Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Let It Go

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;  
it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. 
Lamentations 3:25-26

We wake up pretty early in our home - before four - because my husband has to go on post and lead his soldiers in PT - physical training.  Early.  I've found that if I don't get up with him, then my entire schedule becomes different than his - which means we don't really live together.  Well, yes, we live in the same home - but we don't live in the same time.  We don't eat together.  We don't talk together.  We don't see and hear the same news, or shows, or attend the same events.  We have no common discussion because we - don't - live  - together.  We learned this the hard way.

So we have just enough time to share coffee, check the weather, and discuss the 'state of the household' before he leaves.  Not much - but important.   We've had some practice.  By the time he goes out the door, we both know what's for dinner and what time to have it ready.  We know whether he's coming home at lunch or breakfast.  We know if either of us needs to do an errands, or spend any money.  By the time he goes out the door, we've usually had a chance to comment on the day's headline stories - quick-judgement comments that tell more about our relationship than about the news itself.  And we don't always agree.

We save up for discussions.  For when we have the luxury of spending real time together - time to look beyond our household, time to throw our own blanket of beliefs across events beyond our personal lives.  It's kind of fun - solving the world's problems with my husband.   Especially when we bring our different backgrounds and experiences to the table.  Especially when we are able to see situations from different viewpoints.  And personally, I am fascinated by the way my husband thinks.  He has a way of rendering the fat out of information - clarifying - He has a way of recognizing what is important.

It's a big picture thing.  He sees beyond the present moment; good and bad consequences - fallout from this or that action.  It's a talent.  A gift.  He calms me with his vision - is it a matter of life and death? - he'll ask, when I tell him about my fears and anxieties.  


Then don't worry so much.  Do what you can do - do it the best you can - and then let it go.

Oh.  Oh yeah.  I know that.  I forget, sometimes, in the moment, in the confusion, in the stress.  

Sometimes, the best you can do is hope in God.  He is good.  Sometimes, the best you can do is continue the things you have been taught - pray, study, conduct yourself well.  Sometimes, the best you can do is wait.  It worked for the Israelites in Babylon - it worked for the disciples in Galilee - it works for me.

Do what you can do - do it the best you can - and then let it go.

Heavenly Father, sometimes I worry about things I have no control over.  Sometimes I worry about situations in my life and the lives of my family.  Sometimes, I just plain worry about the state of the world.  Thank you for reminding me:  I can pray.  I can study.  And with Your help, I can conduct myself well.  When I put my hope in You, then I can wait.  Then I can be still and let it go.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Are You the One?

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, 
and will call him Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14

Are you the one?  A single thought, tiny, small, insistent.

Movement, like a hiccough, deep inside.  She imagined a perfectly formed foot, a perfectly formed hand, a miracle.  She rested her palm on the mound her stomach had become.  The mound she had kept hidden from prying stares and accusing glances.  She rested her palm on the blooming of the child inside.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart

The words of the prophet whispered to her.  Words she had learned in the temple, words from the old books, words that unwound like the scrolls, unwound and comforted these last months.  God is good, she thought, even as she felt another twinge deep in her belly - a twinge from the new life she carried.

Are you the one?  She had wakened early, before the birth of the day; it was her favorite time, when she could be still with her thoughts.  Thoughts of her husband-to-be, offering marriage even in this condition - placing himself between her and the gossips, the doubters, the law.  Thoughts of her parents, trying to understand, trying to believe, trying to hold their heads up in this oh-so-small village of everybody's business.

Are you the one?  The question lingered - as much in her head as in her heart.  Again the memory of that one night, so long ago now, when she had been visited by a servant of Glory.

The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 

Fear not.  Easier said than done, she thought.  The angel had come to her, frightening in his brilliance - the light of God was more than her earthly eyes could behold.  He had calmed her enough to hear and understand his message.  And she had agreed.  Shaking her head, she'd had no choice, really.  The fear remained at bay, held off by her faith in the goodness of her God.  Fear of gossip.  Fear of her future.  Fear of impending motherhood.  Fear for the child she carried.  She prayed, under her breath and out of sight.

God, do you hear me?  I am not enough for this.  Who could be enough for You, for your Son of Glory?  I am Your humble servant; I am but a girl.  If He is the One, truly, then what do I do, oh God of the Ages?  How do I raise this Holy Prince?  

The household was beginning to waken; she saw the glow of a lamp reaching up the steps to the rooftop where she had been praying.  Pulling her robes around her growing bulk, she paused to absorb the lightening of the new day.  Her mouth began to smile even as tears formed in her eyes.

The vision she had seen in that pause, in that moment, caused her thought to change .... You are the one!  The Chosen One!  Simple word order made the question into a statement - solid and real.  The vision had been instantaneous - a series of glimpses - a baby, pink and new, swaddled and secure - a tousle-haired boy running, fingers trailing through a field of gold - an older child sitting at the feet of a rabbi - a carpenter and help to her husband - a teacher, smiling and welcoming - a healer....beautiful glimpses of a full life, humanity-full of laughter and love.  But she had also seen glimpses of lonely, of darkness, of temptation, of sacrifice and soldiers - a dove alighting on a cross...

You are the one! The Chosen One!

Chosen.  She knew what it was like to be chosen.  Different.  Set apart.  Isolated.  Except for her God who gave her peace.  Especially in the early morning time.  She knew she rested in His Hand - just as this growing child was resting inside of her - protected and nourished - deep, secure, sheltered by her own body.

She knew.  And in that moment, she knew how to raise him - as only a mother could.  Her child.  Her son.  She would raise him to honor his father and mother.  She would raise him in the Law, and she would raise him in the Word.  Tears and smiles - she stopped.  It was just a whisper, a slight breeze lifting the corner of the veil she had just put into place.  Tears and smiles.  It was the breath of God, His voice - in the dawning light of morning - clear and sharp - cutting through the new day.

Yes.  Verily yes.  

Father, thank you for the humanity of your Son.  Thank you for his mother who raised him, and his father who accepted him as his own.  Thank you for the gift of Jesus.

Linked with Monday's Musings

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Psalm 65:8

They who dwell in the ends of the earth stand in awe of your signs; 
You make the dawn and the sunset shout for joy.
Psalm 65:8

Dwell in awe and joy....
Make the dawn shout...

So many ways to read this - thought I'd share a couple.  Happy Sunday!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Like Showers on New Grass

Let my teaching fall like rain
and my words descend like dew,
like showers on new grass,
like abundant rain on tender plants.
Deuteronomy 32:2

Linking with Still Saturday

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Journey

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish.  And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?
Esther 4:14

A man and his wife were traveling - driving the highways and byways, enjoying the out-of-the-ways - the sceneries and eateries they encountered.  Friendly, they looked forward to conversations with other travelers, with locals; they looked forward to learning about the people and places they visited.  There was no destination; it was the journey they sought.  

On one particular day, the man and wife stopped by the side of the road.  A man and woman were standing on the shoulder - a young man with ebony skin, a young woman, tanned and blonde - together they held a sign.  Stop.  Look.  Listen.  So the traveling man and his wife did.

Later, as they drove on, the man asked his wife about their unexpected stop.  "What did you see?"  He asked.

"I saw Brotherhood."  She replied.

The man looked at her in surprise.  "I saw Strife."  

"What did you hear?"  She asked him.

"The wind in the trees, the cars on the road, the shifting of Time." He replied.  "You?"

"The wind in the trees, the cars on the road, the shifting of Time." 

The road wound through and around the countryside, up hills and down valleys, around fields and trees, over and under bridges, broad rivers and sparkling streams.  It unraveled by farmhouses and silos, barns and yards, clipped, mowed, overgrown - by hedges, gardens, and rows of crops.  The man and his wife began to notice more traffic, more buildings, more signs.   The air was less clear; it smelled stale and muggy, with a hint of sulphur.  They approached the city in a snarl of traffic lights and intersections, on-ramps and off-ramps, and green-and-white signs - directions to new-and-different destinations.

The man pointed.  Three words flashed in neon across the intersection.  Stop.  Look.  Listen.  So the traveling man and his wife did.

Later, as they sat together eating, the man asked his wife about their second stop.  "What did you see?"  He asked.

"I saw people.  Neighbors.  I saw Brotherhood."  She replied.

The man looked at her in surprise.  "I saw people.  Strangers.  I saw Strife."

"What did you hear?"  She asked him.

"Voices, and vehicles - the sounds of the city, and the shifting of Time."  He replied.  "You?"

"Voices, and vehicles - the sounds of the city, and the shifting of Time."

The day was drawing to a close.  As was the road.  Out of the crowds and congestion, it had unwound to rest, finally, at the end of a long spit of land.  The man and his wife held hands and drank in the sight of endless water before them - rolling, cresting, and spilling toward the broken rocks and sand strewn beyond the black ribbon of pavement.  The sun - brilliant orange - sat low on the horizon - perched on the shifting blue of the ocean - precarious, beautiful - sliding past the edge in holy silence.  They held hands and drank in the twilight; they shared the birthing of the stars in the darkening night.  They gasped together when one fell, in a wayward streak of light.

"What did you see?"  He asked his wife.

"I saw God - sending His message of Light to the world."  She replied.  

The man looked at her in surprise.  "I saw a flash, like lightening, live and then die."  

"What did you hear?"  She asked him.

"The surf and the sea, the wind across the dunes, and the shifting of Time."  He replied.  "You?"

"The surf and the sea, the wind across the dunes, and the shifting of Time."

She nestled close to him, breathing him in, comforted, safe, loved.  The man rested his eyes on his wife, flesh of his flesh, one with him.  They sighed together, an unplanned choreographed release of the day, of their differences, of their sameness.

It was, after all, the journey they sought.

Father God, who's to say that the very differences that pull us apart, aren't intended to eventually draw us together.  Thank you for the opportunities of this day.  Thank you for change.  Thank you for Time.

Linking with: Faith Filled Friday

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Bus Ticket To Heaven

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Isaiah 55:2

I wish I could buy a bus ticket to heaven
Pack some bags and
Just hang a sign on my window
Gone on Vacation
Or something

I wish I had a magic wand
That could change
The world
No more sad news, no more bad news
Just peace 

I wish I could think the devil away
Snap my fingers.
Poof!  Gone!
In a heartbeat - an instant  
No more.

I wish life was easy
No stress, no worries, no lies
No sickness, no jealousy
No ignorance, no pride
I wish life was fair

I wish I could ask 
God some questions
About mosquitoes
And ticks
And love.

I wish I could meet Jesus
At a party, or bowling alley
Even the grocery store
Have a good day, he'd say, Be Blessed,
And I would.

A bus ticket to heaven

Heavenly Father, thank you for this day.  
Thank you for your gift of our salvation, and the promise of a better world.  
In the name of your holy Son, Jesus, 

Linking with Jen at Unite

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

#TellHisStory: He Very Is

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. 
No one comes to the Father except through me."
John 14:6

"I very am," my daughter stated, with her sincere eyes on - trying to convince me with the power of her stare.

"You very are, what?"  This inserting of very into her statements is a new one - apparently she feels she needs some extra emphasis.

"Leader," she answered, "Youth ministry - I very am," and she showed me the church bulletin insert that she had filled out.  The insert for Mission Sunday.  She had checked every box and filled in every line.  She'd even checked off the box that said she couldn't attend - and she'd written in homebound plants for Pathways etc.  

She pointed to the line for her name.  "I told you remember.  I very am."  And I saw where she had put leader.

Who can argue with that?

I was always charmed by the inclusion of Chris Burke in the show Touched By An Angel.  He's an actor who has Down Syndrome - like my daughter - and he played the part of one of God's angels in the show.  Why not?  He's written a book - an autobiography.  I read it when my daughter was young.  She's 22 now.   He wrote that he'd always wanted to be an actor.  His parents corroborated - telling about his scriptwriting and play-acting from a young age.

They got me at scriptwriting.  I just couldn't see it - creative writing - was just way beyond anything I saw my daughter or any of her friends doing.  Not to say I didn't believe it - I just thought Chris must be one of those exceedingly high-functioning individuals with Down Syndrome.  He actually decided to call it Up Syndrome, because he didn't like the connotation of Down.

My daughter, on the other hand, has been pegged by cognitive evaluations in the moderate range - numerous times.  She can be difficult to understand - beside creative vowels and consonants and stuttering - she drops morphemes - those little bits of meaning that define tense and possession.  She sometimes gets her pronouns confused.  She changes syntax - oftentimes using a subject-object-verb order - I call it Yoda-speak.

You have to listen.  You have to have context.  You have to want to know what she's saying because it's going to take a little effort.  But she helps out.  In the past year, she has begun using more synonyms when I don't quite understand a word.  Those pronouns are almost always right.  She's picking up on some word endings that she used to skip.  She has started bringing out papers and written copy - pointing to words to prove her point.  Like leader.   

Imagine having to use everything you can think of just to communicate one simple message - saying it, writing it, using synonyms, telling stories, acting it out.  I wonder that I wouldn't give up - the effort outweighing the thought.  Thankfully, thankfully thankfully, Jesus didn't give up.  He presented his Message in every way possible - even by dying - so that we would receive it.

He is the Truth, the Life, and the Way.  He very is.  Who can argue with that.

Thank you, Father, for my daughter, who teaches me.  Thank you, for Jesus, who never gave up teaching us.

Linking with TellHisStory

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Irena Sendler

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age.  The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there."  This is what the Lord Almighty says: “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?” declares the Lord Almighty.

Zechariah 8:4-6

"When Hitler and his Nazis built the Warsaw Ghetto and herded 500,000 Polish Jews behind its walls to await liquidation, many Polish gentiles turned their backs or applauded.  Not Irena Sendler.  An unfamiliar name to most people, but this remarkable woman defied the Nazis and saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto. As a health worker, she sneaked the children out between 1942 and 1943 to safe hiding places and found non-Jewish families to adopt them."

I can't imagine having to make the kind of decision these mothers, these parents had to make - to save their children from a fate they knew they, themselves, would soon be facing.  To give up their children, their babies, flesh of their flesh, to a stranger - a woman who could only give them the choice, not the certainty of a better moment in life.  Not even a promise of a whole life - just the hope for one.  And the hope for a reunion one day - if only circumstances changed.   Heartbreaking.  Heartrending.  

Twenty-five hundred children saved.  Twenty-five hundred lives rescued.  The woman responsible was caught - her arms and legs broken - she was dumped in the forest, left to die.  But she didn't die for many, many years.  She remembered.  She remembered the cries of the children as they left - the cries of the mothers, sacrificing.  She thought it could never happen again - this inhumanity.  

She died in her apartment in Warsaw, ninety-eight years old, a reluctant heroine.

Faith.  A little bit goes a long way - mustard seed faith.  A lot moves mountains.  Faith in God, faith in ourselves, faith in humanity.  Years and years ago, God gave a picture of a life of redemption to his prophet Zechariah - a picture to tell to the people of Jerusalem.  Families - whole families - old and young - would be together in the city streets.  The idea was so foreign to the people at the time, so unbelievable, so marvelous - the thought of the kind of life where people grew to old age and children played in public - that God made the prophet add a disclaimer.  Nothing is too marvelous to Him - God of Miracles.  

So where's the faith?  

In the woman who did everything she could to save strangers she didn't know because it was the right thing to do.  Because she had a picture in her head - families - old and young - free and able to be in public together, to play, to sit with canes, to live.  She must have had faith that her mission was God-breathed, this faith that gave her strength to do what needed to be done.  She must have had faith that there were others, like her, who would step up when called and when needed.  And they did.  

In the parents who sacrificed in order to save their children.  In the lives of the children saved - who have experienced grace.  In God who provided the means and the miracles.  We can do miraculous things in His Name, with His help, to His glory.  In all times.  Even now, even today.   

Irena Sendler was a warrior for God.  A woman of faith.  Strength, hope and compassion  Today, I find joy in her story.  Below are more links.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your heroes on earth - people who follow you even into that Valley of the Shadow.  Thank you for showing us true faith and belief, strength and hope.  Thank you for teaching us compassion.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Which Kind of Fox

But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.  No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.
Ezra 3:12-13

I saw an animal this morning - sitting in a patch of sunlight by the treeline in my backyard.  I was on the elliptical machine, exercising; the sight stopped me in my tracks.  Literally.  I ran downstairs for my camera.  Maybe if I took a picture, I would be able to identify it.  I didn't want to scare it away, so I brought my camera back upstairs - to that same window - and I used my telephoto lens through the glass.  Whatever it was - about cat-sized, but with longer ears - was scratching with single-minded determination.  Then it stood - longish tail, rough fur; I couldn't get a good look at its head before it loped off into the woods.  A last glimpse of reddish-brown fur between the trees, and it was gone.

With real anticipation, exercise forgotten, I rushed back downstairs to load the pictures on my computer.  Funny part - I tried to look it up by memory first - googling pictures of wild cats and mammals in my state.  It definitely wasn't a wild cat - romantic thoughts of an exotic species living right under my nose gone...  So, I looked at the pictures.  Definitely a red fox.  Common species found all across the United States.  Surviving in urban areas as well as suburban and rural.  Solitary.  Independent.  Trickster in folklore.

I liked that.  Because it fooled me...

So, how often are we fooled?  Made to think one thing when reality is entirely different?  Anticipating events that end up reversing our expectations?  Disappointed or pleasantly surprised?  There are a lot of foxes out there - tricksters...

I was just reading Ezra.  There was a passage that stuck with me - Ezra was talking about the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem - authorized by King Cyrus of Persia - rebuilding by the descendants of the Israeli exiles to Babylon.  And witnessed by some of the original exiles - the men and women who had actually known the original temple built by King Solomon and destroyed seventy years earlier.  Imagine how they must have felt - finally coming back to their holy city, released from captivity, the chosen, children of the one God.  Joy.  But this temple wasn't the same - it was less - less grand, smaller, a re-do, a substitute.  The stones that laid the foundation weren't as finely cut from as costly material; there was no Ark, no rod of Aaron, no manna; Glory wasn't there.  Sorrow in the comparison.
Some commentaries mention the mixture of joy and sorrow as our life on earth.  The joy of heaven and the sorrow of hell that meet up together - the human condition.  I disagree.  The passage also says no one could distinguish the sounds - the joy from the weeping.  I think we've been fooled by a fox.  A fox that categorizes and labels.   Maybe there isn't so much of a difference between the two.  If I were to make a list of things that make me cry - the list would contain a jumble of acts of kindnesspain, undeserved love, loss, grace - impossible to order because they are equally important, equally life-changing, equally likely to be on a list of things that inspire joy.

When the congregation at my church sang Jesus Loves You to my daughter after her baptism; she was in middle school and the pastors walked with her up and down the central aisle so the people could express their love and support - I cried.  I didn't just cry - I sobbed - right there in front of God and everyone.  When a group of youth chose to lift her over a rope in a game they were playing - because she wasn't capable of jumping it - I cried again.  When I saw my father, with all the wires and tubes after open-heart surgery, fragile and tender, hugging a heart pillow to his chest, walking down the hall of the hospital with two therapists, I cried.  Tears of joy.  Tears of relief.  Tears of hope.

We've been fooled into thinking joy and weeping are opposites.  Heaven and hell.  I prefer to see them as part of a journey.  I will continue to seek joy, even though, at times, that joy is expressed through weeping.

Father in heaven, thank you for your foxes that make us think about truth.  
Thank you for joy and for tears.

Linked with Monday's Musings

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Splendor of His Holiness

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come before him.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
1 Chronicles 16:29

Everything is holy...

She moved gracefully, humming as she pulled up the tangle of sheets, smoothing them, tucking in the errant corners - those wayward ends that threatened the oh-so-perfect lay of the bed.

My chains are gone, I've been set free.... It was that music from church - the song that blended old with new - the one that kept going through her head...

Lovingly, tenderly, she folded the quilt at the foot of the mattress - just so - the handmade quilt her own grandmother had made with the meticulous stitches and color like an English garden - muted hues and pattern.  She paused in her ministering of the bed, and sang the words out loud - right there in her bedroom, into the quiet and stillness of the morning.

And like a flood His mercy reigns,
Unending love, amazing grace.

She loved how the song fit together - perfectly - amazing grace.  Always and forever - the old with the new.   She HAD been set free - the instant she had finally welcomed Jesus in her life, put off for so long.  She had been set free - self-forgiveness - she could let go of the years of bad choices, of trying to belong for all the wrong reasons, of the loneliness of trying to do everything herself.  Independent.  Strong.  Wrong.

And now she stood quietly beside the bed.  Waiting.  She knew how to be still.  Moments like this, when the jumble of her thoughts would soon focus laser-sharp onto one idea, one image;  these were the priceless moments - when she felt God close.   A holy moment.

She had been changed.  Everything IS holy, she thought.  There it was - in the instant of her stillness.  The one thought, the one idea, the thing that tied it all together.  Making the bed - memories of her grandmother standing in her apron wiping the flour from her hands, the must-be-heaven smell of fresh doughnuts and cinnamon rolls mixed with the sour-sweet odor of hay and hogs, and the turned-earth of the farm.  Everything IS holy.  Even chores.  Especially chores.  Arranging and composing the bed, the room, her home into a place of warmth and invitation.  Cooking.  Washing dishes - the water, clean and soapy, reminding her of the crisp cold of a morning swim on an early summer day.  Everything - created by Him; everything calling her to remember...

Come, he said.  Come, she thought.

Come to holiness.  Come to the day with rejoicing and gladness.  Come with a clean heart.  Amazing grace.

God, thank you for a new attitude, a new outlook - In, around, under, beside, past, present, and future, in all things, in all ways - You are Holy!

Linking with Still Saturday

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Humbled By Kindness Part 3

If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
Romans 12:8

“You know, I still didn’t completely trust – much as I’d like to say I did.  Not at first.  I left CeCe on the line – explaining that I would be in the auditorium, but that Daniel would make sure she did what she was supposed to do,  then I immediately checked up on this Daniel guy.  I spoke with one of the APs – the one whose wife headed up our Special Olympics track team – the one I thought would have the most sympathy and understanding of CeCe’s situation and needs.  I asked him if this Daniel guy would actually help CeCe out, if he would actually take this added responsibility on.  The AP assured me – he said the boy was one of the good guys – and he said he’d keep an eye out for her as well…”

“So I sat back and watched the kids come into the auditorium.  I couldn’t help but smile when I saw CeCe and that Daniel walking in – she had his attention, she looked like she was talking a mile a minute and he looked like he was listening….he had that attentive pose – slightly bent to get an ear closer to CeCe – there’s no other way to say it – he had a bemused look on his face.  You know, the kind of look that says ‘I really have no clue what you’re saying but I’m going to go along with it anyway…’.  It was wonderful, watching them.  Tall and short.  Black and white…”  She trailed off, eyes blinking again behind her glasses. 

I watched her; she was staring off again – that see-all-see-nothing stare.  A slight movement directed my attention.  Her hands were trembling – tracing over the picture in the album.  She caught the edge of the page and turned it, slowly, smoothing over the new sheet of old photos tenderly. 

“I miss her, my girl.”  The whisper floated,  journeying across the space and time that separated us.  The old woman and me. 

I leaned in closer to see what her fingers were remembering.  The girl’s eyes were riveting.  Her blonde hair was lifted up and away from the somber robe – making the whole picture playful.  Teasing.  Her eyes, though.  Her eyes were staring right at the camera.  It looked like they were staring right at me.  They were tilted slightly at the corners, flat lids.  Young.  Young and innocent and joyful and wise.  Could they really be all those things?  To a camera?  To a stranger across the years?  I noticed the details – the cap was a little too big – coming down over her brow just a little too far, creating a shadow across her forehead because it didn’t quite fit.  She was looking away – at another camera, another photographer in the next couple of pictures.  In one, she had her arm around another student.  In this one, it was her smile that captivated me.  So honest.  Pure.  Sweet.

“.,,Last year….”   The old woman had turned toward me again.  She, too, was smiling.  “Yes,”  she agreed.  “My CeCe had that same effect on everyone.  She spilled over with joy.  She was all about relationship.”  Her finger rested on the photo of the two friends.  “I miss her.”

“So, do you want to hear the rest of the story?  About that boy?  And my girl?  It was something special.”  The woman’s lifted her eyes – sparkling – from the album in her lap.  I nodded.
“Well, there’s really not much more to it all, really.  Not anymore with my memory, anyway…”   She laughed – a short burst of a humph-y laugh, and continued.  “That boy – Daniel – he caught up to us from the class picture,” her finger pointed to the photos.  “He said he’d been watching for her – from the top row.”  She looked up at me again.  “Can you just imagine?  Him in his graduation robe, looking all sharp and eyerything with his tie and honors medal around his neck, in the middle of his own graduation, looking for my girl?  Right then and there I prayed a little prayer of thanks.  He was truly a gift.”

“CeCe and I walked with him into the Expo Center where this thing was going to take place.  It was big and there were a lot of people, crowding into the doors and looking like they knew where they were going.  We were shepherded outside and back in to an area just for staff and graduates.  Did I tell you that CeCe’s principal had issued me an ID so I could be with her before the big line-up?  So I was there in the middle of all these students.  CeCe had to pick up her name card from a table and get ready to line up.  After I zipped her robe back on, Daniel told me he could watch her, and would stay with her from there.  I trusted him – CeCe was so excited.  She told me to go – she would be fine.  So I left.”

“The next time I saw my girl, she was being helped down the stadium steps – by Daniel – in her graduation line – in time with Pomp and Circumstance.  Of course, I got all emotional.  Still do when I think about it…Somehow that boy knew those steps were going to be difficult for my daughter to manage.  She was in seventh heaven holding his arm.  You could see the relationship all the way down the steps, then all the way down the aisle….right up until the moment the row behind them blocked the view – of the tall boy and the short girl – taking care of each other – I could just picture that bemused expression on his face because her face was tilted toward his and her mouth was moving – a mile a minute.”

“It’s like snapshots in my head – these memories of the ceremony,”  my Aunt had closed her eyes and was leaning back against the cushions of her chair.  She turned those closed eyes toward me and continued.

“She was in the third row, on the side closest to where we were sitting.  We saw the row stand and watched as they lined up along the opposite wall – moving toward the stage and their handshake.  CeCe had been practicing that handshake for weeks – reach for the diploma with the left, shake with the right, look the person in the eye.  She actually had a surprisingly firm grip.”

The woman moved her hands away from the album.  They had been covering a few more of the old pictures.  Blurry again.  But knowing the story, now, I could see the tall and short – in line against a the far side of an arena.  It was obvious they were talking – his head tilted down, hers tilted up.  In one, it looked like he was guiding her – arm behind her back. 

“You see it, now, don’t you?”  The woman’s voice was muted in the stillness of the room.  She turned her head toward me – eyes still closed.  “My camera may not have gotten the detail – but it captured the important stuff – you see, don’t you?  The relationship.  The trust.  The caring.”  She opened her eyes and pointed to the final picture on the page. 

“Look.  Closely.  I almost missed it myself….yes, that’s CeCe shaking the hand of her high school principal.  You can see the school board members lined up – she had to walk down the line.  Three hands.  Then there’s the photographer.  You can see his camera and his concentration.  Catching the moment.  But look behind him.  On the floor – where the students are lining up for their second picture.  He’s the one turned around to watch.  He’s still keeping his eye on my girl – still watching out for her.  Now, that…” the old woman turned to me, concise and crisp, big smile forming, finger pressed into the book, “That’s special.” 

She was blinking behind her glasses – blinking away tears.  “I just can’t tell that story without crying – even now, after all these years.”  It was almost like she’d forgotten I was even in the room – a comment to herself.  “I’m always so humbled by his kindness.”  She stopped the blinking.  Tears tracked along the fine wrinkles.  She gave me one of her special teacher looks – the sternish one – the look that said listen to what I’m about to say…  “I made him introduce me to his mother – at the end – I wanted to make sure she knew what a good boy she’d raised.  It was the least I could do…for all he’d done for my girl….”

“You know, he never did stop taking care of her – He helped her move her tassel, throw her cap in the air – and retrieved it for her, walked her back up the stairs, and even stayed with her – us – when she traded in her card for her diploma.  He told me CeCe had calmed his nerves.  Imagine that!  He stayed right up until I met his mom – and his sister, his grandma, his girlfriend.  They were all proud of him – his graduation….He was such a good boy.”

She closed the album and pushed it to the side of her chair.  Her face was composed.  She smoothed her hands over the tears, then back to her lap where they lay, calm and still.  “I’m a little tired, now.  Gonna take a catnap – visit my girl.  She always brought out the best in people.  I miss that. ..miss her….”.  I watched her drift off – quiet breathing, chest barely moving.  And then a smile – forming just like a rainbow, twitched at the corners of her mouth…and stayed.  Serene.  Pure.  Sweet.

I think she found her girl. 

Heavenly Father, Thank you for kindness; help us to recognize it in our everydays.  Help us to appreciate and encourage those who choose kindness.  Bless them.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Humbled By Kindness Part 2

Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?"

The King will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
Matthew 25:37-40

“We sat together for a bit – until one of the teachers noticed us – CeCe knows them all – those teachers….and gathered CeCe up to sit closer to the front.  Just in time.  The principal had commandeered the microphone and was launching into a stern spiel about behavior during graduation – and hiring extra police to ensure the acting appropriately – and no hugging of board members – and – oh my, it made me think what are we getting ourselves into…..”

“I took notes.  Between the principal and the student activities director, I took about a page and half of instructions – what to expect, when to do what, where to be, etc., etc., etc.  Good grief – if I have to take notes, how in the world will CeCe be able to handle this?”  The woman shifted in her chair, her voice had risen – somewhat louder, pitched higher.  She looked again at the photo, agitated.  Then smiled.  Like lights turning on.

“Just when I thought the instructions were never going to end, they did.  The students were to go to two different hallways to line up.  Their names would be posted in line-up order along the walls.  No more direction than that. “

Eyes watery – the old woman pushed her glasses up from where they’d slipped on her nose.  “She was so small – looked like a 10-year old, especially in the middle of all those big bodies.  I could tell with most of them that they didn’t even see her – no fault of theirs – they were only kids – but this line-up thing….names in alphabetical order for pete’s sake – CeCe didn’t know these kids – she knew her classmates, she knew some of the teachers – but which line…..”

“Well, we walked down the first hall – I still feel CeCe’s hands, both of them, holding tight on my arm.  And we checked names – if you get to the Ds, you’ve gone too far – I remember the activities director saying – helpful, right?  Down the first hall – Campbell, Cannon, Chelton, Cole, Cox, Daniels….. I double-checked.  One of the boys – tall, with longish dreads, was dancing in line – getting down with the hip rocking – right in front of us.  Guess I was old-fashioned even then.  It didn’t sit right – not his fault, he was excited about graduation in his own way – It’s just, sometimes the gulf was so wide between my daughter and the other kids….”  The voice drifted off into a kind of audio-stare thing – silent, thinking, remembering…  

“Anyway, we were in the wrong hallway.”  She turned and looked directly at me, with that teacher let’s-get-back-to-business voice of hers.  “So I took my girl to the other one – the other line-up – and started reading names….Black, Cash, Coleman, Coons…. There it was.  Easy peasey.   In a way, I was relieved to have found her name.  It kind of showed that we were in the right place – this hall, this practice, this graduation….but it felt bigger than just the moment – more of a validation of doing the right thing in pushing my girl to do and be – even in that unique way of hers.” 

“But in another way, I was nervous.  Again.  I knew I couldn’t be the mom who walked around with her girl – I was going to have to let her go – let her do this herself…or at least with help from the school, not the mom…  But there still weren’t any familiar faces….no official help, and CeCe wasn’t letting go of my hand.”  The voice cracked.  I looked at her – this woman – so intent on my understanding.  She had the finest tracings of wrinkles around her eyes…I thought of the joys and pains she had endured – earning these lines, like badges of honor.

Abruptly, she dropped her focus to the album on her lap, on that blurred picture – the tall and the short out-of-focus… “He made the difference.  That Daniel.”  She spread her fingers over the tall figure – peering, then looked up at me – eyes dancing.  “It just doesn’t want to focus – no matter how hard I try.”  Laughter in her voice.  “But I remember his face anyway.  He had a kind face.  Young.  Observant.  He was just watching the line form – seemed to be aware of everyone and everything. He saw CeCe.  He saw my girl.  I could tell he was a little surprised by her – maybe her size, or how young she looked.  Maybe he was surprised to see her mother tagging along.  But I could see the kindness, the little bit of a smile, the eyebrow raised just a tad, the looking-but-not-staring.  He saw her.”  She looked up again – chin tilted slightly forward, eyes challenging.  No laughter now – serious. 

“So I decided to take a chance.  I asked if he was Daniel – if his was the name on the list – in line ahead of my daughter.  Yes, M’am’, he said.  He was softspoken, voice not too deep coming from that tall body.  I introduced him to CeCe – she shook his hand, looking up into his face.  I asked him if he knew her at all – a lot of surprising people did…. ‘No, M’am’, he answered.  Now or never, I thought…. so I jumbled out the situation – that CeCe would be in the graduation but that the whole thing was a little overwhelming – to both of us – and that I didn’t want her to get lost or be in the wrong place…I know I was talking fast because that’s what I did when I was nervous – hypertalk.  I remember he really didn’t hesitate – he just looked at CeCe, then back at me and said “I’ll watch out for her, M’am”.  Really?  I asked.  You really will?  “Yes, M’am”, he said, ‘she’ll be fine.”

The woman smiled softly and turned toward me again.  “Sometimes you just have to take a chance.”  Her voice resonated with wisdom.  “He made room for kindness – it was a set-up, you know.  A God thing.  Choices.  I had to choose to trust – Daniel had to choose to act….”  She trailed off, looking down at the book.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Humbled by Kindness Part 1

Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Matthew 7:20

This is the first of three parts of a story I wrote last year, a true story based on my daughter's graduation - told in a fictional setting.  Finding joy is sometimes a question of balancing today's news with our own experience - I was truly humbled by this young man's kindness to my daughter.  Humbled by his actions, and humbled by the fact that for whatever reason, his actions were unexpected - 

“There’s always a story”, the voice cut through the velvet-quiet of the Home, “behind the story.”  Her hand was cool, skin papery with a map of blue veins and those old-people discolorations, resting on the arm of the chair.  Her chair.  Upholstered in thick pink satin and embroidery – just a little worn at the piped edges.  Like her  - buttoned into a Zsa Zsa bed jacket, hair all poufed and perfect in a fine-line-powdered-face way – just a little touch of lipstick coloring outside the precisely drawn mouth.  I watched her mouth as she spoke.

“She was just a little girl – cute in that special way of hers – and thrilled to be in that cap and gown.  Her eyes danced between us all – flitting from person to person like a hummingbird.  And her smile just lit up the place.  She swished when she walked, making the gown and tassel swing.  Looked like she was playing dress-ups – even though she had just celebrated her 21st birthday.  Oh, but that was our CeCe.  She had a way of showing us the joy in the smallest things – and it was contagious, that joy.”  The old woman, my Great-Aunt, shifted in her chair, smiling – and reached to point to a photo in the album on her lap – focus all gone fuzzy, like looking through vaseline.

“Can you see her?  In the blur?  That’s my CeCe – the little one, right next to the big one.  His name was Daniel – going to one of the big Texas Universities on a football scholarship – six-two at least, and around 240….”  Her mouth stiffened slightly, “Silly camera could handle lights or distance, but it just couldn’t do both.”  Pause.  “Sure wish I’d taken pictures of all the moments between the two kids.  She was over a foot shorter, probably at least three years older, and you can just imagine the social distance - between my Down Syndrome girl and the football star….. “  She raised her eyes from the book, seeking mine.  That’s the story…. ”

 Sniffing a little, shaking her head, she continued.  “It began on rehearsal day.  I had to take CeCe up to the high school to practice the lining up and walking in and all that pomp and circumstance.  Oh, but my girl had a funny way of saying things – kind of Yoda-speak, always putting the verb before the subject, and mixing up her pronouns and tenses.  She just couldn’t get her mind wrapped around time – everything was last year….”

This pause lasted a long time – like listening to a thousand-mile stare.  Then abruptly she tapped her finger back on that out-of-focus picture,  “….last year,” she smiled slowly and continued.  “Every once in awhile, my girl would come out with a completely understandable sentence – perfect syntax and surprising clarity.”

Mom, I am nervous.  She said in her deepish voice – the ‘r’ not quite pronounced sounding more like nauvous.”

“I could usually put a positive spin on stuff like that,  Nervous?  You’re just excited, sweetie.  I told her.  Shoot.  I was nervous.  I had no idea how CeCe would do with this graduation thing – but better that she try….”

“Anyway, we made our way into the auditorium where the kids were gathering.  I kept looking around for CeCe’s teachers, or for one of the aides from her classroom – but I didn’t see anyone.  The high-schoolers were moving toward the front of the room and finding seats – so I told her to go on up. “

“I watched from my seat in the back.  When she’s nervous, she walks with one arm wrapped around her back.  I remember thinking she was so brave-she just forged ahead with that arm reaching up behind… She was unsure, but wanted so badly to do and be with the other kids.” 

“And then she was in the bleeder-seats with me.  Her face was twisted up in that stop-my-lip-from-quivering thing that comes before tears. “

“Mom, stay with me,” she said, and she reached out to take my hand.  Her hand was shaking.  She doesn’t know what to do, where are her teachers, she’s scared to death, don’t they know she can’t do this alone, why am I making her go through this, she’s so anxious.  Thoughts were tangled up in my head – empathy, blame, pride.  I told her to stay with me until things got started.  As she sat down, I held up my right hand to her left – thumb, forefinger, and pinky up – she bent her fingers into the same position and we I love you’d – kind of our secret ‘It’s ok’.”