Wednesday, November 11, 2020

We Can Do Hard Things

Four-year-old Chloe on the Ferris wheel

Last month Chloe and I were starting to read a chapter from one of the Little House books before her bedtime when the deluge came. 

I knew what had triggered it -- I knew because I had felt it, too, a half-hour before as we looked with Ethan through old videos I'd taken on my phone a few years ago. At first we were laughing at the clips of Chloe's three-year-old antics and Ethan's zany behavior. But we then we would come across the videos from the fair and the Ferris wheel dazzling in the night sky. And there was VBS, a hundred kids singing and dancing and jumping and laughing, crowding the church sanctuary. Not a mask in sight. There was the kids' Christmas choir with everyone dressed in their Sunday best, Chloe on the stage, the littlest one of all. "Look at us all singing!" she had said wistfully, and I felt the pricks in my eyes. The parade marched by in another video, the one the whole town comes out for. The one that had been cancelled this year. 

"Maybe we should turn this off now," I had urged, as the three of us had grown quiet. Now we were upstairs and about to start reading when the tears came. 

"I don't want to go to school tomorrow," Chloe said in a small voice, head on the pillow, curled up as if about to hibernate. 

"Don't you like school?" I asked. "I know you have fun when you're there." 

"I know." Her face crumpled. "But everything's different! Nothing is the way it was last year! And we have to wear masks and can't sing in music and we can't play on the playground a lot of the time and nothing is as fun!" 

"I know, I know," I consoled. She kept going. "And we can't do kids choir or VBS or anything and we couldn't even do a big show for theater and I miss that! We can't even do things for Halloween! I HATE it!" Now she was all-out sobbing, and my tears were tears of both empathy and frustration in not being able to change the situation. 

I thought of the book I'd read by Mary Beth Chapman, wife of Christian music artist Steven Curtis Chapman, a story of wading through tragedy after the loss of one of her young daughters. Speaking with her other young daughter one day after she broke down, Mary Beth said, "It's not fair, I know. There are lots of things that don't seem to be fair, and they're so hard. But...God has asked us to do hard. It really stinks and I wish we didn't have to, but this is what our family has been called to. If we all stick together, we can do hard." 

We can do hard. I thought as I rolled over in my mind so many stories of struggle and waiting and patience and endurance. How could I translate for a six-year-old's understanding? 

"Chloe, remember? We just read the Long Winter. Laura and Mary had nothing but brown bread and potatoes and storms for months and months. They thought it would never end, but remember how wonderful it was for them when spring finally came?" 

I kept grasping to help her make a connection. "Do you remember hearing about World War 2? Remember in the Narnia movie when they had to send the kids to the country because they were bombing London, where they lived? Can you imagine people dropping bombs on Windsor? We can be grateful that isn't happening." Chloe was listening but still weeping. I felt inept but kept going. "And in World War 2, did you know there was no Olympics, or baseball, and they cancelled the Big E, just like it was cancelled this year? The people had to wait for years and years, but they made it through." 

Suddenly I longed to watch a World War 2 movie, one about people waiting and waiting and being brave. I thought of Judy Garland singing a mournfully about the day we would all be together, but until then "we'll have to muddle through somehow." 

As Chloe sniffed and wiped her eyes and hiccupped I realized we weren't just reading about history, but becoming it. Despite my relatively minor troubles, in the grand scheme of things, I felt connected to the people in other times in a way I never had before. Looking back and learning from what has come before us can encourage us for today.

But how to convey that to a first grader? As Chloe stopped crying I started, because I so desperately wanted to help her feel better and so desperately wanted to give her an understanding she didn't have yet. I thought of something a little more tangible. 

"Chloe, remember the story about October snowstorm here and the weeklong power outage?" She nodded. "Well, did you know Halloween was cancelled that year, too? There were tree branches and power lines all over the ground. It was too dangerous." 

"They did?" she asked as I stroked her hair and wiped my eyes, thinking back to the day when the October snow had melted and the sun turned all the leaves golden. It had only been a week, but I still remember the joy when those power guys from Georgia had shown up on our street to bring us back into the light. Everyone stood at their houses, clapping and beaming. 

The memory was sweet. Maybe someday, these memories would be, too. Because we'd realize how much we'd taken for granted, how many beautiful things there really are in this crazy world, and how wonderful it is to have them returned to us. 

Five minutes later Chloe was back to herself. I wasn't, because now I knew that despite her normally cheerful disposition and her optimistic personality, my child was hurting. As we all are. 

Sometimes there isn't much we can do in our own power to change the circumstances around us. But we can take heart in knowing other people have been there and made it to the other side. Like the bear hunt song says, you can't always go around it, sometimes you have to go THROUGH it. 

This is our time to grow -- in faith, in patience, in perseverance. It may be so darned hard, but we CAN do hard things. 


Wednesday, October 14, 2020


I was walking on the river trails in town, kicking my feet through fallen leaves. The light was golden and I was thinking of many things: including a devotional I'd been reading about the value of joy, and the fact that our Bible translations often don't quite nail the word right. Joy in scripture has a meaning equivalent to the look someone has on their face when they're happy to see you (you know, when we say someone's "face lights up"). Picture looking at your small child, sleeping. Precious. 

That led me to thinking about children and why they seem so much happier than adults so much of the time. It's no secret kids laugh many, many more times in a day than adults do. It's because they still have a sense of wonder, I thought, looking up at the vast trees about me. Everything is still new. And children, I thought, are still trusting and innocent. Less jaded by disappointment. 

I kept coming back to the idea of wonder. And that led to thinking of the word wonderful. They're too very different words today, aren't they? I hear wonder and I think wide open eyes and amazement. Awe. Wonderful seems almost like a pleasantry. "The food was wonderful"..."We had a wonderful time"..."That's wonderful that you got a new job." Wonderful means we're getting what we want and what makes us happy. 

But maybe there is a better way, and maybe it's the only way to be, when this world, when our lives and circumstances in the here and now are not so wonderful. 

What about being wonder-full? 

An internet search tells me wonder means to have "a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar or inexplicable." 

We all love wonder. We all want to be full of wonder, don't we? But when I look at that definition, I have to acknowledge what wonder is not: control. 

Wonder is not being able to tidily answer every "why?" question.

Wonder is sometimes doubt and rarely rational. 

Wonder is about something outside of and beyond us. 

Wonder is surprise at what can't be explained, but isn't that what we all want? And so wonder implies humility. If we know all, understand all, have done it all, why would anything inspire wonder?

There is that famous line in the poem Invictus the reads, "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." Stirring words for those who do not wish for circumstances to define them, yes. 

But not the words of a child. In some ways I feel I need to stay one. The way I see to find joy and beauty in a grim and dark world is the way of wonder. Not just awe at the brilliance of a sunset or autumn leaves, but a different kind of awe that involves submission and acknowledgement of something greater than I am.  

As the story of Job recounts, after all of the heartache and a whirlwind blast of a conversation with God, after having none of his pain validated or questions answered, he responded with: "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." 

Could it be. He found peace not that in everything was wonderful. But in being wonder-full.

Somehow, when all we have is  not enough, it is enough. So I will choose to again and again open my hands and place the questions and unknowns into the arms of the one whose thoughts are not my thoughts, whose ways are not my ways. When I do, I am left with something not necessarily good at first sight, not necessarily safe and tidy, but something too wonderful for me to know. On this side of eternity, that can be enough. 


Friday, April 17, 2020

It's Okay to Miss Them

Not long after 9/11, I read an essay by a New Yorker who'd worked near the World Trade Center who was trying to adjust to the disjointedness he felt after life was turned upside down. In this account, though, rather than dwelling on the horrors of that day he saw his loss through all of the little moments and interactions he'd had each day through September 10 that were now gone. He thought about the guy who he'd bought the newspaper from or the women who'd served him coffee; the person that ran the store now buried under dust; the security guard; the window washer; receptionist. He didn't know if they were actually gone, but they were no longer a part of his life, and because of that, he was missing something, left wondering and grieving in both big and small ways.

This I think is where we are now, those of us who are not in the thick of things. We hear of health care workers risking their very lives, of working tirelessly and witnessing heartache, and we feel that we should count our blessings. We do count our blessings. But because we have more time to think, we have more time right now to grieve the small things.

This pandemic life has only been going on for about a month but somehow feels much longer. I am grateful to have extra time at home with family, for health, for my faith, for spring, for so many things.

But you know what I miss? I miss the guy down the street with the moustache who was always out in his yard or walking his dog. We'd exchanged pleasantries for years. I am sure he must be just fine (I hope) but just laying low, but it's strange to never see him anymore.

I miss people stopping to chat with each other in grocery stores instead of scurrying like rats, holding their breath and not speaking so as to not release extra germs into the atmosphere.

I miss picking up Chloe after school and seeing the hordes of laughing elementary schoolers, filled with boundless energy, racing back and forth on the sidewalk.

I miss watching the leaves spring to life while standing on the baseball fields with my kids, kicking off the Little League season. I miss the voice of Joe Castiglione on the radio, calling the Red Sox games and the memory of being surrounded by 30,000 people in Fenway Park singing "Sweet Caroline."

I'm not a hugger by any stretch of the imagination, but I miss hugs and greetings at church on Sunday mornings and the glorious sounds of a room full of people worshipping.

I was out walking the other day as the sun set; it was the kind of evening that should have invited children on bikes and people walking dogs. Yet it was quiet; doors and windows were closed; in many houses I saw only the eerie glow of TV screens. And I could only think of something I'd been reading to Chloe a few days before. We are just finishing the last book in The Chronicles of Narnia, a story about the end of the Narnia they had known and loved. It read:

All around them the wood was very quiet. Indeed it was far too quiet. On an ordinary Narnian night there ought to have been noises -- an occasional cheery "Good night" from a hedgehog, the cry of an owl overhead, perhaps a flute in the distance to tell of Fauns dancing, or some throbbing, hammering noises from Dwarfs underground. All that was silenced: gloom and fear reigned over Narnia.  
- The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis

I am an introvert. I love quiet and time alone. But even we introverts know and feel that this is not just quiet. This is gloom and fear reigning over America. And this is what breaks my heart sometimes.

After Sept. 11 I think there was a similar feeling of things getting back to normal but never really being the same again. And today I think there is some of that, but maybe it's -- we keep waiting for things to get back to the way they were, and we don't know when or if that will happen. And so we distract ourselves, or we accept it, or we waver between the two. And in the meantime, as we did when we used to look back to Sept. 10, we think about the little things that we forgot to appreciate.

I don't think this is so bad. It's part of human nature. What's that old 80's song? "Don't know what you've got, 'til it's gone..."

I am remembering the feeling of rising up in a Ferris Wheel with my kids at an amusement park and looking at miles of people without every thinking they were contagious. I'm remembering family parties and Chloe at the beach laughing at the waves, making friends with kids she's never seen before.

The waiting is like remembering someone who was special to us but is no longer with us; the warmth of memory keeps things alive. We feel sad and grateful at the same time, and that's okay. It means we more clearly see the lovely little things that grace our lives each day; each season; each year. The things we seamlessly accept without truly appreciating what they are, until they are not there.

It's okay to miss them.


Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Greater Gift

It's easy to count up the losses. They've mounted as the days and weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic have rolled on: loss of life, loss of freedoms, a sense of safety, loss of routine and social events, and above all, loss of control. We've experienced the loss of things we love: baseball, playgrounds, travel, coffee shops.

Yes, we could go on and on about the losses.

People say this can be a time of gains. We must think of it as a GIFT, you see. I know they're right. We've been given the gift of time with our kids or to pursue a new hobby or organize the attic or spend time getting closer to God. I know this, but so far with kids home and attempting to work and everyone here, I somehow find I have less time. And all of the things that I'm not doing or could be doing threaten to pile up like tasks I haven't accomplished on my Pandemic To-Do List. I want to live grateful but not burdened.

There is one thing, though, one gift I can embrace with fully opened arms. It's the glimpse into other people's life situations that may be different than my own but point back to the same thing: we all, whether during a time of crisis in the nation or not, have struggles and pain and heartbreak. That saying about being kind because everyone is fighting some kind of battle rings true today and every single day of human existence, no matter what we see on social media.

I hate this pernicious virus that is sweeping across the world, taking lives and our economy with it. But suddenly more than ever I'm thinking about people on the front lines who consistently risk their lives to care for others. I think of them as real people with families and fears who push on because it's what they do.

I'm thinking about nursing homes and the people who fill them; about confused minds who wonder (or don't wonder) why people aren't visiting, and those who love them but can only from a distance right now. There are some nursing home residents who before the virus were already alone. Every day, just down my street, I pass them on my walks, but don't always see.

There are the cognitively disabled who may not understand why routines have changed; they can't leave their group home to go home; their work program has been cancelled; the staff person who worked with them was laid off. There are children with special needs missing therapies and schedules and the parents trying to explain things they can't fully explain themselves, and teach in ways they haven't been trained to teach.

Our children are missing their friend groups and teachers at school; other kids are missing a safe haven from a troubled home. Some kids are understandably disappointed about missing field trips and concerts and graduations. Every year some kids are in the hospital missing real life due to serious illness...only their class isn't missing out with them. They're alone in the disappointment.

There are those with addictions and mental health issues needing healthy connections and outlets more than ever during an extremely stressful time but not having them.

There are people who were already struggling to pay the bills who are now struggling that much harder.

We could throw our hands up in the air in despair, wondering how we can even hope with so much loss and heartache and pain. But I hope we won't.

We've been provided a generous gift of empathy and perspective. COVID-19 is a different lens to see the world -- as full of beautiful, broken people who we may not be able to impact on a global scale, but certainly can on an individual one.

We can think: who's life CAN I touch...not just now, but always?

We can remember: No matter the smile or Instagram photo or feigned confidence, every one of has a burden we carry.

We can ask that God keeps our eyes and hearts open, long after the virus fears have faded away, because the needs will still be there. And we are here to help meet them.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Wild and Untamed

Recently someone mentioned that some new walking trails had opened up in our town. The town purchased and converted a golf course that had been closed for years into "open space." I couldn't wait to go and check it out. I've been looking to get more exercise and have found that walking and hiking really work for me. I love the peace and quiet. I love nature.

Over the next few days, I explored the area with a friend, with my family, and by myself. On the first visit I realized immediately how much I liked this quirky patch of land. I just couldn't pinpoint why at first.

Is it scenic? In spots. But the land is right up against the highway and in many spots you can hear the cars constantly buzzing by. Power lines stretch overhead. It's not particularly organized. Paths meander and then disappear; at one time I'm sure they made more sense, when they led to different holes on the golf course. Some paths are overgrown with brush. One literally drops off and disappears -- a stream down below wore away at the concrete over time. You can see nature trying to reclaim the space, with tall weeds growing out of pavement cracks and bushes once trimmed spreading clear across the walkways. Several of the wooden bridges crossing the stream are closed due to disrepair. Those that aren't feel a little sketchy as you walk across.

There are places where you can leave the paved walkways and cross over trails that look like they've been mown in the grass. The grass trails are short cuts but also muddy and can confuse you further as far as where you're actually going. I followed one not long ago sparkling with frost. I had no idea what I was doing, because I could see a fence in the woods that marked the very edge of the entire property. I didn't turn just then, because in another moment I saw it -- a deer bounding ahead of me, deeper into the woods, leaping above branches that littered the ground.

The words came to me, as I lumbered up a hill, trying to find an actual trail once again. Wild and untamed. You see that kind of language in advertisements; brochures -- "Explore this untamed wilderness area in all of its natural wonder."

This had once been a very different place. I tried to picture it with neatly trimmed, emerald green grasses rolling on and on, and little white golf carts trolling around. I couldn't, because I hadn't seen it. The spot was a more exclusive one back then.

At one time this place was perfectly manicured. But was it beautiful?

I don't know, maybe not everyone feels this way. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. But put together and meticulously groomed does not always equal beautiful.

Thank God.

I think I like these trails because they aren't trying so hard anymore.

I think there is something beautiful about meandering, about wandering, about things unresolved and unpredictable. Or, I'm learning to see things that way.

I see a little better as I walk over bridges with patched holes; through grasses with pricker bushes that poke my legs; past the zoom of cars and the flight of deer oblivious to the noise.

No, it's not tame, and I can't help but think of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

But it's good.