Winter Ends (I Promise)

Okay, okay, so this post popped up on my Facebook feed as a memory from 5 years ago. No I didn’t scour my site for a good one to re-post this week, it just fell into my lap and I took it as a sign. That I didn’t have to do anything. 🙂 And also that maybe this was a great time for this reminder.

This year’s a little different, at least here in Kansas. Easter brought snow and sleet and, therefore, an indoor egg hunt. The signs of life and warmth that usually serve as hiding places for eggs in our yard – the tulips, the daffodils, the green stems of day lilies not yet in bloom – were coated in ice rather than sunshine. Boo. Not my idea of the hope that Easter and spring usually provide.

But the sermon I heard at church spoke to this very tension. The waiting. The taut pull of a rope just before it snaps. The hebrew words that we translate to “hope” in English which mean so much more than “Gee, I sure hope we eat spaghetti for dinner.”

So I still wait. For warmer temperatures and the grass seed in my yard of mud to sprout. This essay was a good reminder of what I have to look forward to. The beautiful things to come…

Winter Ends

Now Is Now (Again)

 

This is from just over a year ago. In honor of summer – the extra hours of daylight, the time to really pay attention, the abundance of sweet memories made – here’s an oldie but a goodie. Happy summer, everyone!

Plumb » Now Is Now.

Update

As an update to my last post: it did not go well.

I’d love to say that I rocked being quiet and loving my kids with actions and deep eye-gazing, but not so. It seems I like talking, and rely on it, more than I even understood. In fact, it felt inauthentic to zip it – to me and to my kids. In my attempts to communicate without speaking I succeeded in making my 12 year old squirm away and my five year old cry. Lily, my 9 year old  daughter who loves a snuggle more than anything, didn’t mind. Any attention I give her is accepted with such gladness of heart that she could clearly use more. But sweet little Mae was fully creeped out.

It could have been poor timing: on a Saturday morning as I lay in bed, she burst into my room to lament over her missing book mark. The sadness seemed overly intense; she was clearly not in a good place. And I chose that instant to fit in some face time.

I tried to force a special moment instead of simply listening to my kid. Understandably, it felt weird. Mommy is suddenly staring at me. Why is she touching my face? I just want to know where my book mark went. And the tears flowed.

Luke, my oldest, my pre-teen, my boy, also loves a hug anytime of day. But staring into his sea-blue eyes is a different story. What? What? What the heck? Which makes sense. In the middle of the day, Mom stops and stares and doesn’t say a word. Something is up. She usually (like all her children) can’t stop talking. I must be in trouble.

So, some takeaways…

1. Stare into Lily’s eyes and give her a smooch several times a day. It makes her feel loved and she can’t get enough.

2. Luke and Mae don’t need that as much, but they need it. At bedtime, when it feels more normal to snuggle and be face to face is a great time for quiet and to just be with them. That makes sense, to everyone. Not awkwardly in the middle of the day. That doesn’t.

3. I like to talk and that’s ok. My kids are used to me blabbing, and not talking feels cold and distant. Like I’m mad. So I’ll just be myself and jabber away.

All good things to know.

My hypothesis was wrong. Silent communication isn’t always better; sometimes it’s creepy. That’s what makes the organic moments of quiet and the bedtime tracing of the face mean something. I can love them the way I love them naturally, with a little added on for my snuggly middle child. It’s not as complicated as I thought.

I’m so glad I figured that out.

It’s Like I Love Them or Something

I woke in the middle of the night with an image from the movie Captain Fantastic in my head. In one scene, Viggo Mortensen (who was nominated for a best actor Oscar) looks at his son through the rear view mirror of their live-in bus. His son has just shaved off his long brown locks, and Mortensen’s character has just shaved his beard. Both were done as an outward sign of an internal change of direction: a tangible demonstration of their respective rites of passage. Father sees son, a look of acknowledgment crosses his face – a look of respect for his son’s this-is-me statement. He runs his hand across his head. The son looks back, slight smile, head tilted up, and runs his hand across his jaw. I think it’s my favorite moment in the film (of which there are many to choose). It communicates a paragraph’s worth of words in two motions and one long look.

I love words. I like to read them, say them, hear them, even invent them sometimes. I talk A LOT, and I write, and I read my writing aloud before I post it. I even talk to our bunny to have an excuse to say words out loud when no humans are available to listen. But I think often the most significant form of communication is silence. Either for good or for evil.

When my husband gave me the silent treatment early on in our marriage, it hurt more than nasty words ever could.

When I have moved past angry to brooding-quiet, my kids know it’s serious.

When I catch my husband looking at me from across the room, I carry that look in my heart all day.

When my kids get my total eyeball attention and a grin, they feel loved more than if I spew a slew of complements. And they carry it with them, too.

And so. I’m going to try an experiment. I’m going to try (try, I say) to be a little quieter this week. I’m going to attempt some face time with each child, and with my husband. Because A. it can’t be done in passing, which means connection, and B. it will stick like glue. I’m going to sit down with my son and look in his green-blue eyes and smile. It will be weird – he will get to fully indulge the adolescent mantra that parents are insane. I’m going to touch his pre-facial-hair-face and hold it in my hands. The same for my middle-child brown-eyed girl and my not-so-tiny-anymore blue-eyed beauty. I’m going to say “I adore you” with my eyes, with my hands. And with my flared nostrils, because Mae will love that. For my husband, well, that’s private. I won’t go into that here. But I won’t be jabbering, that’s for certain.

I’m sure the creators of Captain Fantastic didn’t predict that some mom in Kansas would take that tiny slice of their film and be moved to action. That’s what art does, though. Good art, anyway. It moves people – to consider, or re-consider, to realize, to feel, to act. That one scene went a long way. I’ll let you know how the experiment goes. I predict eye-rolling, giggling, and maybe a request to play video games. But my hope is for connection. To stop and look long enough that words aren’t necessary.

Me. Giving up words.

It’s like I love them or something

 

Thanksgiving Do-Over

This Thanksgiving I forgot to be thankful. I spent a lot of time cooking, prepping the table, planning logistics of when to put the rolls in the oven, take them out, and warm rest of the food before the rolls cooled. Hosting family and friends on Thanksgiving day, more than a typical get-together, is a hit-the-ground-running affair. But since I didn’t schedule actually pondering my own, and our communal, thankfulness, it didn’t happen. I forgot, and it made me sad.

Two years ago when we hosted Thanksgiving, I made an effort to recognize what exactly we were celebrating. Of pointing everyone’s attention toward gratitude and of listening to each person’s thankful heart. It was memorable. It was bonding. It was what Thanksgiving should be. This year I failed as the ring-leader of gratitude. I made some rockin’ brussels sprouts (yes, that’s possible) but I didn’t host the bigger idea of the occasion, which I think is even more important.

I’m certainly not saying I was actually in charge of others’ thankfulness or lack thereof. And I’m not saying anyone else at the table failed to spend time reflecting personally on their many blessings. But in my experience Thanksgiving tends to be more about food than about a celebration of bounty itself, and I’d like to change that when we’re celebrating in our home. I want to make it about stopping for a moment and truly considering the depth of goodness that surrounds us. As a group. I want my kids to absorb the overflow of thankful hearts and let it color their view of the world, to combat some of the yuck they face in the same world each day. And it was likely more important to do so this year than any in recent memory. Bummer.

I dropped my kids off with my in-laws the weekend before Thanksgiving, and on my drive home through the darkening Flint Hills I listened to a podcast. Krista Tippett from On Being interviewed Irish poet Michael Longley and focused on his penchant for writing beautifully about normal, regular things. His “quiet insistence on celebrating normalcy.” In one significant part of the interview he pointed to the Holocaust as an example of this type of gratitude. “In that kind of nightmare what kept people sane was thinking of the ordinary things back home. And what made things slightly less nightmarish would be securing a toothbrush…”

In contrast to all I have to be thankful for, no matter what is happening in the greater world, this stark reminder of what thankfulness can be whiddled down to was poignant. It seemed an appropriate train of thought before the holiday arrived. I thought about it then, even including the pleasure of listening to Michael Longley reading his own poetry among the list of small but significant delights in a time of disheartenment. But I forgot to think about it on actual Thanksgiving. Not that there’s some sort of magic in being thankful on a particular, set-aside day. And yes, thanksgiving should be an ongoing attitude of the heart. I just wish I would have brought this up on that day, to have createa more memorable occasion. A ceremony of thankfulness, almost.

We still had a lovely time. We somehow avoided discussion of the current political climate (and the younger set of us gained some welcome perspective about an even more contentious period of our nation’s history – the 1960s). It wasn’t void of warmth and kindness and community. I simply wish I would have marked the occasion more clearly. But wallowing gets me nowhere. I’m going to forgive my slip-up and keep this in mind for our next round of hosting. Often our mistakes are what teach us best, and this has shown me that I want to make that which we celebrate on the holiday more central than the way we celebrate it. I still want to eat yummy molasses and oat dinner rolls, but they shouldn’t be the biggest take-away (though the caloric take away from those rolls is pretty great). Forgiven, but not forgotten. Next time. And for this year, better late than never, a list of simple things I don’t want to take for granted…

my comfy bed

green tea

a warm scone

heat and air conditioning

a car that works

wool socks

birds singing

peanut butter

vitamin D

cilantro

a washer and dryer in my house

the sound of Luke playing the piano

the view from my bedroom window

podcasts and long drives through the Flint Hills

 

Feel free to list of a few small-but-significant things you appreciate.

Happy Thanksgiving do-over.

 

Layover

I’m sitting in the Denver airport waiting for a flight. On the very edge of this particular terminal, before an entire wall of windows. Looking out into a view of clouds and an expanse of plains. Cars inch along a road in the distance, tiny against the slice of land and the broad swath of sky. Airplanes taxi across runways to my left and right, as if in slow motion. It’s growing dark, the sun easing its way down in the west, the east getting sleepy.

My flight is not for another hour and only a few passengers have made their way to the gate. It is quiet, save the intermittent instructions over the intercom -the quietest experience I’ve had in an airport for years. I’m thankful for this calm descent of day. I’ve had time to sit and think and look out of large windows – one of my favorite past times.

I watched a bunny hop through a construction area and find a home for the night beneath a stack of green fencing. Dozens of workmen labored on the pavement to it’s left, hundreds of passengers, pilots and airport employees walked these terminal halls, and no one saw it but me. This was my experience alone. Insignificant to the world, but significant to myself. The way I love to watch a single cardinal pecking it’s way across my yard. Or a bee visiting each flower in a patch of liriope blooms. Quietly witnessing something so tiny happening at the same time that wars and Wall Street and LA traffic rage on. It’s centering and humbling and enormously pleasant.

I need this. When I moved to Los Angeles at the age of 23 I couldn’t find room to think. Just think. For years. I lost the ability to stop and have some thoughts that weren’t particularly industrious. I didn’t know that was a thing one could need. Thought I was silly to expect such an extravagancy in the bustling, busy world. But I’ve learned that I do, in fact, need quiet reflection for my sanity. And I would argue everyone does. At least it couldn’t hurt. Blame it on my pensive tendencies, or my writer’s heart. Or my humanity. But the bunny and the sky and the yellow plains outside these windows have been like medicine to me this evening. I thought my layover was too long. But it has turned out to be just right.

 

Now Is Now

We were both silent for close to a minute. It was the best end to a book I’ve read in a long time and the final words hung in the air. I could taste them. The wisdom they quietly espoused. And I’ve been chewing on them ever since.

 ***

Being present is very popular these days. The phrase has almost become a cliche – something we modern day humans have latched onto as the thing that will solve our problems. Just be present, living in the moment instead of thinking about the past or looking to the future, and all will be well. We will be centered. We will find rest. We can move forward in peace.

I agree with all of this.

Being present is one of the archive categories on this blog, and that category holds the most posts of any other.

But.

I also find value in considering the past and in contemplating the future. Since they are both part of our experience, they both matter. I learn from my past mistakes and successes by pondering them from time to time. I enjoy the promise of hope by wondering at the future. If I don’t dwell in either place only, looking both back and ahead helps balance things. It cannot be all about now all the time. If so, we would learn nothing and would make choices despite the consequences. This is why we develop a prefrontal cortex. Let’s embrace it.

But, again.

Now is now, and that’s good, too.

Sometimes, sitting still in the moment and paying attention is just what’s needed. For me, it’s needed quite often since life is so hectic and busy. Enjoying the now is an art-form I’m trying to refine.

But, contrary to popular belief, being present is not a new concept. Here are several quotes from decades and centuries past, addressing this exact idea…

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” -Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I do not want to foresee the future. I am concerned with taking care of the present. God has given me no control over the moment following.  -Mahatma Gandhi

Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.  – Mother Teresa

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.  – Psalm 118:24, ESV

True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.  – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live.  – Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 from The Message

But here’s my new favorite – the last bit of the book Lily and I finished, Little House in the Big Woods, from 1939

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?” “They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.” But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the fire-light gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting. She thought to herself, “This is now.” She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.

Now is now and I should try to pay attention. Or I might miss a moment like this. Or like hearing my youngest child breathe her sweet, little-girl breath on my cheek when we’re playing doctor. Or the moment of all my children, and their friends, yelling and singing and running and screaming through the house because they are happy. Or the soft pattering of rain on our skylight when Marc and I have finally fallen in bed after a long, hard day – the house is quiet, no one is asking a question I must field – there’s only my soft bed, my husband’s chest rising and falling beside me, and rain.

There’s a time for everything, including thinking about the past and the future. But now is now. It isn’t before, isn’t later; it’s happening. And I should try to be where life is happening as much as I can. No pressure. No this-is-the-answer-to-everything. Just Here we are. On the top bunk, amongst 27 stuffed animals and my middle child who doesn’t know better than to be totally present, listening to every word.

What Our Souls Absorb

I recently worked on a timeline for our elementary school’s 100th anniversary celebration, sifting through old photos, searching online for newspaper articles, discovering historic treasures at the university’s research library. It was a lot of work, but fascinating and enlightening and worth the effort, if only to learn about one particular man who has enriched my view of the world – the namesake of our school. He died in 1904, but the impact he had on our community and on countless personal lives is inspiring and incredible. His story is worth sharing. His legacy is worth expanding.

Bear with me, here.  A bit of historical background. Just make it through the next paragraph and we’ll get to the good stuff:

Richard Cordley was born in England in 1829 but came to America at the age of four and settled in Michigan. He grew up in a log cabin, went to the school his father started when he was nine, lost an eye at the age of 10 in an accident involving an ox’s horn (pioneers were no wusses). He attended college and seminary and eventually came to Lawrence, Kansas as an abolitionist preacher in 1857, with the distinct purpose of opposing slavery in a territory still undecided on the issue. In fact, he and his wife harbored a fugitive slave escaping to Canada on the underground railroad. In 1863, a man named William Quantrill rode into town with a group of pro-slavery Missourians, killing 20% of the male population and burning the majority of the town. (Hence, Kansas’s deep-seeded grudge against Missouri, particularly in sporting events. No joke.) As an abolitionist, Richard Cordley was marked as a target in Quantrill’s raid but avoided death by escaping across the river. He went on to serve as the school board president, helped found Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, wrote two books on the history of our state, and served as pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church for nearly 40 years.

Whew. Thanks for sticking with me.

So, Richard Cordley did some stuff while he was alive. He made significant contributions to society. He was a prominent local figure in the community. But in the end, that’s not what struck me; his accomplishments weren’t his greatest feat. Here’s a quote I came across about Cordley’s true impact on the world:

“The greatest thing about Dr. Cordley was himself. The beauty of his character was reflected everywhere…(He)helped all who heard him speak because he spoke from his heart…He believed in men and loved them…”

–  Dr. William L. Burdick, former dean of Kansas University Law School and a member of Plymouth Congregational Church

It’s hard to imagine a more lovely description of a person’s years on earth. His life was the greatest thing about his life. His love of people. The way he helped others. The beauty of his character. In reading through his sermons I found him to be a fabulous writer. He should be famous. But, aside from the blessing people would receive by reading his work, I doubt he would care to be well-known outside of our small town. He was humble, he was kind, he was love-in-action personified. I feel as though I discovered a hidden treasure in learning about Richard Cordley. His helpful hand and the beauty of his character have reached all the way through history to me, over a century after he died. I’m so thankful to know him in some small way. And I’m proud to have my children’s school named after such a man.

Now to pass on the treasure I found. Here’s an excerpt from a sermon he wrote about pondering the end of another year (don’t know which, but the book of sermons was published in 1912) titled The Days of our Years. I used pieces of it to highlight the historical timeline I made for the school celebration – it seemed appropriate. It seems equally appropriate in remembering Dr. Cordley’s life itself, and in considering how I want to spend my own…

The “Days of Our Years” have passed very gently. They made no sound as they went by, but they changed the face of all the things they touched. They fell like snowflakes, silent and soft, but like the snowflakes they change the face of all the earth. Every year gives another touch, and before we note what is going on, the whole scene is changed. Time moves on without a sound, building up the limbs of childhood, strengthening the arms of manhood, and fulfilling the counsels of manhood. So quietly have they borne us along that we were hardly aware of the moving, yet here we are looking back over the long line of our journey. As we note the shifting scene it seems almost like a dream…Few as the days of our years have been, what marvelous transformations they have wrought. They seemed trifles to those who looked on, but they meant everything to those involved. The days of our years have flitted by like shadows on the hillside. Joy and sorrow, light and darkness, have chased each other across our sky. We have had reason ‘To bless the favoring gale’ when we have sailed through unruffled seas; and we have waited for light ‘In the midnight of the soul.’ Yet the days of our years have left something with us as they flitted by. They passed 

‘Like snowflakes on the river,

A moment white, then gone forever.’

But even the snowflakes increase the volume of the stream. They days of our years are gone before we know they are here, but they add to the volume of our life. They leave with us what our souls absorb, and we shall be in the coming days what our past has made us. We may accumulate wisdom and knowledge and character, and be enriched in life or we may let it all flow by us while we remain paupers in our spirits…Everything is the richer for what it has passed through.

Richard Cordley knew his days mattered. That time passed without notice if one didn’t stop and look sometimes. This sermon was a moment of looking back to look ahead. Of plumbing the depths and noticing what the soul had absorbed. I write for the very same reason and feel connected to this man from so long ago. May the days of my years be half the blessing of his.

 

A Mental Kick in the Pants

While looking at girls underwear at Target on Wednesday I saw something that stopped me in the aisle. A woman was walking with an older woman.  A mother and daughter it appeared. They were doing laps on the perimeter of the store, a favorite pastime for many people of older age: no obstacles for slower reflexes to work around. No issues with temperature and humidity. A seasonless, safe space to get legs moving. I’ve seen this often before, and I must say I’ve never thought it looked fun. But on this day, something was different. The two women were holding hands.

They walked and talked. And held hands all the way around. I watched for them as they lapped me in my hunt for girls soccer shorts, and I thought “That’s just about the sweetest thing I’ve seen all week.” They both seemed calm and content. The younger woman (fifties, maybe) didn’t seem anxious to leave and get on with the good part of her day; the older woman (70s or 80s) seemed glad, but not desperate, for her company. Maybe the younger woman held hands to offer balance to the older, maybe it was just a tangible form of connection, of expressing “I want to be here with you.” In either case, it was lovely. And I stopped and stood and watched for a long moment. It was instant, the smack-in-the-face beauty of the image. I wanted to take a picture, but that seemed weird. So I took one mentally and locked it away for safe keeping.

I happened to watch an AARP video on Facebook today – a friend had linked to it and it sparked my interest. When I clicked and watched, it sparked more: inspiration about living life until it’s gone. About the value of age, the worth of older people in our society, the importance of connection.

I fear old age, to be honest. Of becoming irrelevant to people, of the breakdown of my body and mind, of watching life go by without being able to participate in any meaningful way. But this video reminded me that “old” is more about your mindset. The body and mind might slow, but we can do some things to lessen those effects: eat well, stay limber, learn new things, and most of all, decide to remain in the mix. A 75-year-old man named George in the video summed it up: “When people start stopping, that’s when they start getting old.” I want to keep going. Even if it has to be in the climate controlled, sidewalk-crack-free aisles of Target. And if someone will love me enough to hold my hand while I’m going slowly, so much the better.

So much.

That daughter, in her calm, relaxed “I’m totally here” way was loving the heck out of the older woman.

Oh, that I would do that for someone, and that someone would do that for me someday.

Note-to-self taken. I’m keeping that image close to heart, and I’m putting George’s quote on a sticky note in my kitchen. A reminder to never start stopping; a kick in the pants to keep on going.

I need a kick in the mental pants sometimes.

 

The AARP video, for your entertainment and inspiration:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYdNjrUs4NM