Thursday, January 25

Proverbs 3

Do not withhold good from those who deserve it,
when it is in your power to act.
Proverbs 3
A typical school day is underway, our kitchen table piled high with books and stacks of paper, the boys all slouched in various poses of disinterest and longsuffering. The oldest has a strand of chewing gum wound tightly around his forefinger. The middle guy has worry lines carved deep into his forehead (he's silently praying that there will be no Math today). The youngest has mentally left the building; eyes glossy and head planted resignedly on top of his binder, he's not even feigning awareness.
"Time for Bible memory review," I chirp, affecting as much enthusiasm as I can muster. At least one of us needs to be perky, right?
They haul themselves upright and struggle to focus. They chant the first 26 verses of Proverbs 3, gradually coming to life as funny voices come into play, pacing starts, and boyish rowdiness takes over. This is more fun than we remembered.
We're ready to add a new set of verses to our list. We read the first bit out loud: "Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act."
"What does this verse mean, guys?"
Their answer comes quickly and, instantly, my lifetime of self-righteous judgement is challenged.
"What does it mean to 'not withhold good from those who deserve it'?"
Tripping over each other in their rush to be the first to answer, all three explain that it means to do good to everyone. I'm surprised by that answer. I challenge, "But it only says to do good to those who are deserving..."
"That's everybody, Mom. None of us is more deserving than another. Everyone should have a chance to have good things happen to them. Even if they've done something nasty before, we could give them another chance."
A simple answer; another turning point in my Christian-culture thinking. I've read that Bible verse dozens of times. Dozens. And each time came away frustrated because it didn't give criteria for "those who deserve it." And each time feeling I fell short of being deserving myself.
I'm going to simplify how I attempt to express Jesus to my little world; I'm going to try to do good, when it's in my power, without withholding. I'll set aside the measuring stick and the list of do's and don'ts that make a person deserving of goodness in my own eyes. Because, like my sons are teaching me, everyone should have a chance to experience kindness.

Tuesday, January 16

Gramma's Coat

telling tales
of icy rural winters

hem line brushing wind-blown knees
sleeves dangling below mittened fingertips
parka hood encompassing watchful eyes
straining ears
in a solitary winter world

a perfect shield
warding off chill winds

a reminder
of generations come
and gone
of harder times
simpler times

a secret keeper
holding fast
untold joys
tight-lipped sorrow
her mysteries

a sheltering rebuke
where you came from
and all
who came before

weighty warmth
settling on uncertain shoulders
challenging me to face the cold of winter

Sunday, January 14

In unison, a dozen white and graying heads turn to stare as I make my way through the entryway and past the , DID YOU REMEMBER TO DISINFECT? signage plastered to the wheelchair accessable front door. I approach a comfortable communal lounging area to greet residents with whom I am already acquainted.

May is there, scowling and...well...trapped. Until recently she was the life of the party, the one in charge; fiercely independant and known for her vibrant humor. And then came the stroke. It stole her muscle control and part of her mind ~~ the part that decides social correctness and politeness are virtues. She is an angry woman now, and openly impatient with everyone around her.

She scares me half to death, but I make brief conversation with her, wishing I knew what to say to ease her mind. I blather something inane about the book she is reading and promise to bring her something new when I next visit. I make an awkward escape.

A quick run up the stairs to Gramma's floor takes me past huge picture windows revealing vast prairie scapes. The building is full of light. Works of art grace sky-blue and earth-toned walls. Book shelves are stocked, the pool table stands ready for play (although I've never seen it's cover off), and big screen t.v's (the envy of my sons!) sit ready to entertain.

The apartments in this central Alberta, small town lodge are welcoming and warm. Brightened by more large windows and roomy enough to show the personality of their owners, they offer comfort and ease.This is a place of security, care, and potential companionship to a group of aging rural Albertan's.

But Gramma is lonely there.

A similar scene presents itself further north, in another prairie town. My other Gran is also finding it difficult to settle into friendships with the residents at her facility. Lively and funny with tales to tell, she feels shy about connecting with her fellow lodge dwellers.

The trouble, they tell me, is the gossip. My breath catches in my chest when they tell me that; I realize anew that living long does not ensure strengthening of character or removal of bad habits. I have long wondered why women have such difficulty in cheering each other on; why we expend so much heart and thought on attempting to best one another instead of energetically supporting each other.

As an outsider, sitting amongst those beautiful, wizened, seasoned women, I see freedom ~~ opportunity for unfettered community. The gift of time allows them hours for conversation and play and mental engagement. Their bodies may be failing them, but their spirit and wit are as strong as the well-worn story tapestries that they each carry.

Gazing at those aging faces I commit myself to treasuring women. I challenge myself to leave off criticizing and judging and thinking ill of the female part of God's masterful creation. I even threaten a little, "Either get this thinking on the right track now, or resign yourself to some very lonely final years."

My grandmothers are going to be just fine in their respective homes. They're frustrated right now (Gramma says, "I'm old! I've been entertaining my whole life! I don't want to do it anymore!" But I see that mischief gleam in her eye. She's loving this challenge!), but I just know that they're going to take first steps, determined steps, toward some of those gals, extending offers of sweet friendship and loving companionship.

It's what we're here for, after all.

What do we live for if not to make the world less difficult for each other.
~George Eliot~

Gotta' Have It

"A big screen T.V.! We need one Dad! Can we get a big screen T.V.?"

My hubby and I are on our way out the door to make a huge purchase. The washer and dryer have been showing signs of...well...not washing or drying, and we're going to go sell our souls to SEARS for a replacement set.

I have to admit: I know exactly what I want and why I want it. I have, in fact, pursuaded myself that I need a particular brand and style. Hubby agrees with me (because really, what choice does he have? Poor guy!) and today's the day we're going to sign our name to a piece of paper that says we owe Whirlpool a lot of money.

We head out to the van with our boys' half-joking request ringing in our ears: "Don't forget to bring home a BIG T.V.!"

We negotiate a washer/dryer price with a fantastic department store sales gal who happens to catch Bob eyeing the televisions. "Want to take a closer look?" she asks, innocently. We look. We want. We consider. And then my wise husband, despite the strong temptation to just lump the cost onto our already staggering bill, says we'll look into doing it another time.

In the moments that we were standing in front of those monstrous screens, we both felt like it would be a logical, even necessary, purchase. The voice in our heads said, "The kids would love this. We can pay it off. Our t.v. is, after all, pretty old and it'll die eventually."

And that gets my attention. Isn't it just a little freaky how clear ~~ how convincing ~~ that voice is in our everyday? Over the Christmas holiday this year, out of the cool, wild blue the voice said, "Ya' know. This house is really too small for my family. We should consider something a little bigger/brighter/cleaner/safer." I let that roll around in my thinker for a couple of weeks before giving myself a mental potch and a stern, "Good grief! What are you thinking about woman?!"

That voice is a sneaky thief of contentment. Satisfaction is always dependent on a nicer toaster oven or coffee maker, a more efficient vehicle, a clearer picture, a sharper sound, different clothes. Our response to the voice is disproportionate to our need.

We are ridiculously rich. Ridiculously. We have shelter, vehicles, clothing, and daily food. And we want more. I want more.

Greed will taunt me with all sorts of need-filled adjectives and good arguments about why I really must have the thing I have set my sights on. Greed is sneaky and pursuasive, but I'm on to him. I have enough. I have more than enough. I have extra ~~ enough to live, enough to share.

Bob and the boys are gaming on our old t.v. right now. They don't seem to be suffering too much eye strain and I don't see smoke coming out of the machine anywhere. I'll assume that it's good enough for the present.

But I could really use a new computer...and hardwood floors...and possibly a Blackberry...and definitely some new book shelves...

Thursday, January 11

A Strip of Plastic

Relief! I grip the thin, flexible plastic of my tape measure and with a bemused glance at the fog covered bathroom mirror, breath a sigh of relief. That narrow band of notches and markings has become an important part of my everyday, and today it tells me that, although I feel pudgy and awkward and stuck, I'm still on track.

Nine months ago I started a get-healthy project; minus 63 pounds later, that tape measure is critical to the success of this venture.

Just below my shrinking surface is an insatiable, storming, cranky, 200 pound woman. She hollers for release and demands to be fed. A lot. Often. She convinces me, almost daily, that I haven't accomplished anything this past year ~~ that my health is unchanged and that my body is still grossly overweight and unsightly.

But the tape measure tells another tale entirely. It shows me, faithfully, that despite what I feel, the numbers have changed, are changing. My physicality is different. I have lost excess weight. I am getting healthier. On days when I feel like a 200 lb slug, the measurements tell me that my hard work is serving me well and that success is within reach.

I can attribute the same merit to God's Word as I do to that plastic strip. On days when I wrestle with purpose, faith, hope, love, I trust the language of God over my own feelings and experiences.

My experience tells me that I will always be overweight (and picked-on for it). I will always be plain and dull and unattractive. The tape measure says that step-by-step I'm changing into someone healthy and strong; someone vibrant.

My feelings and experience may tell me that I'm lost, faithless, hopeless, unsuccessful, but the poetry and written guidance of God tell a different story: I am chosen, full of belief and hope, successful in eternal things.

A strip of plastic to override misguided thinking about my body. A well worn book to overrule misguided thoughts about my soul. And learning to trust them both.

Tuesday, January 9

If you would convince a man
that he does wrong,
do right.
Men will believe what they see.
Let them see.
~ Henry David Thoreau ~

Sunday, January 7

Deut. 30

sheltering here
in silence
soft rebuke
merciful correction

time to end withholding
put meanness

settle in
to the growing place
the giving place
the loving place

dark accusations
smothering sorrow
choaking judgement
sightless confusion

agree with
the peaceful One
the Warrior
the Maker

it is not too difficult
for you
not beyond your reach
not heaven-bound
not drowned in sea depths

it is near
very near
in your mouth
in your heart
step by step

set before
life and prosperity

live in
the growing place
the giving place
the loving place

Thursday, January 4

Mouse Tracks

When the snow falls fresh and heavy in the farmer's field, hundreds of unseen mouse houses are blanketed in mounds of soggy white stuff.

A first walk after the new snow has graced unclean land is full of mouse track moments. Moments of wonder and surprise and laughter come quickly as the resourceful determination of tiny rodents shows itself over miles and miles of critter-filled country.

Those country mice have chosen their homes carefully ~~ surrounded by unharvested stalks of grain, they burrow in the rich earth and in mounds of fallen straw. When the snow (which must seem a great avalanche to such wee mammals) smothers their nests, they expertly carve an escape hatch, nickel-sized in circumference, so that they can make their way to tasty feasts.

Leading from these tiny holes are dozens of teeny mouse footprints. Sometimes, it appears, the mice leap their way across the snow, leaving behind the imprint of their perfect front paws and chubby, ash-gray bellies. Other routes are covered in four-paw markings shooting off in all directions and ending up at different holes two or three feet from where their journey began.

Every time I see a new patch of mouse-y endeavor, an involuntary, out-loud laugh rises in me. I'm surprised, every time, by delight. For those moments in the walk, every care lifts from my heart and my mind and I am enchanted by the vibrancy and determination of God's creation. I don't care about household chores or bills or the state of Christianity or politics or world hunger or my pudgy tummy. In that moment, I laugh at the humor of God and the way He shows Himself in minute ways.

I pray for mouse track moments for my friends: moments of unhindered delight and girl-like giggles. Stumbling-on-the-glory-of-God moments. Moments of wonder at the life that is thriving, pulsing, giving in so many small ways.