Thursday, May 22, 2008

Failure and Accomplishment

And then, there's failure.
One way or another, I've failed each of my kids in different ways. It certainly was not my intention to fail them, but I did. Maybe I wasn't there to prevent an accident, or to deal with one when it happened.
Maybe I didn't pay enough attention, or believe that what my child said was true, when really it was. Maybe I just didn't understand what someone needed, and they went without.
I've learned I can try my best and still fail for reasons I may not have control over or even understand, which is not a good feeling at all.
I don't like to fail in general, but failing my kids is a special kind of agony.
The hospital where our first daughter was born had a long hallway on the maternity floor, with windows that looked out over a river valley. The morning we were getting ready to leave the hospital, I walked slowly down that hall and stopped to look out one of those windows. It was a May morning, beautiful, full of the promise of spring – you could see the trees beginning to wear green, and redbuds were in bloom.
As I looked out the window I prayed, asking God to help me be the best mom I could possibly be. I asked for patience and kindness, wisdom and strength. I asked to be loving and good. I asked for all the qualities I could think of that would help me give my daughter a good life.
What I wanted, really, was to be the kind of mom who filled out that image I had in my head, the one from church and Sunday School, the one that talked about “abundant life.”
What I didn't realize was that failure would be part of God's answer to my prayer. I tried hard to be all the things I asked God to help me be, and I failed in pretty short order.
In my failure I began to realize that no matter how hard I tried, I didn't have it in me. What I needed to do was let God do the shaping so I would conform to His image. He had to fill me up with those qualities. My own personal supply of them was too short!
Would I have figured that out without failing? Probably not. I have a lot of reasons and explanations for my failures, but they don't do much for making me better.
There is nothing like falling short where my kids are concerned to get my attention, and nothing like paying attention to God's lessons for being conformed to the image of Jesus for real change and accomplishment.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Accomplishing an Image

What, exactly, is it I want to accomplish?
I think the list of things changes, depending on where I am and what I'm doing.
As a mom of very young children, the stock answer was always “a clean house” but when I'm honest with myself, what I really wanted to accomplish was to do things in a way that would make it obvious I was a good wife and mom. I think that was because I really wasn't sure I was; in fact, I was pretty sure I wasn't.
Funny, isn't it, how easily we fall into worldly traps? What did it mean to be a good wife and mom? In the town where we lived then, it meant to be involved with your kid's activities. It meant to have a house with no clutter and a clean kitchen. It meant your yard looked pretty and your husband looked happy. It meant you smiled when you met someone at the grocery store.
As long as I took that as the standard for “being a good wife and mom” I was caught in a worldly trap – basing my evaluation of myself on other people's standards.
But God has other ideas, I think. He wants us to evaluate ourselves on His standards.
That's where that image of God, Jesus, comes in.
As far as I know, Jesus never kept house. I'm not ruling it out, but we don't have a record of it!
But we do have a record of how He loved and cared for people, and if that isn't the essence of being a “good wife and mom” I don't know what is. He lived out the picture – the image – of what God has in mind for us, of what God longs for us to do and be.
The funny thing is, when I thought about it, that's what I really wanted to accomplish.

Poetry Questions . . .

I like poetry, both as a reader and as a writer.
I received a lovely hand-written rejection note once from an editor at a San Francisco poetry review. He very much liked one of the poems I'd submitted but wrote he was rejecting it with regret, because of the “absence of images.”
I've thought of that phrase off and on since then. I think what he was saying is that words without images, no matter how elegantly or persuasively or accurately used, aren't quite enough to capture the heart and mind of the reader/listener.
At first I had a hard time understanding; I thought the point of writing was communication, beauty – what did images have to do with it? What did he mean by “image” anyway?
The more I thought about it the more I began to understand how useful an image is in communicating with words. An image is a “word picture” of the thing we're talking/writing about. It might be realistic and detailed, it might be abstract or impressionistic, but an image fills out our words, shows us something we won't “see” otherwise.
An image might be made up of words, but the content is more than just words.
Then, this morning, something else clicked. In the book of Colossians, the apostle Paul writes , “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God . . . for in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15a, 19-20)
Jesus (the Word) is the image in God's story. We have trouble understanding God from just the words of the law and the prophets. We just don't always “see” what it is God is getting at, unless we encounter Jesus, the “image” of the invisible God – the picture of God.
So now I'm thinking and wondering – how does that “image,” that picture of God, capture my mind and heart? There is no absence of that image if I keep my eyes and heart open, so when and where do I see it? How is the “image” different – fuller, more than just the words themselves?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Cautionary Poem

I enjoy poetry, and this afternoon I picked up a book from the “Poetry for Young People” series edited by Gary D. Schmidt. This particular book in the series is the poetry of Robert Frost, and his poetry makes me smile.
“A Girl's Garden” tells the story of a young girl who talks her father into giving her a little bit of ground for a garden, and the garden she plants with “a little bit of everything, a great deal of none.”
That sounds like a description of my life! Sometimes I think I've done a little bit of everything, a great deal of none. When our kids were little at home, I'd look around at all the things I'd done that day, and wonder what I'd actually accomplished.
Progress always seemed to come so slowly – the remodeling projects, the new tooth, the potty training – and the knowledge of how much there was left to do was often overwhelming.
Now that our kids have established their own homes and I'm left to my own devices, I think about that phrase sometimes. The trouble with having done “a little bit of everything, a great deal of none” is thinking I know more than I really do.
Frost makes that point at the end of his poem when he says

“Now when she sees in the village
How village things go,
Just when it seems to come in right,
She says, 'I know!

“It's as when I was a farmer -- “
Oh, never by way of advice!
And she never sins by telling the tale
To the same person twice.”

The girl with the garden clearly took her limited gardening experience and based her understanding – and her comments – on it. I think I do the same thing – believe I understand a thing based on my own limited experiences.
So what shall I do? Experience surely counts for something, but not for everything. Maybe I just need to take a lesson from the girl with the garden, and be sure I don't “tell the tale to the same person twice.”
Or just remember I don't know as much as I think I know!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Grey Days and a Cheerful Heart

We're having a cool rainy spring, which means a lot of grey days; it can be hard to keep a cheerful attitude under those circumstances.
I'm enjoying this weather, though. The cool weather has its own fragrance; the lilac bush and the lily of the valley perfume the air, and everything seems to have exploded into green. The cool weather also means the tulips aren't fading as quickly as they do some years, and the bluebells have been showing off for two full weeks, now.
Early every morning – even before the dog comes to put her face up on our bed – the songbird outside our window sings her welcome to the morning. How can she be so cheerful, so early?
“A cheerful heart does good, like medicine,” the proverb tells us. I remember reading that verse in a daily devotional when I was a grumpy little girl. (It might have been a grey spring then, too.)
It made me think that cheerfulness might be a choice. If that was true, I decided it might be a better choice than gloominess.
Since then I've learned that choosing to be cheerful isn't always easy, but it is worthwhile. It really does do me good to look for whatever is good and pure and worthy of honor. Choosing to be cheerful, choosing to find the good in people or in situations not quite to my liking – that makes life more satisfying.
There is something about being cheerful that strengthens us, I think.
Even on a grey, rainy day.