Category Archives: Thankful Thursdays

A Perfect Storm

Good news everybody:

I’m still younger than the average American. Just spent a lot of time combing through the 2010 census looking for demographic data to back up my position on certain, ahem, sensitive topics of discussion in an academic forum and while I was there, I also discovered that the average American is 36.8 years old.

That is good news, right? I mean, younger is better, if only because… wait… I can’t remember why younger is better. I know that the media tells me it is, and that for some reason all of my clothing looks infinitely better on my teenage daughter than it does on me, but aside from that, I can’t remember any hard and fast data that will back me up on that particular assertion.

I know the toddlers don’t buy it. Or the almost old enough to date/drive/etc teens. Or anyone on the brink of retirement age, for that matter…

My husband, however–did I rub it in yet tell you he turned 40? Yup, we are on opposite sides of that chronological hill.

Speaking of age differences.

My youngest brother is almost exactly ten years my junior.

I was poised to follow that sentence with some direct quotations from my ten year old self regarding the cosmetic deficiencies of my new baby brother.

But that will have to wait, because right… there…. on the brink, I remembered that I got a wedding invitation from another brother this morning.

Also a younger brother.  That… might… possibly be younger than the one I just labelled my “youngest brother”.

Awkward.

Mostly because I really have no idea how old this particular brother is. We did not grow up in the same house, and we haven’t had much contact. I thought about making a guess at his age by scrutinizing the photograph, except that there isn’t one. Invite to wedding: check. Registration card listing various department stores: check. Map insert with directions: check. Invite to dinner party: check. Invite to reception and dance, etc, etc: check.

But no photo.

The really awkward thing, is this means it’s entirely possible for me to mistakenly show up at a complete stranger’s wedding and not even realize it. Yeah. Unless that stranger happened to be, I don’t know, Asian or something. I fairly certain that my brother has a distinctly Aryan flavor.

Not that I’m actually going, because:

  1. I have class that day.
  2. They are getting married 832 miles away, and by June, I won’t be able to afford enough gas to transport myself to the college via my own personal automobile, let alone Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Canada.

I thought about going (of course, I also thought about running away to Malaysia, too, and looked how that turned out) mostly for illogical reasons related to the shirking of one’s duty to work, children, etc, but also because it would be so absolutely unexpected. And, you know, seeing as I am both younger than the average American and therefore have the impetuous nature of youth on my side, and yet I am also approaching that proverbial middle age  wherein you can blame such things on a fleeting mid-life crisis, I figure it’s a perfect storm of excuses. No?

Sigh.

Really though. Somebody needs to invent a cheaper form of travel.

If only so I can show up at a complete stranger’s wedding and introduce myself as his long-lost sister and see the expression on his mother’s, or his father’s face. Depending on which one is more suspicious of the other. Could make for some memorable moments.

(PS: I know this was supposed to be a post about gratitude. And I am–grateful, that is, because I finally finished and sent off my sociolinguistics literature review today. Uhg. May you never, ever experience English 535 and you, too, will have reason to be grateful eternally.)



Then Sings My Soul (Part II)

Every summer after my twelfth birthday, I spent a week at girl’s camp, backpacking and hunkering down in tents we pitched ourselves in places like  Waterton International Peace Park and Banff and breathing air that looked like this:

We did our fair share of marshmallow roasting and cheesy campfire skits, but the real highlight every year was a torturous experience the adult leaders provided us under the guise of a “hike”.

The “hike” always involved heavy backpacks, not nearly enough water, treacherous slopes, and a half or three-quarters point at which we were begging to turn around. At which juncture we would be informed that a retreat would take just as long, if not longer, than pushing on to the bitter end.

Sometime after this, when the blisters were oozing and our legs and lungs were burning, and we were faced with what I sure was a suicidal crossing of sheer rock face, I would begin pleading with God.

Let me survive this hike, and I will never, ever, pretend to be asleep when my mother calls me, again. I will be nice to the kid that sits behind me in science.

Or. 

Alternately, make my death swift and painless? 

At which point He would take away whatever cloud cover we might have been enjoying or send an entire colony of giant red ants swarming up our pant legs.

You got the feeling He might have been laughing.

But always, there was that moment of triumph when the goal was realized, the water bottle refilled, and we were perched on some granite peak that overlooked half the known universe, and the feeling was indescribable. We were so glad we hadn’t quit.

And somewhat awed that we hadn’t. The most fervent prayers of gratitude I ever uttered were probably delivered flat on my back looking up at a Rocky mountain sky, or while hunched on a windy peak, my arms around my knees and a granite boulder at my back. I remember one year, another girl collapsed on the shale beside me and we were looking out over this incredible valley and there were birds singing and a glacier behind us, and we looked at each other and there just weren’t any words for it.

The next day at church we stood to sing the closing hymn, and I was dumbfounded to realize that there were  words for it and that Carl Gustag Boberg had written them more than a century before I was born:

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!

I looked over at the girl who had shared that wordless moment on the mountain top with me,  and we smiled, because we knew what it was to look out over God’s creation and feel our souls harmonize with the universe. And then, while my soul was wide open with the realization that God was indeed a creative Being, the rest of the song rushed in, carrying with it the knowledge that he was a merciful and a just God, also. That he was not laughing at my blisters and my ant bites and my poor, empty canteen on that mountain that day, or at any other treacherous, painful moment of my life, but that He knew me intimately enough to recognize the melody of my soul no matter what it was singing.

That hymn became one of my favorites, and provided me with some interesting experiences later in life.

This afternoon while I was lying outside in the playground bark, with various snot-nosed toddlers clambering over me and pointing out airplanes in the sky, the song was on a perpetual loop in the back of my mind. I finally closed my eyes and faced directly into the sun and paid attention to the words and the music and it was amazing how many associations and how much momentum one song can gather as it accompanies you through the years.

I looked up the lyrics today–to see if Boberg really wrote the words I thought he wrote, and I came across a translation I had never read before. You might like it:

O mighty God, when I behold the wonder
Of nature’s beauty, wrought by words of thine,
And how thou leadest all from realms up yonder,
Sustaining earthly life with love benign,

When I behold the heavens in their vastness,
Where golden ships in azure issue forth,
Where sun and moon keep watch upon the fastness
Of changing seasons and of time on earth.

When crushed by guilt of sin before thee kneeling,
I plead for mercy and for grace and peace,
I feel thy balm and, all my bruises healing,
My soul is filled, my heart is set at ease.

And when at last the mists of time have vanished
And I in truth my faith confirmed shall see,
Upon the shores where earthly ills are banished
I’ll enter Lord, to dwell in peace with thee.


Promised Pictures

Here are the pictures you asked for, from the Sweethearts dance. I know, I know, Thursdays are supposed to be all about gratitude–so, what? You’re not profoundly grateful for me sharing? And in such a timely manner? I know I am–grateful, that is, that my daughter has such good friends, and that at least one of their parents thought to take pictures, and was willing to share:

(And can I just point out, that clearly we have taught her well, when it comes to a girl keeping her date in line?)

And I don’t know if you can see it, but,  yes, her nails match match the infamous shoes:

They had a complete rainbow of dresses in this group–you’d think they’d planned it that way:

Her date is the one who seems to have tangled with a slinky at dinner:

He’s Italian, and asked her to Sweethearts with a long Italian missive which she had to translate online in order to understand. At which point she realized it was mostly blustering bravado about how much superior he was/is at almost everything they might have ever attempted to do. Sweet, teenage boy stuff like that.  If I remember right, she was going to answer with a letter written in a dozen or so other languages. Not sure that ever materialized, but if you know Michael, you’ll agree that it was a excellent idea.

I suppose I should include a picture of them on even footing, just in case she never goes out with someone taller than her again. (Kidding. I’m sure there are lots of men taller than six feet in her future. But just in case.):


Sharpening My Oyster Knife

In 1928, Zora Neal Hurston wrote:

Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past. The operation was successful and the patient is doing well, thank you. … No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost. … Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world-I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife. … I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. … My country, right or wrong. (Taken from I Love Myself when I am Laughing . . . and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive)

This from a black woman living in the South, pre-civil rights era.  She could acknowledge “the terrible struggle that made me an American out of a potential slave” while refusing to allow that she was “tragically colored”. She maintained that “there is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all.”

And her attitude was not a product of an upbringing insulated against racism; she simply chose her own unique life-view: “Sometimes,” she said, “I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

I love this woman.

And as unpopular as it might be to say right now, I love my country, too. I’m sure it would be far more vogue to tilt my hat at a tragic angle and utter sidelong epithets against capitalism, politicians, educators, and moral decay, but here’s the thing: we have it pretty good. My children go to school every day. For free. Medical care might be expensive, but it exists. Gas prices might be rising, but I have the freedom to own and drive my car, or not, as I choose. This experiment called American democracy is ongoing and we have less than stellar moments in our history, but it has not failed. I get in my bed at night and I don’t worry too much about what will happen to my family while my eyes are closed. I’m warm, dry, and reasonably certain that when I wake up in the morning the landscape won’t have changed significantly while I slept. There is political unrest in some places–but those demonstrators pretty much all return to their homes at night; they aren’t carried off on stretchers or buried in mass graves. There are not thousands of children with swollen bellies languishing in camps on the outskirts of our major cities. Segments of our population know hunger, but we have never experienced famine; from time to time we endure  injustice, but not tyranny.

I am grateful to be who I am, in the country in which I live, with the opportunities that surround me daily. My race, my heritage, my country, right or wrong. It’s an amazing time to be alive.

Remind me of that, next time I start whining…


Here Comes The Sun!

Finally!

Some step-by-step directions for taking full advantage of the first warm(ish) day of the year with toddlers:

1. Line ’em up:

2. Pile ’em up:

3. Stay out of the way:

4. Feed ’em before they pass out:

5. Take a good long listen: Do you hear that?

Yeah, me neither.

(Insert big, sun-drenched, grinning emoticon.)


All The Joys Of Heaven

Standing here beside my stove, blinking away tears that have no real reason for overwhelming me.

Except that I am profoundly grateful for the experience of being a mother–in this town, in these decades, in this family. I am grateful for all the summer days and winter nights and all the struggle and all the joys. I would not trade my life for any other, for any price. And I suppose that sometimes I allow the strain of days to overshadow the satisfaction of the experience.

This little file, found on a thumbdrive  in the back of a silverware drawer is just a sliver, a few brief flashes recorded one summer, and yet it affects me this morning as though it were an entire illumination of what it means to love beyond understanding. I don’t know if the images hold the power for you that they hold for me, but I hope my children will remember all their lives, the blessings of their youth-spent with people who loved them, whether that was while we were getting dirty:

Getting clean:

Or getting silly:

Or just stretched out on the grass looking up through Grandma’s walnut trees:

The important thing is that we were comfortable with one another:

We helped each other down the steep parts:

Across the deep parts:

Even  when we’d lost our oars:

We gave each other the courage to take those leaps of faith:

To share our secrets:

Worries:

And the deepest feelings of our souls:

We are young and old, side by side, forever family:

And we’re on the same path. You may not see me, but I’ll always be there–right behind you, every step of the way.

I love every one of you. In ways you’ll never understand–until you, too, walk this same path behind children of your own.


Beyond 647

I think it’s interesting that I have lived in two homes that burned to smoking ruins, and yet I never dream of losing everything I own to fire. I do, however,  have a recurring nightmare about having too many possessions: I am required, on short notice to pack up my family (usually including not only my children but  young versions of my siblings, too) and evacuate a house that represents everything I have ever owned. Every piece of clothing, every toy and craft stick and crumpled receipt; they are all there in a jumble, and I am hip-deep in it, and I am trying to sort out what is most crucial to take along.

I’ve had this dream for as long as I can remember. The only thing that changes is the sheer volume of stuff. I don’t know if it’s related to what I perceived as many spur-of-the-moment moves during my childhood–coming home from school on a Wednesday to a moving truck, and driving away on a Friday. I was always glad on some level; moving was a reinvention–of self and possessions and place. When I was sixteen, the moving truck was empty and Mom was working full-time. My brother and I filled three dumpsters with things we deemed non-essential in the still of the night–sneaking across the street to another apartment complex when ours were full.

I started dejunking my place this week. Not only dejunking, but de-everything-not-absolutely-crucial-to-survival-right-now. That means I am not keeping any car seats for that nebulous time in the future when I might have to transport a small person. I am throwing away the rosemary and caraway seed. If a recipe ever calls for them, I’ll pick another. I’m not keeping my fat clothes.

Just to keep myself honest, I texted my sister-in-law: Give me a number between 100 and 1000.

She answered: 647.

So that was my goal, the magic number of things I needed to part with–though I thought it unlikely I had that much to get rid of.

Silly me.

Said sister-in-law is now helping me out: I stack everything in my front hall, and she comes along and hauls it off. I don’t know if it will help with the nightmares, but at least when I’m awake I’ll be able to locate my cinnamon. And if REC ever explodes, or a rail car turns over in my backyard spilling toxic waste from Hanford, my life should be easier to condense into a space the size of my lap. I almost kept my crock pot, I admit. But then I remembered I have an oven-safe pot.

We’re way past 647, and I’m not counting anything made out of paper.

You remember that scripture in Malachi? About how if you pay your tithing the heavens will open and pour you out a blessing so great you will not have room enough to receive it? I must have been paying way too much tithing, because the excess is ridiculous. BUT, I must point out, that I am blessed–and always have been–to have everything I need, and more. I have never truly gone without, not even when our home was a smoking pit of ash or when I slept, five to a twin-sized mattress in a filthy apartment complex in Portland, Oregon the year I turned six. There was always enough, and always a lesson we needed to learn.

I know that God loves us. I know he wants us to have all the good things we desire. I also know that we don’t always want what’s best for us, and we end up with a hallway full of unneeded and unnecessary items that we once thought would bring us happiness. He knows this, but he allows us our agency, allows us the exquisite schooling of trial-and-error, and lets us try again.  Thank God for all that, and for every spotless tomorrow.


Three-In-One

(Yes, that’s right–you see there are three tags on this post? I was out of town yesterday, and tomorrow has already crept into today. Such is life.)

I live in Moses Lake. We have Walmart and Safeway and a bowling alley. When you go to the clinic, you share the waiting room with drooling children, expectant mothers, and eighty-year men.

The population can’t possibly support specialized medical departments.

Yesterday, I visited a town that can. And as I passed through frosted glass doors that slid open and shut with Star-trek-ish pneumatics, and walked the marble halls, I thought to myself, Were I very young or very old, this would be a frightening place. As the elevator rose silently to the fourth floor I was a little disconcerted to realize that I was old enough to do this thing on my own.

I am a middle-aged woman with a driver’s license and the ability to read a map and ask for directions. I can draw my own conclusions about proposed tests and treatments. Indeed, I am certain that if I had an elbow partner commenting on the close feeling of the halls or the space-age decor or the fact that everyone else in the waiting room is clearly over the age of eighty, I would want to side tackle them into the glass of the floor-to-ceiling windows.

They say one of the symptoms of liver disease is irritablity and anger. (We’ll blame it on that.)

Although. I’m not angry, as I sit there.

I am glad to be on my own.  I do  text my daughter. There isn’t anyone else in this entire clinic under the age of seventy.

Does it smell like old people? she asks.

And really, that is about as much input as I want from the outside world; from the world in which I live. This clinic business is in another dimension. I am escorted to a tiny cubicle with a sweeping view of the valley and am left even more alone. I sit in the afternoon sunshine, alternately reading up on Hymes sociolinguistics theories and nodding off.  I stand and shake off my sleepiness and stretch. When the door clicks open, I am face to face with the doctor and he is startled.

“You look very healthy,” he finally says. He grips my hand for a long moment, as if to reassure himself that I am not a figment of his imagination. I should be hunched over in the corner chair, peering at him with yellowed eyes, not confronting him in the doorway.

But that’s the thing: I am young and I am strong and I am healthy. The test results and my symptoms and the me that is reduced to raw data on the screen do not add up. If I were eighty-years old, he tells me, he would put blinders on and go straight for the big guns, but those tests are intrusive and expensive. And so I will be returning frequently over the next few weeks as we rule out everything else, one possibility at a time.

As I drove home, I was surprised at my equanimity. Possibly, it came as a result of sitting there in the midst of dozens of people three times my own age, and feeling my own vitality. I am young and strong–whatever ails my parts, it cannot take away my aggregate power to make these choices for myself, to live every day to its fullest and love important people. And also from an assurance that no matter how long the road, I will have the strength to walk it, with an elbow-partner of my choosing or without one at all.

I came home and took the family out for pizza; it was Tuesday, after all.  And in a town our size, on a Tuesday night, that means we had the place pretty much to ourselves (minus the family with really bad taste in Jukebox selections). We poked fun at the silent commentators on the muted television and drank slightly odd tasting soda and took our leftovers home in aluminum foil. And we are happy–in this close little world we have created for ourselves–mother, father, children, untouched by war or violence or hunger.  It is a strange and blessed life and I find myself smiling at unexpected moments.

God bless America–its little towns and its big ones and all the beautiful open country in between, with its conveniences and troubles and schisms of voices. I could not live this life in any other place on earth, and I am grateful for it.


C is for Canada

I know, I skipped B last week and went off on a parental tangent. But the thing is, my cousin posted some pictures yesterday of her family posing with some celebrity named Paul Brant. A Canadian country singer from my home province of Alberta.

I’d never heard of him, but I looked him up, and the first link I clicked brought me to tears. Blame it on whatever hormonal or chemical imbalance you like, but I sat in my room and tried not to all-out cry as I watched the images in this video that were so immediately familiar, and yet so very, very far away.

I am so grateful that I grew up in the most beautiful countryside in earth. Clean air, clean water, breathtaking mountains and boundless horizons. I am grateful for youth leaders who knew the best food for adolescent souls would be found on steep trails and glacial lakes in the mountains and who took us there regularly and who insisted that we never give up until that lake was discovered or that mountain peak was fully under the soles of our feet.

I am grateful to God for making such soul-expanding beauty in the world. I miss the mountains and the air and the sky and yeah, even every gust of that often relentless wind.

I’m  grateful that someone else in the world thinks Alberta, Canada is a place worth immortalizing in song:

“It Doesn’t matter where I go
This place will always be my home
Yeah I have been Alberta Bound for all my life
And I’ll be Alberta Bound until I die.”

 


Goodly Parents

We came to the end of our family scripture study once again last night. Final verse, final chapter. Whereupon, Quinton wanted to know if we were going to read the Index this time. Pleeease?

Uh, no. As enlightening as I’m sure that would be…

At any rate, we started over at the beginning, chapter one, verse one, which of course got me to thinking about parents. Good parents, specifically. (Ha! At church last week an old lady put up her hand and expressed the opinion that Mary and Joseph were pretty negligent parents for losing Jesus that year in Jerusalem. I love it when the front row shakes things up in Sunday School.)

It occurs to me tonight that goodly parents are those who pass on to their children the things they need to know: how to read and write and drive a car. How to order a pizza and how to make jello. Whatever it is you have, you pass it on. Most of it, your children will never even realize they gleaned from your experience.

You don’t have to teach them everything that other parents of other children understand; you teach them what you know, and then you encourage them to learn more–to become more than you are, to know more than you know, to question the world around them and all of the information they encounter.

And so it occurs to me, of course, that I too, have been born of goodly parents, and how fortuitous, because it is after all a Thankful Thursday. Ergo:  I am grateful for parents who taught me frugality, honesty, and table manners. For teaching me real literacy–not just the ability to read, but the ability to think about what I read and express my own thoughts in writing. How to cook and clean, and sew.  Thousands of life skills I take for granted. Even from their faults and shortcomings, I have learned life lessons: that we keep trying, day in and day out. That we do not have to be perfect to approach God or to ask for his help.

(And yes, if my parents had been here tonight, they would have probably agreed with Quinton that the Index would make perfectly acceptable reading material. They’re a little freaky that way about words…)