Saturday, December 4, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Grandpa Tom and Fred Astaire

She loves Fred Astaire, Mary does. She knows his footwork, his stats, his signature. At a recent costume party we expected Fred to show and (s)he did not disappoint. Our family loves Mary for this quirky enthusiasm. We know a lot about a subject we didn't care about until Mary cared.

Stuart and I caravan through the mountains with two carloads of kids. We drive through the dark, the headlights on in the early morning hours. One by one we pray for comfort and grace for the difficult days ahead. A phone call the night before. "Surgery sometime tomorrow." Would we get there in time? We pile out of the car, meet Grandma in the hospital parking lot. The kids jostle to push the elevator buttons. "Faith, you can push the button to the third floor to see Grandpa. Charlie you can push the button on the way back down."

We find Grandpa Tom in his hospital pjs, his eyes light up when we squeeze into the room. "Oh! You didn't have to come! You're missing work. You shouldn't have come." But he is smiling. We wouldn't have missed this. Surgery is in a few hours and he is calm and cheerful. Grandma Carole is practical and smiling beside him and I take it all in. They don't know I watch them to learn how to walk the aged path the way they do.
A day later, after the old chest has been laid open, the heart repaired and the tubes snake in and out, we tiptoe in again. Grandpa welcomes us, we see the pain but he does not speak of it. "I'm a tough old Englishman" he breathes. The children smile when they see their giant card hanging by his bed, the one signed by nine grandchildren and one Fred Astaire. "We love you, Grandpa" they say; they pat his feet gently on the way out and leave him to do battle.

We speak of this on the ride home. Mary's Fred points the way with these words: Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you've got to start young. How to teach this to these fresh-faced youngsters, their whole life a mystery before them? "Hey, guys, what have you seen this week that has impressed you?"

"Grandma and Grandpa are so cheerful, Mom."

"Grandma isn't worried. She is just doing what needs to be done and living her life."

"I know! I couldn't believe she went to her dance class last night!"

"They are interested in us even in the middle of this."

"Grandpa doesn't complain."

"Remember this, guys. This is an example that we need. In order for all of us to age well we need to learn to live this way now. It is easy to do these things in the difficult times if you have had a whole lifetime of practice."

I see their eyes, large and thoughtful, in the rearview mirror, as they think about this. When we get back to Grandma's, they hustle to empty the car, to set the table, to serve and I smile at these children who are already walking in their grandfather's footsteps.

We're looking forward to seeing you back on your feet, Grandpa Tom. We love you!

To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent - that is to triumph over old age. Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Monday, July 12, 2010


"Daisy Duke," Stuart smiles the words and I eat them up. I wear a white shirt and a pair of blue jean shorts, shorts that cover over middle-aged hips and thighs; Stuart pats my behind as I scoot by with an armload of laundry. "Daisy Duke." Beauty fades but he finds it still.

I grin at him over folded clothes, "I'm so thankful for you." A girl wants to be beautiful to the man she loves. The words sound sweeter with age.

All day he calls me Daisy except when he channels Morgan Freeman, "You're lookin' fine, Miss Daisy." Then I forget the day's honey and I just want to whack him with my handbag.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


My sister-in-law lugs a heavy bucket of water around her herb garden, gives each plant a long sip. "It's been three weeks since we've had rain," she sighs looking out over the dusty vegetable garden and the shriveled brown grass in the pasture beyond. We help my brother pick beans and pull the weeds around them. The dry ground pulls back and some of the weeds snap off above the roots. We give up in the strawberry plants, sit on the porch, listen to the dogs pant.

We travel home in an air conditioned bubble. The whole length of the Shenandoah valley is crispy brown, the corn stunted. We pull into our Amish county driveway, greener here but the grass is short and the air hot. We breathe shallow breaths, unpack, crank the air conditioning. No rain in the forecast, three weeks and counting.

Saturday there will be a wedding, an outdoor wedding, and finally rain threatens. Stuart is on the phone with the bride. "Pray that the rain holds off," she says. Saturday we wake to dark skies, the parched earth slurps the drops. All day the rain falls, a slow, steady farmer's rain. It's beautiful, refreshing. The ground takes all she is given; no puddles remain.

No prayers for weather issue forth here, instead I rejoice, "God, you are good! What perfect timing!" for this is a marriage that needs rain, a second-chance marriage. Two who found each other across cultures and borders. Dry and thirsty lives. So many lives. She has children, six of them, and he is willing to bear the burden.

They stand at the altar and worship, her hands raised; both marvel at God's goodness.

And it rains. Inside and out, mercy rains.

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit. Leviticus 26: 3&4

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Fourth

It's been halfway to forever since I've clicked open this space. A move and a school year and a cobwebby middle-age brain to contend with. The little things race by without my seeing or recording and I don't know how to start here again. Words are work and need mind space to percolate. I'm already long on work and short on space. Where to start?

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. A new birthday lens and a few memories of the Fourth. I grabbed the camera to savor the things that made me smile.

A yellow bird in the yellow sunlight in a cheerful yellow house. Buttercup, she's called.

Girls in straw hats in a thorny tangle of blackberries. Fresh blackberry cobbler for breakfast.

Daisies on the hills and insects fluttering up with each step in the grass.

Fresh blueberries and cream cheese frosting on sugar cookies. Assembled by at least a dozen hands. Devoured by more than a dozen mouths.

We laugh because a few years ago we carried these boys in backpacks and made hardtack and pretended to sail on the Mayflower and now there is a driver's ed manual on the kitchen counter and fireworks and fire in the kitchen.

And out in the yard in the dark, a humming street light, Mike's Hard Lemonade, IBC root beer (Charlie held his in his mouth to make the fizz dissipate) and the fireworks crackle and sizzle and pop. And the children do not cry at the noise. They cheer; they clink bottles and they laugh.

I want to wrap my arms around this moment and hold them all in it because soon they will read that driver's ed manual and they will drive away and come back to us carrying baby boys in backpacks.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Stumbling Toward Marriage

I like Barbie movies becaus thay are relistik, Claire writes for a language arts lesson.

I correct spelling and ask, "Realistic? Why?"

"They do real things."

"Yeah, like fly," says John.

"Hush. I really want to know what Claire thinks. What about the love parts, Claire? Are the love parts realistic?"


"Yeah. One saves the other and after he does the saving he gets to keep her."


And this, "Mary was about our John's age when she had Jesus? You can have babies when you are a teenager? Wow! I can't wait!" This from Faith who has her whole heart set on a house filled top to bottom with children...a mom waiting to happen. "Well," she plans, "when I'm about seventeen, I'm going to Wal-Mart to find a boy who is nice to people and if I like him, he'll be my husband and I can hurry up and be a mom."

These are the children we are entrusted with. These we must shape into suitable life partners. Whew!

We ponder... How does one go from child to spouse? We keep eyes wide open, look for opportunities to impart wisdom.

One night I cut peppers for dinner and John visits while I chop. You have to be on your toes with a fourteen year old. Carpe diem and all that.


"I don't think I'll get married, Mom."

A recurring theme these days with eldest son, so I probe, "Why do you say that?"

"Well, I just don't think that a girl will want to marry me. Once she gets to know me she'll find out things she doesn't like about me and that will be the end."

These words strike a chord. "You remind me of me, you know. My favorite line in college was, "My face will end up in the Old Maid card deck."

"You really thought that, Mom?"

"I thought everything you just said, John. I didn't want anybody to know that I wasn't perfect either. When I first started dating your Papa I was sick to my stomach for weeks because I wanted to walk away before he found out that I was a hot tempered, finicky girl."


"Really. But this thinking on my part then and on your part now is wrong. Wrong because when we think this way we leave God out of the equation. He has a plan for you. If that plan includes marriage then even right now he is raising up a girl who will be an excellent wife for you. Are you ready to be a husband and father today?"

"No! Mom, I'm just fourteen!"

"Then rest. Do not worry about this now. Pray. Pray that God will work all things for your good in time. Pray for your wife. Honey, one day if she knows that you have been praying for her since you were a kid, you will knock her socks off! Serve. You are right. You are not ready to be a husband now but you have opportunities all around you to get ready for the job. Love your family. Look for opportunities to serve, set aside your time wasting and meet the needs around you. And when the time comes, you'll be ready."

And this is where we part ways with the status quo. We are training our children to delay dating until they are ready to embrace marriage and family. Career ready, emotionally ready, maturity ready. This sets the dating time line later than the giggling, texting, driver-permit crowd. We are not naive enough to expect to navigate these waters with five children without a hiccup. We are prepared to offer counsel and grace. But for now, we keep eyes wide open and we talk freely. We are foolish enough to hope that this is the way to mold our romantic child and our cynical, reserved, and bold children into worthy men and women who marry worthy men and women .

Heaven help us.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Marriage Story

They’re frayed with a gash above the hem and pockets that bulge out, those cargo shorts that Stuart was wearing on a day when we were going out.

“Are you going to wear those?”


“But they're so ratty.”

“OK. I’ll change 'em.”

And he did. He changed into blue shorts with pockets that bulge out.

“Are you going to wear those?”

“Yes. I need to.”

“But there are bleach spots on the front. They’re not very good shape. You have nicer shorts.”

“I know.”

He changed, back into the first pair of shorts, and we went out the door.

Why couldn't he wear one of his better pairs? We’re going to spend all day together. I just love to look at him but, OH, those shorts.

We walked and held hands and the children shed, shed their hats and water bottles and sunglasses. The pockets in the cargo shorts made room for these things as the children dropped them or handed them to their Papa.

We walked. Single file. Mama in back, four goslings in the middle, Papa in front with a little one in his arms and his pockets bulging full of kid stuff.

He did need those shorts. His decent shorts don’t have enough pockets.

Those shorts, frayed with a gash above the hem and pockets that bulge out, he wasn’t thinking about himself when he put them on. The heart that beats under the tattered white shirt (to match the tattered shorts) is one that loves. He dressed to serve us.

And I am ashamed.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Power Failures at Peter's House

We were reading John 6 this morning and we came to the part where Jesus asked his disciples, "You do not want to leave me too, do you?"

Peter responded, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

The kids were impressed with Peter's answer. "How come Peter's like that, Mama? How can he be so awesome sometimes and so stupid at other times?

The power has been blinking on and off at our house for the past week and this is what I drew on for an explanation. "Well, it's kind of like the power around here. You know how everything is running fine and then the power blinks off and a few minutes later it comes back on? Peter is kind of like that. He has great faith but sometimes, under pressure, his faith shuts down for a little while. But the thing about Peter is that his faith, just like our power, always returns."

A few hours later the power went off giving the children a chance to reflect on the lesson of the morning. They've taken to calling our house, Peter's house.

I had a power failure of my own recently. The air conditioning in the car was not working and Stuart took it to the shop to be repaired. "It shouldn't be a big deal," he said. "It's probably just a leaky valve." It was not just a leaky valve. It was the compressor. Easily fixed for $854.00.

This was when I came unplugged. We have enough money for needs but not a lot left over for wants. I had planned to buy a rug for the girls room. But it got preempted by car parts. So I worried. What if we keep having repairs and medical bills like we have had for the past year? What if we run out of money before we run out of bills? This is a ridiculous thought. There are retirement accounts and a savings account and home equity. We are far more than an air compressor away from being on the street. It is too easy for me to make the leap from not being able to afford wants to doubting that our needs will be met. In my thirty-nine years of living there has not been a day where God has failed to meet my needs. Yet I battle this fear time and again.

This is silly. The parentheses of my creation and my eternal life... are already taken care of. Shouldn't I trust God with the details that make up the middle? He is working with me on this. He is pushing me harder to trust Him. He's opening my eyes to recognize the times when my faith goes on the blink. This time I fought back. This time I said no to panic. A few days later an unexpected check arrived in the mail. Not for $854.00 but the amount was unimportant. I think it was God's way of saying, You look to Stuart's job for your provision. Don't you realize that everything comes through my hands? See? I can take care of you. And He does.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Her children rise up and call her blessed. Yeah, right. Maybe someone else's children do that. Not mine, and I wish they would stop rising so darn early. That would be a blessing. The thoughts that churned in this mother's heart when it beat stronger and surer a half decade ago when I was up to my eyeballs in diapers and sippy cups.

Today is Mother's Day. To celebrate, Claire drew me a card on a piece of notebook paper in church where she was informed by today's sermon that it is a significant day. Happy mothers Day, Mama! A bouquet of flowers drawn underneath. For lunch, we hit the McDonald's drive through (where the cashier wished me a Happy Mother's Day) and then went to Lowe's for home improvement materials (where an employee operating a fork truck said the same). It has been a great day.

I do mean this. Around here, every day is Mother's day. Not the saccharine, stress-inducing, sainted, card-bestowing, mother-worshipping kind of day. Thank goodness! No, I mean the kind where the children rise up and bless me in a thousand considerate, unexpected ways.


Kindness springs forth from my offspring as naturally as breathing. I am typing this post on my knees, not because I'm praying, but because I'm too lazy to go get a chair. John sees this and brings me one. The girls notice where there is work to be done and they do it to ease my workload. Charlie wraps his arms around me a hundred times a day and kisses me...on one cheek and then the other and then on the forehead. I kiss him back in the same manner. "I love you SO much, Mama" he says while squeezing his arms tight around my neck. Sometimes I'm wrapped in ten-arm hugs and pummeled with ten-hand backrubs.

"You look pretty, Mama." This surprises me too...that my children notice what I wear and are free with extravangant words of praise. "I like that shirt, Mom. It is the same color as your eyes." They bring me armloads of wildflowers and arrange them in vases until the whole house flowers with the affection of these young ones.

They love me enough to call me on my shortcomings, too. Not in an aggravated or disrespectful way but gently, in a way that makes me want to be better than I am now.

And this, this gets to the heart of my astonishment. I have offered my children a little...a little love and care and nurture, mixed with some grumbling and entire days of hot temper and occasional despair. Yet, they flourish. They are good because of me and in spite of me. I'm learning the loaves and fishes principle applies to motherhood. These young saplings, the same ones I thought would never see beyond their own needs are beginning to look out, to bud and flower and bear fruit in abundance.

To John...and Lauren...and Faith...and Claire...and Charlie. I am blessed to be your Mama. Happy Mother's Day!