Archive for 2012

“Were there no God, we would be in this glorious world with grateful hearts:  and no one to thank.”

— Christina G. Rossetti

One of the imponderable questions of our existence is why.  Why do we exist?  What is the point in our being created?  When I was a little girl in Sunday School, I was taught that God created people so that we might worship him.  This sounded kind of egotistical to me, and I wondered what sort of deity, all full of himself, could be needy enough to create beings solely for the purpose of telling him how cool he is.  It seemed contradictory, and I couldn’t imagine why God would care whether I had a high opinion of him or not.  It still kind of makes me pause and consider it all sometimes; and the more I see of the amazing way the whole universe works together, the more I am in awe that I have been plunked down here to be a part of it.  Paradoxically, I think of the way it makes me feel small and humble at the same time I feel exalted and important — simply for being chosen to play my part.

Then I consider how we also are taught that we are created in the image of God; and that hits the pause button once again.   Here I am, living and breathing and walking and discovering and being, in the middle of an unfathomable universe that daily surprises me, delights me, and takes my breath away.  My heart swells with the fullness of the life we have been given, with no good reason.  I carry gratitude with me all the time.  It is the very core of my heart and the very cord that binds me to the Creator who saw fit to delight me with all he perceived as good.

We are approaching the Christmas season.  It is a season of gift-giving and a season of gift-receiving.  What if we were given everything we ever imagined we might need or want, but the gratitude had to stay tucked inside because our benefactor chose to remain anonymous?  How long would it be before our hearts would burst from trying to contain all the richness of the abundance that fills our lives?  And what would happen if the gift-giver never got to see how deeply his generosity touched the recipient?

What if we are created in the image of a benevolent and generous God who has gifted us with those same qualities.  Then we are talking about the sort of relationship that can carry us to unimaginable heights.  What if it is not about ego at all, but about sharing and appreciating and expressing and being a part of one another and of all the amazing things that make up the world where we live.  What if the simple fact is that the universe could not have been complete without us?  The greatest gift of all is the chance to be thankful and to express our gratitude to the one who made us in his own image.

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.”

— Ranier Maria Rilke

When I was in high school, a particularly demanding English teacher would preface each in-class essay writing experience with the admonition, “ATQ.”  ATQ – Answer The Question — good advice when taking a test and being asked to display what we know about the subject at hand.  In school, we are told, there are right answers and wrong answers.  It is pretty cut and dried.  Either we learned the correct answer, or we didn’t.  We will pass, or we will fail.

Life is more complicated than school; and although taking time to learn how to think and how to solve problems surely is helpful, we soon discover that life often offers few answers that are black and white, right and wrong.  Life is less about knowing answers and more about embracing questions.

When I was young and fresh out of school, I found it unsettling that there were so many questions that seemed to lack answers.  I wanted life to be neat and tidy and predictable and within my control.  I laugh now as I consider that I ever would have wished for such a lackluster and boring existence.  Can you imagine how dull our lives would be if they were made up of answers rather than questions?  It is the constant questioning that leads us ever onward toward being the best human beings we can possibly be.

Rilke continues:

Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.”

Don’t worry about knowing the answers.  Life is not a test, it is an unfolding experience.  The important thing is to know the questions, embrace the questions, love the questions, and live the questions.

“Trees are your best antiques.”

— Alexander Smith

I am an antique.  It’s true.  I believe that objects are considered to be antiques when they are fifty years old or more.  I guess I qualify; and the older I get the more rare my sort becomes.  And the older I become, the more I seem to relate to the trees.

My love affair with trees began when I was quite young — two, to be exact.  My parents had just purchased the house where I would spend my entire childhood, and the brand new lawn was muddy and bare.  My father came home from the tree nursery with three sycamores.  With three children in the family at the time, each of us was designated as the owner of a tree, and I helped plant mine on the slope in the front yard.  I don’t remember too much about the early days, but I imagine that I helped to water it and tend it until its roots grew strong and sturdy.  Before long, as sycamores will, it grew to be quite a good size.  The lowest branch seemed to know how tall its owner was; because as I grew older and taller, that branch was always just within my reach.  I would jump upward, grab on with both hands, and then hook a leg next to my left hand so that I could hoist myself up to a perch among the leaves.  There I would sit, dreaming the dreams of a girl growing up — just like her tree — in the small town world of the ’50s and ’60s.  When my babysitting funds accumulated, and I was twelve years old, I bought my first guitar.  I found the place where two limbs intersected and discovered that my instrument could sit there securely while I climbed up to join it.  Now I could make music in the shelter of the sycamore branches, anonymous music that could be heard but not seen by passersby.  I think my tree enjoyed having a song or two emit from its center, because it continued to grow at the same pace as the singer who now made it a performance hall.

I have long since moved from my home of origin.  I sometimes drive by and check to be sure that my botanical companion still stands tall in the yard.  And she does —  just as I have grown to stand tall in the place where I have put down my roots.  When I walk each morning through my favorite park, I visit each tree that grows along my path.  Some have been there only a short time, but some have stood in place since before the first settlers built their homes on our land.  When I no longer walk this earth, I think it would be lovely to let my spirit live on in a tree.  Will someone take care of that for me, please?  I would like to be an oak, because I love the way they stand tall above a sturdy base.  I love how they grow acorns for the squirrels, and I would like to think that little squirrel feet might tickle my limbs one day as I stand guard over the new walkers who might visit my home.  I will sprout with leaves to shade them in the summer, I will turn those leaves a fiery red when Fall is in the air.  And when my last leaf falls, I will lift my limbs toward the sky and welcome the sun as winter’s cold wind blows through my branches.

As I passed the oak in my park today, I stopped for a moment and practiced the pose — feet firmly rooted on Mother Earth, trunk strong and steady, and arms raised in a prayer of thanks for such a beautiful morning.  I look in the mirror and count my rings — the sixty-third is nearly finished now.  I am becoming a fine antique.  Another thirty years, and I may be ready to be a tree.

“The real meaning of enlightenment is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness.”

— Nikos Kazantzakis

I no longer have perfect eyesight.  My days of 20/20 vision are in the past, and bifocals create an acceptable alternative to the eyes of my youth.  I remember, when I was a kid, watching Superman on television.  Oh, how I wished that I could have x-ray vision like the man of steel!  My 20/20 eyes were simply not enough.  I craved some superpower that would allow me to see through things and discover what lay on the other side.

I am sorry to say that I never did achieve x-ray vision.  Such powers are the stuff that science fiction is made of; but science fiction is usually based on truth.  Suppose x-ray vision is the science fiction version of another ability to see.  Suppose that it is simply a metaphor for the ability to see to the heart of the matter and to discern things that are not immediately apparent to the naked eye — whether 20/20 or not.

Have you ever walked from a well-lit room to one with no artificial light?  What happens when you make such a transition?  Well, often what happens is that we walk into something that lies obscured by the darkness.  My shins have discovered many hidden objects that my eyes were not able to see in time to avoid a collision.  Usually, when such a bump occurs, it takes only a few minutes standing in the darkness before shapes begin to take form and I am able to adjust my seeing to a world with less illumination.

When I was a child who craved x-ray vision, I was kind of afraid of the dark.  My first reaction to finding myself in darkness was to close my eyes and at least own the darkness.  Usually, I would simply go to sleep until the light returned, not wanting to spend time worrying about the  unknown shapes that might lurk under cover of darkness.  As years passed, and my experiences with darkness accumulated, I began to understand that the cure for darkness was not to close my eyes but instead to open them wide and stare into the void.  As my ability to see in the dark improved, I began to discover that many things there were not frightening at all.  Instead, they were simply waiting to be illuminated.  It was my willingness to focus on the darkness that delivered the needed light.

We may not have the hope of ever developing x-ray vision, but we can work at shining light from our eyes.  Let the light in your soul find its way to your eyes.  Let it shine its love into the dark corners of your world.  Perhaps you will discover that you are a superhero — x-ray vision, or not.

“Stop the habit of wishful thinking and start the habit of thoughtful wishes.”

— Mary Martin

December is here!  For the Christians of the world, today is the beginning of the Advent Season.  If you look up the definition, you will discover that “advent” means the arrival or coming of an important person, event or thing.  Isn’t it funny how the Advent season occurs before Christmas — before the birth of the baby, before the tangible events that we relate in the Christmas story.  The advent, or coming, of anything apparently occurs before the arrival.  Apparently we can be involved in incredible life events long before they take place, but we must invest our energy in making those wishes come true.

There are two kinds of people in the world; and at different points in my own life, I have been one and the other.  There are people who make life happen and there are people who think that life happens to them.  The difference is the difference between wishful thinking and thoughtful wishing.

Wishful thinking crosses its fingers, squints its eyes, and hopes that something magical will take place that will make life smoother, easier, or more abundant.  Thoughtful wishing looks into the future with fiery eyes, visualizes the brightest and the best, and then invests its energy in helping good things to happen.

How will we spend our waiting this Advent season?  Will we engage in wishful thinking and wait for the world to be a peaceful place where all are cared for and everyone’s needs are met — and then go to sleep with a sigh of disappointment and a thought that says, “not in my lifetime?”  Or will we give thoughtful time to how such a dream could come true and then find small ways to contribute to the advent — the coming — of the dream that fills out heart?

Do you see hungry people and wish they were fed?  Feed the ones you can.  Do you see children who shiver with the coming of winter?  Clothe the ones you can.  Do you see another human soul who is lonely or grieving or without hope?  Offer comfort where you can.  Each small act, each tiny piece of the huge picture, brings us closer to the advent –the coming of a beautiful dream.

If the innkeeper had not offered his stable because it seemed inadequate, think of how the Christmas story might have changed.  We must lose the idea that being unable to do everything should keep us from doing something.  We must thoughtfully wish that whatever we contribute will bring us closer to the advent of something miraculous.  Do not cross your fingers and wish for magic.  Open your eyes, your heart, and your arms and perform small acts.  They are the stuff that miracles are made of.

Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot.  In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.”

— Oscar Wilde

Yesterday I talked about how Cheyenne has been teaching us to sail.  She sailed home last night on the resilience of childhood healing and got to sleep in her own bed.  Kids heal quickly — probably because they are carefree and wise enough to focus only on mending instead of worrying about other things or being distracted.  There are many lessons we can learn from the little ones, and one is to travel light.

Tomorrow will be the first day of December.  The Advent calendars are poised and ready for opening and the final countdown to Christmas has begun.  My desktop is littered with lists and my hallway holds shipping boxes with gifts that have been delivered in preparation for our holiday celebrations.  There are very real tasks to be performed at this time of year, and it seems that each time I cross one off my list another arises to take its place.  We like our family Christmas to be festive, and festive requires a lot of work.

Before Cheyenne found out that her repair would require surgery, she was busy being five years old.  She had school and her family and lots of playing to do.  She had her best friend waiting for her at school each day and dance lessons and appointments to keep.  We all have lives that are full of living the things we choose to do.  Sometimes it takes an event that causes us to pause to remind us that there are very few things that really are vital to our existence.

When Chey went to the hospital, school took a back seat.  She mentioned that her best friend probably was missing her, but she knew that even friendship would have to wait until she had completed her healing tasks.  The rest of us put aside the importance we assigned to the lists and we all focused on the only thing that mattered — seeing out little one healthy and strong again.  First Cheyenne taught us how to sail, and now she has reminded us that sailing is much easier when we travel light.

Whatever you have going on as the countdown begins, remember to keep it in perspective.  There is little that can do more harm to the heart of a family gathering than a need for perfection.  Are you overwhelmed?  Cross a couple of items off your list — before you let them become more important than the things that really matter.  It seems that at this time of year we pick up burden after burden to carry along toward the holidays.  Really, we should be cleaning house.  We should be relinquishing some of the trappings and uncovering what really matters.  Let’s focus on the heart of Christmas.  Let’s hold our loved ones close and delight in the fact that we are together, that we are alive, that we have inside us everything we need for the trip.  Travel light.  And if you hit a snag, take the time you need to mend.  Kids know these things.  They are wise and they heal quickly, because they refuse to be distracted from the things that really matter.

“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

— Louisa May Alcott

The waiting ended around 4:00 yesterday.  Cheyenne was out of surgery and resting comfortably in recovery.  It had been a long and stormy day for everyone who loves her, and now we could heave a sigh of relief and know that the most difficult part was over.  It strikes me as strange that when someone we love has a crisis, we often stop dead in our tracks along with them, even when there really is nothing for us to do.  It is an important skill to learn — how to pilot your own ship when someone else is caught up in a storm.

What would you do if you were sailing the ocean and discovered another vessel that had been tossed by the waves?  Would you leave your own stable ship and continue your journey on the one that is without a rudder and taking on water?  Would you board a sinking ship and continue to ride out the storm with no intention of taking over the helm, because the ship belonged to someone else?

Now I don’t want to hear a word about how we shouldn’t abandon a friend in need.  I completely agree with that!  What we need to learn, as we pilot our own ship, is how useful we can be simply by continuing to sail our own vessels as we help them find their way to port.

Yesterday was an emotional day for all of us.  There were prayers spoken aloud and in our hearts.  There were messages back and forth to report progress.  Our son’s ship was tossed by the storm; and we could talk to him about staying calm as he navigated dark waters, but we could not sail it for him.  Instead, we did our work and held them all in our hearts.  And when I would think of my courageous little girl who knows she is a Jones, which means “I can do anyfing,” I would pull my focus back to piloting my own vessel.  It is important to keep the fleet in motion and to have everything shipshape, just in case the one who falters needs to abandon ship for a while.

Yesterday I lived my life fully, knowing that Cheyenne would have liked that.  Today her ship is in better shape.  A phone call just brought me the sound of her voice, filled with excitement at the start of a new day.  Already she is teaching us about sailing.  Already she is a skilled pilot.

There is no quotation that expresses today.  Some days we think and reason and debate and discuss.  Some days we stop and wait and listen and are still.  Some days we pray.  Today our brave little Cheyenne will return to the operating room for a procedure that will correct a problem she has been having.  Today we pause and lift her up, and her parents, and her doctors.  Today we reflect on all she has taught us about love and sweetness and bravery and perfection.  Today we pray.

Today We Pray

When you were born,

We prayed.

We prayed that you

Would see the light,

We prayed that you

Would live and breathe,

We prayed that you

Would find the strength

To live in your

Perfection.

As you have grown,

We’ve prayed.

That you would walk

And talk and run,

And dance and sing

And laugh and learn

How brave a girl can be.

Some days we pretend.

Some days we laugh

And run and play,

And hug and kiss

And share the wonder

That your being

Brings our way.

Today we stop

And hold our breath

And hold you close

Deep in our hearts

And pray.

Today we pray.

That the One who made you,

Perfect,

Will allow our eyes to see again

The beauty of your soul.

That the doctors’ hands

Are steady,

That their minds can see

What needs to change.

That your parents’ love,

And faith and hope,

Will flow your way

And keep you strong.

Today we pray

That courage

Will follow you

And keep your heart

Strong and sturdy

As you sleep,

And brave when you

Awaken.  Fresh.

And perfect.

Amen

“When it is dare enough, you can see the stars.”

— Charles Austin Beard

We all love to dance in the light of carefree days.  Whether we know it or not, there is something natural to human beings that draws us toward light.  We use the nighttime as a time for rest and sleep and for storing up our energy for the coming day.  We find confidence in a lighted path and energy in the sunlit times.

For those of us who have known darkness, there is a special blessing we attach to the smallest of lights.  We know the truth about needing a dark night in order to see the stars, and we know that there is a blessing in the darkness that calls us to focus more sharply on the light.  For this reason, I often find myself drawn outside on moonless nights just to look at the stars.  I know they are always there, but my soul loves the affirmation that there are many points of light around me all the time; and all I need to do is open my eyes — open my heart — to their presence.  Then, even in the midst of the darkest nights and even in the middle of the darkest days, I know I will be able to dance in the light.

When darkness comes, we need to remember not to hate it.  When we have lived in darkness and then discovered how beautifully it displays the light, we can come to love them both.  Do  not shut your eyes and curse the dark times.  Instead, open your eyes wide and find the places where the light shines through.  Once you discover even the smallest star, you will remember that no dark night is without light.  Focus on the light, feel it grow within you, and then step out into the darkness and dance in the light.

“Childhood is the world of miracle and wonder; as if creation rose, bathed in the light, out of the darkness, utterly new and fresh and astonishing.  The end of childhood is when things cease to astonish us.”

— Eugene Ionesco

Yesterday brought our home a visit from childhood as we gathered our local kids and some little grandkids for our family Thanksgiving dinner.  Our little girlies, Cheyenne and Harper, arrived straight from church in their frilliest dresses and sparkly shoes.  Little brother Noah, all of 3 1/2 months old, held court from his car seat and various laps as he explained to us the meaning of life in expressive little baby coos.  It is always fun to see our world through the eyes of the little ones; and for several days after such a visit, I always find the things in my house just a bit more interesting.  The rainbow art paint set that has been idle since their father was a child caught the girls’ eyes, and we now have pages and pages of rainbows to decorate our fridge.  “That was fun!” remarked Cheyenne as we took off her paint smock and she moved on to convincing Grandpa to take her outside for a swing ride.

I usually keep my blogs universal rather than focusing on personal things or on individuals; but I am going to depart from the norm today and tell you a bit about one of my biggest little heroes — my granddaughter, Cheyenne.  Chey is five years old (“five and a HALF,” she would tell you), and she is a kindergarten student this year.  She is a tiny little girl, and it always amazes me that such a big heart could fit inside such a little body.  Chey’s heart is the size of Texas, and it touches mine with its sweetness every time we’re together.  Cheyenne’s heart is filled with courage, and that is a good thing, because on Wednesday she will be going to the hospital for another surgery.  I have lost count of all the procedures Chey has had since her very special birth five years ago, but I know this one is in the double digits.  I also know that it is the first time she has been aware of what lies ahead in a way that makes her dread her trip to the operating room.

Back to the story.  Chey convinced Grandpa to take her out for a ride on the swing that hangs from our giant evergreen tree in the back yard.  Grandpa would have been great friends with Rube Goldberg, and the swing for our little grandchildren would have made Rube proud.  In order to give the little ones the whole thrill of a wide arc, Grandpa took a commercial toddler swing (with a seatbelt), attached copper pipes to the places where the ropes would go, put a bolt through the bottom that could be fastened to the adult swing, and lashed the pipes to the swing ropes with wire ties.  Quite a picture, but try to imagine it.  Now part of Grandpa’s thrill ride is a maneuver called the “underdog twist.”  The person pushing the swing twists the rider an agreed-upon number of times and then runs forward underneath the swing and gives a mighty push.  This is where the “underdog” part comes in.  This is not for the faint-of-heart, and some of our more motion-sick grands pass on Grandpa’s offer.  Not Cheyenne.  She likes the tickle in her tummy and the thrill of the dare.

“How many twists?” Grandpa asked her yesterday.

“Ten.”

“Are you sure?  Ten is a lot, and you’re only five.  How about five?”

“No…TEN!”

“Okay.”

And the counting began.  As she sat poised in the swing and ready for the underdog, Grandpa checked one more time.  All systems were go, so he sent her flying.  As the twisting and flying began to take place, there suddenly were some second thoughts, and Chey called for Grandpa to stop her.

“Was ten too many?”

“I was scared.”

“I know.”

“Let’s do it again.  This time I won’t be afraid.  This time I’ll do it.”

“Are you sure?”

“I promise.  I won’t be scared.”

“It’s okay to be scared, you know.”

She did it.  Our courageous little girl did the ten-twist underdog — that’s twice her age — and she was proud.  As Grandpa lifted her out of the swing, he said, “so I hear you’re going for surgery this week.”  “Yeah,” she answered.  I don’t like the IV.”  And off she ran to brag to her grandmother about her accomplishment on the swing.  When it was time to go home, Cheyenne suddenly burst into tears.  It can be hard to leave such a fun time behind, especially when you have a lot on your mind.  Earlier in the day, Chey had asked to borrow my “blowy thing,” a real harmonica that she loves to play.  “Would you like to borrow the harmonica for a while?” I asked her.  “You can bring it back the next time you come.”  And there was something reassuring in those words for both of us.  As I got the best hug of the day, I told my little one, “Don’t cry because you have to leave, be happy because you can come back again.”  I think we understand each other.

** Please, if you are the sort of person who prays or sends healing thoughts or love to others, pray for my little one on Wednesday — that the doctors will be wise and that she will be as brave as she was for that 10-twist underdog.