Friday, May 25, 2007

Graduation Notes

Emma graduated from 8th grade this evening.
Many schools no longer mark this milestone. An 8th grade diploma used to be significant; it used to be the end game for a lot of students.
Now it's just one more stop on the educational road.
When Emma was 6 or 7 years old, we were out walking one evening after dinner. I was there to help with a new baby in the house, and we were ready to stretch our legs.
We walked across the road, choosing a paved trail that led us past a lagoon where trees hung over the trail on one side and into the lagoon on the other. Before we got to the lagoon, though, we could see something seemed amiss: the trees appeared to be hung with something white, as though older kids had tee-peed them.
As we got closer we realized the something white was white cranes, perched on every limb and branch they could find. There was a hush over the lagoon; only our footsteps sounded in the early evening air.
Suddenly the cranes – all of them – took flight. They lifted into the air like a cloud, momentarily blocking out the sky. The trees turned green again, and the cranes were gone.
Emma and I looked at one another, speechless for a moment. Then she said, “Grandma, I won't ever forget this.”
It would have been easy to chalk up the cranes as one more learning experience, to launch into a lecture about their feeding habits or instruct Emma in the fine art of careful observation. I didn't have the heart for it, though.
Moments like that, moments of wonder and beauty - well, they are what they are. Whether it's a graduation or a wealth of cranes, all you can do is hold your breath at the wonder of it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Anniversaries and Celebrations

Today is Kristen and Ted's anniversary.
I'm not sure what they are doing to celebrate, but I hope they're making time to do something fun, and remembering their delightful wedding day. Even though the florist had the wrong day and the organist forgot to come, some peonies from the front yard and a sister's expertise with a classical CD meant everything went just fine – better than fine!
Kristen was a gorgeous bride. She glowed and sparkled with joy. And who could forget Ted's smile when he saw her walking down the aisle on her dad's arm?
Anniversaries and celebrations are important. We need to remember good times and happy occasions the same way we need a blanket in cold weather – both good memories and blankets warm us up, keep us cozy.
Scripture teaches us that it's important to remember what has gone on before, both in our personal lives and in the whole long history of the faith.
It's important to remember because it minimizes our need to re-learn important things that those who've gone before us have learned.
It's important to remember because it allows us to re-live our joys and remember God's faithfulness.
It's important to remember because, in remembering, we re-value the things that mean most to us.
So get out those photograph albums, scrapbooks, and old videos. Set out the souvenirs, and talk about the memories.
Get warm and cozy. Remember.

Friday, May 18, 2007


The last few days have been sunny and cool. The tulips have finished their spring show; iris, peonies, and poppies are taking their turn. Finches and a little family of songbirds serve as our morning wake-up call, and the air smells damp and fresh, as if it had just come out of some cosmic washing machine and been hung out to dry.
I took time today to relax on the big swing hanging from the mulberry tree in our backyard. May has become one of the busier months of the year, what with school concerts and plays, awards banquets, sports play-offs, Mother's Day, and at least in our family, graduations, birthdays, and anniversaries. There are cards to send, events to attend, and gifts to choose, wrap, and deliver.
It was good to sit quietly and do nothing.
It's easy, once I get wound up and busy, to forget how to relax. Sitting still makes me antsy, then. I feel certain I should be doing something. My anxiety is often enough to drive me to the calendar, just to check and be sure I'm not forgetting something.
What a surprise to find unscheduled minutes, even hours . . . surely they need to be filled up with – something.
No, this is a gift of time, space, and beauty, this time on the swing.
I'm not the first to wonder why we keep ourselves so busy, and I won't be the last.
“Be still,” scripture says, “and know that I am God.”
My busyness sometimes deceives me into thinking that if I just work harder or longer or smarter, I can solve some of those problems that, until now, have been God's responsibility.
When I am still, though, I remember. I remember that God is the One who is, and was, and always will be. God is the One who works in and through us, but God is not a slave-driver, working us to nothing, using us up and then discarding us.
God is the One who intends us to have time to be still, to know that He is, and to rest in His presence.
Even on the swing in the backyard.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Sabbath rest

Speaking of naps - why did we ever give up that idea of Sabbath rest?
For the past year we've tried, with very modest success, to practice a modified version of Sabbath rest. After church is over, on an ordinary Sunday, we have a quiet lunch and a quiet afternoon reading, napping, visiting. Afternoon shades into evening, and we have a light dinner, maybe watch a bit of television, listen to music, or read again, then to bed.
Ordinary Sundays, though, are sometimes hard to come by.
Part of the problem is that Sunday can be a good visiting day, and we like to visit. Maybe someone comes for dinner after church - and we enjoy that. Or someone is celebrating a holiday, a family event, or just wants to get together - we enjoy that, too.
When it comes to Sabbath rest, we are usually our own worst enemies.
Without that quiet day, that slow start, we notice the rest of the week seems more tightly wound. Somehow it seems to go faster, feels more like a roller coaster.
What was God's intent when He mandated the Sabbath?
We tend to think of it as a restriction, when perhaps really it's a freedom.
Setting time aside one day out of seven for wonder, worship, rest - how can that be a bad thing?
Perhaps it is our own priorities that are out of whack. Perhaps by overscheduling ourselves, we wound our own selves.
Perhaps God asks us to rest on that one day because rest is exactly what we need most.


Most of us don't like naptime when we are little, unless it starts with something like a book and a snuggle, or holds the promise of milk and cookies when we wake up.
By the time we're toddlers, naps transition into "quiet time" - a device our moms use to persuade us to lie down for a bit while they enjoy some peace and quiet, or get some of their chores done without our help.
How things change!
As adults we often look around for opportunities to sneak in a little nap - maybe at our desks, or perhaps while our own children lie down for quiet time - just so we can catch up on our rest.
Being an adult can wear a person out in a way being a child doesn't.
Oh, kids get tired too, after a hard day of exploring, asking questions trying to figure out why the world is the way it is, and undoing whatever it is you've just done.
It's just that, for a kid, those things are energizing. They go til they drop, usually; for them, it's all or nothing.
For us mature people, though, we have things figured out. We have to pace ourselves, because we have responsibilities, obligations, and duties. We don't have much time for exploring, or asking questions, or undoing anything - we're too busy accomplishing our long list of goals.
What if we put those things on our list of goals? What if we counted them as worthy pursuits?
What if we took time to explore and enjoy the world around us - would we feel more rested? If we paid more attention to how the world works - watched the way birds fly or caterpillars crawl or flowers unfold - would we be refreshed?
Maybe if we took time to watch the sky fill with clouds or the way butterflies flutter from one flower to another, we'd not need a nap. Maybe we'd be so energized with life we wouldn't feel so tired.
It's worth a try . . .

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Mr. Excitement

I was listening to an NPR feature this morning about the death of Tommy Newsom, a member of the Doc Severinsen Tonight Show band.
Johnny Carson called Tommy Newsom "Mr. Excitement" because he seemed to be such a quiet, bland person. Of course he wasn't, really. The person who was interviewed this morning - I didn't catch his name, but he was a friend of Mr. Newsom's - talked about his intellect, his wit, and his skill as a saxophonist, particularly on the soprano saxophone.
I didn't even know there was such an instrument! They played an excerpt of Newsom playing one, though, and it was incredibly beautiful.
Tommy Newsom focused on jazz, and his friend talked about his ability to hear music within the music; he talked about the way Newsom could improvise and expand on what was there so that a listener would wonder, "Why didn't I hear that there before?"
What a gift that is - to see beyond what is really there; to hear what isn't seen or said or played but, once seen or heard is recognized as having been there all along.
I think sometimes that part of our job as human beings is to pay attention so closely to the life all around us that we perceive what isn't apparent, but is nevertheless truly there - God's presence, the imperceptible goodness and blessing that overcomes evil and despair - to hold those things lightly, but take them seriously . . .
What would life be like if we saw and heard those things that aren't readily seen or heard, those extra elements of beauty, strength, and power all around us, all the time?