A Web Atremble

IMG_6948Humanity is like an enormous spider web, so that if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling…The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt. Our lives are linked together.” – Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark

2 days ago, I had a delightful conversations with my kids regarding specific teachers in their past. The topic of the week was history class. My middle child made the decision to ditch AP World History for on-level, much to the shock of her brother and sister. Here was the gist of the conversation.

The child making the move had very mature reasons for doing so. She is wise well beyond her years sometimes.

My oldest said he understood, but thought if she had Mr. Parson’s for history, she would love it. He concluded that Mr. Parson’s had not only given him a love of history, but also encouraged him to engage with philosophy and read great books. I would add that I think Mr. Parson’s also gave my kid permission to be his quirky, nerdy self no matter what other kids thought about it.

My youngest chimed in with a story about 2 of her teachers. In 2nd grade, her teacher managed to connect the dots of modern community, ancient civilizations, and dinosaurs into some creative, engaging project that ended with breaking open concrete eggs — or something like that. My kid found a T-Rex toy when she broke open her egg. She said, “T-Rex was my favorite, so I thought it was a sign that I would always want to learn more about history. I was hooked and have been ever since.”

Then she launched into reflections about Mr. Novosad and how she hoped she would one day be able to make kids love history and science the way he made her love history and science. A side note about how deep this love of learning runs with this one – I found her secretly studying her older sister’s AP Human Geography study guide, to which she admitted to stealthily doing at night throughout the summer.

After all of this, my middle child who started it all said, “I’m still going to on-level. Maybe if I’d had a teacher like Ms. Eaton for history when I was younger, I’d love it, too.” Then she went on to explain that Ms. Eaton had changed her life, made her love writing and feel confident about it, and made her want to ask better questions about spiritual things. Wow. I think she is still sneaking back into Ms. Eaton’s classroom to decorate her whiteboard. 

In his beautiful book, Learning the Vocabulary of God (amazing), Frank Charles Laubach asks, “God, what is a man’s best gift to mankind? To be beautiful of soul and then let people see into your soul…” I think that is what these teachers did for my kids.

Maybe all of these teachers know what a huge impact they are having on the world, but I wonder if they have days like me, when they wonder what it’s all about and if it’s worth it. If they had a bigger platform than a single classroom, would the power of their reach grow? I’m not so sure.

In the introduction of Gilbert White’s book The Natural History of Selborne, this caught my attention this morning: “By focusing attention on Selborne alone, White was not limiting the reach of his work but expanding it.” I think it might be the same with teaching, and with parenting and mentoring, too. By focusing our attention on a small group of individuals, the depth of our imprint reaches further than it would if we instead had a diluted influence over many.IMG_6442

I contemplated the math of a teacher’s influence this morning – take the 100’s or maybe 1000’s of students a teacher has over his or her career. Now, let’s be conservative and say that even a great teacher only makes a huge impression on 10 percent of those students, but then those students have children and enter into their own careers. Who will those students then influence? What about their children? Their children’s children? It starts to boggle the mind.

In his book, Prayer, Richard Foster contemplates the age-old conversation concerning the sovereignty of God and the power of the human will. “He invites us into the workshop of his creativity, where we can be co-laborers with him, working together to determine the outcomes of events.” What a wonderful filter for the way we view our work!

Much of what most of us have to offer seems small. I photograph my corner of the world and write my little words. I volunteer and vacuum, clean toilets and grocery shop in order to create a kinder environment for my family. It is easy to write off these simple tasks, but they are important. Who knows what trembles on the web of humanity my small acts of kindness might cause?

French philosopher (as well as Jesuit priest, paleontologist and geologist!) Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things…as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value.”

For good of for evil, whether you know it or not, you are changing the world.

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Put a Frame Around It

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I have not written much of anything for a while. I have been lost in the fog of family illnesses and my son departing for college. I think I have been hibernating, but my heart and my brain started to wake up this week.

I have ideas popping again –  song lyrics, book themes, photo shoots I want to plan. But I stopped myself yesterday and wondered why in the heck I do these things – write the words and melodies, snap the pictures. I don’t make a dime. It takes loads of time. And yet… I think it might be what I am called to do.

For any of you who have read my blog, it will come as no surprise that I found my answer in a Frederick Buechner book. There are 2 new Buechner books out – 2 books!! – I could hardly contain my excitement pouring over new words from him yesterday. I am about to finish the first of the 2 called The Remarkable Ordinary. The second is called A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory. It’s next – I’ll keep you posted.

I have always felt a deep connection to Buechner’s writing, as if he gives words to the thoughts that swim right between my dreams and my waking – things that drive to the very core of me but I can’t quite explain. And then he just writes it – or even better, he shows it to me in one of his stories. Few characters have influenced me the way his have.

Back to yesterday: here I am, in my little existential crisis about the meaning of my work, and I open a new Buechner book and he is writing about ART. Of all the things! Here is one of my favorite quotes:


“So, art is saying Stop. It helps us to stop by putting a frame around something and makes us see it in a way we would never have seen it under the normal circumstances of living, as so many of us do, on sort of automatic pilot, going through the world without really seeing much of anything.”


And there it is. That is why I write this post, why I get up before dawn and ignore mosquitos or heat or cold to take my photos, why I spend hours trying to get a melody just right. First, it is for me. It is my way of telling my heart, “STOP! Look at this. Really look at this.”

Then I share some of these things with you so that you might say to yourself, “STOP! Would you look at that? What a wonder!” And I don’t mean I want you to look at my photo of the moon and say, “STOP! Look at my friend’s post. She is a great photographer.” What I’m really hoping for is that you will see the mind-blowing marvel that any human being got to stand where I stood and see such a site, and, “Oh my gosh, I can do that, too!”

My hope is that next time you see the moon, you stop and realize that no one who has ever lived or who ever will live is standing in the exact spot as you, at that exact time, with the specific memories and emotions and dreams you bring to that exact moment. That moment is a gift from the entire universe, from the Creator himself in my opinion, for you and you alone. Now tell me that doesn’t put this broken world into perspective for just a minute

So art – art spawned from a heart of wonder – is framing miracle moments- an image, a sentence, a note – that calls on all of us to slow the heck down and pay attention. And if I can influence just a handful of people and deepen their desire to find their own such moments, I am contributing to the very work of creation – I am bringing wonder and love,  grace and peace in a way only I can bring them

And you and I are also works of art. As we pay attention to the world’s wonders, we begin to see each other through new lenses. More from Buechner:

“So we are to see each other like that, as Jesus sees us, framed as if each one of our faces is seen by him.” 

May you all find your own unique moments of wonder this week, and may we all see each other – and ourselves – as the spectacular works of art that we are!

 

This Ain’t a Vacation, But It Is a Vocation

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I loved my work before kids – the mental challenges, adult conversations, the interactions with community leadership.  I received a modest but respectable paycheck from my non-profit agency. I had the opportunity every day to positively influence the lives of my staff members and the kids we worked with. I enjoyed it so much that I fully intended to work, at least part-time, after I had kids.

But then there was a tough first pregnancy, bedrest, early contractions, preeclampsia, delivery at 36 weeks, 7 ear infections in the first year, and a baby that slept an average of 7 hours total each day. Combine that with the fact that my husband was gone most of the time as a fairly new airline pilot, reality set in and I resigned from what I thought would be an ideal part-time continuation of my work. And I never went back.

That decision has given me the fullest joy I have know in this life but also a deep struggle with my identity. I defaulted into stay-at-home-mom because of circumstances, and 16 years later, I am finally learning to fully embrace it with a spirit of gratitude and wonder.

My kids all somehow made it out of diapers and started walking and talking, but every time I had a newborn, the experience felt alien to me. I loved those tiny, squirmy humans as much as I knew how, but I had to grow into it.

I remember holding my screaming 5 month-old firstborn in the middle of the night begging him to quickly become a real human I could relate to, and at the same time, begging God to grant me the mercy not to fall asleep walking and drop him on his head. I was lonely, and no one gave me a paycheck for doing 3 times the work I had been doing just a few short months earlier. Every time I filled out some stupid form and had to write “homemaker” in the blank, I was tempted to staple my feeding schedule and to-do list to the back.

9 months in, I was being called “Mama”, but I had no certain sense of a calling to be a Mom.

Frederick Buechner in Secrets in the Dark:We can speak of ourselves as choosing our vocations, but perhaps it is at least as accurate to speak of our vocations choosing us, of a call’s being given and lives our hearing it, or not hearing it.

I know a bunch of sweet Mamas that knew they were “called” to motherhood by the time they were just out of diapers themselves. They loved the cooing, cuddling, and nursing. They loved the blasted maternity clothes, of all things! I felt completely mystified and was pretty sure I had not been called like they had. But I was dead wrong. I might not have sensed the same calling on an emotional level, but I was “named” the moment that each new life was conceived.

Just like any career, my parenting career has had its ups and downs. I have probably been too lenient and disorganized, sometimes woefully lacking in follow-through. I have had my own personal crises and griefs that have sidelined me on occasion. But, I have stuck with it. I have learned new skills. I’ve watched the experts. I’ve stumbled through difficult conversations and had occasional moments of brilliant insight.

I can see how my own brokenness might add to my children’s struggles, but I can rejoice in the fact that, just like my gifts, my brokenness is part of their stories. My mistakes keep me humble, keep me on my knees. My blunders give me the opportunity to teach my kids how to say, “I’M SORRY” and “PLEASE FORGIVE ME.”

As my kids quickly approach adulthood, it is tempting to look back and despair about all the things I missed or could have done better. But what I’m trying to do instead is to remember that this is MY JOB. It still has not paid me one pretty penny, but I am starting to see that there is no paycheck that could equal the dividends that this investment will realize.

Understanding this work as a huge part of my personal vocation softens the angry slamming of doors and keeps me settled when eyes roll. It gives me strength for teary, late night heart-to-hearts, and makes me savor the youngest one waking me up in the middle of the night to snuggle after a bad dream.

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I have other vocational dreams with writing and music, but I don’t feel rushed or pressured by that. My hope is that embracing motherhood, not just as an occupation, but as a vocation, will just give me more joy and wisdom and heartache and adventure to write about.

My friend, Len Woods, also wrote about this concept of vocation this week (Here is a link to the beautiful blog he writes with his amazing wife):

“Life includes a holy call to do something hugely significant.”

It’s hard for me to imagine anything more significant than raising up the next generation. 

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The Lives That Got Away

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All of us have unrequited lives – the lives that died on the vine, the could-have-beens, the ones that got away. We have experienced the grief over the death of many dreams. If only I had gone here, studied this, made that decision, NOT made that other stupid decision, married him or her, married later, worked instead of staying home, stayed home instead of worked,  not been in that accident, taken that job.

Today my life is a particular set of circumstances, and yet a million different things from my past could have changed my today. There are days when I wake up and my today simply feels like it’s the wrong one. Have you ever felt that?

When I was in my twenties, making career decisions and considering starting a family, my Mom was about where I am today – similar age, last kid had just hit double digits. She had given her 20’s and 30’s to her family at home, and now they were beginning to need her less. And I remember NOT understanding some of the regret-tinged conversations regarding her “personhood” and job status (or lack there of). I mean – wasn’t meeting our every need the most amazing job in the world?

Fast-forward. Oh, the irony of turning into our parents! I am having the same conversations in my head. WHO AM I? What am I to DO? What am I supposed to ACCOMPLISH?

Sometimes I chide myself and think those questions sound very worldly and selfish. But if I believe I was made in God’s image, those questions take on a different light. He works awfully hard. He is the ultimate creator, and He knows exactly who HE IS. He is the only one that utters, “I AM”, and successfully completes a sentence.


My desire to discover my identity, my contribution, is part of my design.


This post is not about answers – I’m nowhere near them. Years of patterns are set for me as a stay-at-home Mom. Some of these patterns make life much smoother for my family, so shaking them up would be tricky business. *Oh, I know – I’ll become a successful writer/songwriter right in my own living room. I’ll carve out plenty of uninterrupted time to perfect my craft and make all kinds of contacts sitting in Magnolia, TX. No problem.:)

Yeah – I don’t know anything. I know the haunting of my working life that never was. Maybe some of you it’s the haunting of a home life that never was.

That issue bubbles up hot again every now and then between women. Maybe next time it does and we want to point fingers, we can all remember that every human has a road behind them lined with the lives that could have been. When we wake up today, we have only the one.. But today, we get to pick the next steps.

When I sent an early draft of this to my Mom (memory check), she immediately sent back a wonderful quote that had been in her church lectionary that very morning:

“Nothing worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.  Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.  Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.”  — Reinhold Niebuhr

A great reminder! It is true that in this time-bound world we only have 86,400 seconds in a day. The number of those seconds that are wasted, ruined, or lost can overwhelm me if I think it all has to happen here on this earth. But I don’t think that’s the last chapter in the story.

I have moments and dreams where I feel like I get a momentary glimpse into another reality (see my post “Heavenly Laundry“). Maybe those glimpses are a promise of what’s to come. I think I’m here to get my feet wet, to see and experience God and others in a way that requires limits and change and time.

“O Lord, let me enter into your presence and there taste the eternal, timeless, everlasting love with which you invite me to let go of my time-bound anxieties, fears, preoccupations, and worries.. All that is timebound will show its real meaning when I can look at it from the place where you want me to be, the place of undying love.”  — Henri Nouwen, Mornings with Henri J.M. Nouwen – Readings and Reflections