’t stop me from peeking out from my bedroom door, watching and listening as they went about their preparations.  I’d follow them to the end of the dock, see them off and then go back to bed.  Yep, exciting things happen in the hazy up north morning just as the sun comes up.

As a kid I bolted out of bed and threw my clothes on as fast as I could at 6:00 am most Saturday mornings.  Because that is when my dad went for a walk.  He’d walk two to three miles to his favorite breakfast spot.   He was a regular there and people greeted him by name, with cheerful affection, and I was so proud of him for that.  He never woke me up to go with him, he never invited me to go with him, but, if I awoke to the sound of him getting ready and threw my clothes on before he could get out the door, he always let me tag along.  After breakfast we would take a fresh route home.  Even now my heart smiles remembering that early morning bonding with my dad.

It was at 6:00 a.m. that I headed to the hospital for one of life’s most magical adventures.  I had gone into labor at 11 p.m., just as I was getting ready for bed.  No sleep that night, just timing contractions and wondering when to go in.  When I finally arrived at the hospital that early morning, I was greeted with cheerful, open arms.   It had been a slow night in the maternity ward, “Come on in, bring your friends,” they said.

Many a magical vacation has commenced at 6:00 am – like the time my friend arrived at my condo, loaded my bike on the roof of his car and we headed to Vermont to ride our bikes all the way through the state, top to bottom.  I’ve mentioned that one before.

Sunrise on Lake Huron

Sunrise on Lake Huron

The Golden Hour

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Food, life

Fluent in Food & Love

The pastor’s sermon that day outlined The 5 Languages of Love by psychologist Gary Chapman.   On the way home from church I asked my then eight-year-old daughter which love language spoke most to her.  Without hesitation she replied “Acts of Service” and “Quality Time”.  I commented that I tend to mostly give Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch because those are the languages that I speak most naturally, but I wanted to remember to speak the languages that best float her boat.

An hour later she was up a tree at the opposite end of our courtyard.  I walked over and asked her if she was ready for lunch.  She started to climb down but I stopped her and said, “Stay there, I’ll bring it to you.”  She jumped down anyway to give me a hug saying,  “You remembered, mom, Acts of Service,” and then she scrambled back to her perch.  As I was walking away she called, “Thanks, mom!” Then she yelled, “Mom, that was a Word of Affirmation, you know, saying thanks.”  I took a few more steps and she called out again, “And, mom, that hug was Physical Touch.”

I came back a few minutes later with a picnic basket.  Her face lit up as she chirped, “You made a whole picnic!  I thought you were just going to bring me a sandwich!”  She pulled out her lunch and then asked, “What’s this?”  I told her I was going to join her.  She patted a branch, smiled and said, “Have a seat.”   After a few bites she asked, “Mom, do you realize that this is Quality Time?”

Later I remembered an assignment she had when she was in kindergarten.  She was to complete the sentence “My mom loves me because…” She had written “because she makes crazy bread with cream cheese for me and plays Hands Down with me.”  I commented that Acts of Service and Quality Time were her love languages even back then.

For the rest of that afternoon and evening she gave me a big smile whenever she saw me.  Right before bed she had a big grin on her face.  I discovered why when I went in to brush my teeth.  On the bathroom mirror was a large soap heart with “Love Ya” written in it.  Life doesn’t get any better than that.

An hour ago I was outside checking on my garlic, which, I am thrilled to report, is growing taller by the day.  The hub came out and exclaimed, “It sure is a beautiful day!”  Being fluent in his love language, I immediately translated it to, “Mind if I go fishing?”

So when I said, “Why don’t you go fishing?”  His face lit up.

Fishing hub.001

He’s been working hard every weekend remodeling our second level.  He’s painted walls and ceilings, replaced moldings, installed hardwoods floors throughout, put shelves in my closet, etc.  His goal today was to get his office and our bedroom put back together.  So he will no longer have to sleep on the family room sofa and I will no longer have to sleep on the living room sofa.  The spare room can wait. He spent all morning moving our desks back into the office, setting the computer back up, etc.

“We can finish the rooms tomorrow after church,”  I said.  “It is supposed to rain tomorrow and the temperature is going to drop back into the 50’s for several days.  Go enjoy sunny and 70 while it lasts.  But first you have to have lunch.”

While he brought his fishing gear up from the basement for the first time since October, I threw fresh basil leaves, walnuts, a few sun-dried tomatoes and a two cloves of garlic into the oskar and gave them a whirl.  Then I added some parm, basil olive oil, salt and pepper and blended it to bits, which I tossed with the leftover gemelli I had in the fridge.  Plum Market had some nice parmigiano reggiano on sale last week so I bought two big hunks.  It’s been all parm all the time ever since.  Lunch prepared in ten minutes flat.

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“This is pretty good,” said the hub as he scooped the last bit from the pan onto his plate.  “It’s the best pasta you’ve ever made.”

That’s what he said last time.  And the time before that.

Wanna’ talk love to the hub?  You really only need two words: fishing and food.

Think I’ll go trim the raspberry bushes and soak up a little vitamin D myself.

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