Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dad's Gift

I wrote this several years ago to be included in a special photo album we gave my dad on his 70th birthday. It has been reprinted in a couple of very small, not-famous publications. I'm putting it here for storage. :)

Dad's Gift

The summer I turned 17 years old, my mom, dad, and I went to France for five weeks. It was a business trip for my dad and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me, and ordinary 16-year-old from Toledo, Ohio. Near the end of our stay overseas, it became clear that Dad was going to have to stay longer in France, and my mom and I would need to return to the States so that I could enter my senior year of high school and so that Mom could return to her job as a sixth grade teacher.

Shortly after Mom and I arrived at home, I celebrated my seventeenth birthday. It was the first birthday that my dad had ever missed, but he still managed to send a gift, all the way from France. He was terribly lonely there by himself. That fact was evident by the care and time he took to prepare the wonderful little package of gifts he sent for my birthday. He had bought a gold bracelet at the street market. It was one I had admired while there. For my turtle collection, he had carved a little turtle using his pocket knife and a piece of wood he had scrounged from a broom handle. There were a few other little items also, and all these gifts were packaged together in a small lidded, wicker box--to add to my basket collection. Inside the lid of the box, Dad had fitted a picture of woman wearing a beautiful flowered dress and a large sun hat covered with yellow roses, my favorite flower. He had cut the picture from a postcard and taped it inside the lid of the hexagon-shaped box. As I unwrapped each little gift that he had carefully wrapped in white tissue paper, I was very aware that my dad knew me, that he knew what I liked, and that he loved me. It was a great birthday gift. But, it was not until a year later that I would fully realize what a great gift that little wicker box was.

On my eighteenth birthday, I was registering for my Freshman year of college at a school located 500 miles away from home. I was not given to homesickness, but being away from Mom and Dad on such an important birthday was another story! After standing in long lines and filling out dozens of forms, I returned to my dorm room. I was feeling a little sorry for myself because it was, after all, my birthday, and it wasn't feeling like a special day at all. When I opened the door to my dorm room, I found a huge mess. The book shelves that had been attached to the wall had fallen down, taking with them all the knick knacks and special things I had placed there just the day before.

Several things were broken, but most of the stuff survived. It certainly did not improve my mood to have to clean up the mess. As I got to the bottom of the pile, I found the little wicker box from my dad. The lid had come off, and its contents were scattered all around. As I picked up the lid, I realized that the picture that had been inside was not there. I shuffled around in the books and found it, and was just about to put it back in its place. As I did, I noticed my father's beautiful handwriting on the back. I had never had the picture out and did not know that there was a message there for me. It read: "Now, who told you you could peek back here, nosy? This card kinda reminds me of you. Sorry, I couldn't send you real roses. Love you, Dad....P.S. If you stay as sweet as you are, someday, someone will love you as much as I love your mom."

I smiled and cried and smiled some more. The gift that my dad had so lovingly put together and sent long-distance to me a year before was giving even more now, just when I needed a gift. I realized then as much as I do today that what he said in his "P.S." was truly the greatest gift he ever gave to me (and to my brother and sister). We always knew that Dad loved Mom. He showed it often in a variety of wonderful ways. Because of that, we grew up secure and confident that our family would always be whole.

I can honestly say that the greatest gift I ever got from my dad was one I received one year and realized the next. It was the gift he demonstrated all my life. He loves my mom, and he always will. By the way, "someone" does love me the way my dad predicted more than 20 years ago. And, my husband knows that if the house ever catches fire, he is to grab the kids first and then the little wicker box from my dad!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Bittersweet Countdown

My daughter will marry a year from tomorrow. I will count down the days, trying to prepare myself for a Goodbye that will change our family. I really am happy about it. I love the young man who will take her away from us. He already feels like another son to me--another gift from God! Still, I'm aware that our everyday family life will change forever 365 days from tomorrow. I need to listen to this song every day for a year until I no longer bawl through it. I doubt 365 times will be enough.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hanging out over at Elizabeth's

I've appreciated getting to know Elizabeth Esther through her blog. There is much in her story that resonates with me. It's an interesting community that is forming online of those of us trying to re-form our faith after years spent in what we thought was good ol' fashioned religion. I often wonder what my reformation will look like. Perhaps I'm not meant to know. I'm learning from others how important the journey is. This, after years of believing that the only thing that really matters is where you land in the end.

Elizabeth invites other bloggers to do a "round-trip" link as a way to grow the community. Love this idea. Read Elizabeth here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Please, Tell Me There's More

Today, my beautiful, fearless, happy-go-lucky 18-year-old baby girl hugged her daddy and me, picked up her carry-on luggage and walked away. We stepped aside and watched as she got in line at the airport security checkpoint. I watched as she stepped through the body scanner, picked up her scanned bags and left us. Just like that, she was pronounced “safe” and she’s gone.

Really? That’s it? For eighteen years this child’s safety has been my daily concern, and one step through an electronic scanner and my concerns are over. Really? That’s all there is? The airport security staff pronounced her safe to go, and I’m supposed to walk away, believing she’s safe? How is she safe? She’s safe to get on one of their airplanes. She’s safe to travel with other scanned passengers. But, is SHE safe? Am I?

Please, God, tell me there’s more. I want more than well trained TSA employees. I want more than statistics that tell me flying is safer than driving. I want more than reports of the spotless safety record of a certain gated compound in Costa Rica where she’ll live for a year. I want more than vague, catch-all Bible verses promising unsurpassable peace if I just pray sufficiently.

When she walked away, I whispered a prayer: “Lord, keep her safe.” There are so many ways He could answer that prayer, and I want them all. Keep her safe from harm when she takes a taxi through the crowded streets of San Jose. Keep her safe from serious illness. Keep her safe from those who would take advantage of her trusting nature. Keep her safe from the cruelty of others. Keep her safe from betrayal by friends. Keep her safe from the memory of her mother’s thoughtless words. Keep her safe from the dangers her mother forgot to warn her about. Keep her safe from always needing to be as safe as her mother wishes for her to be. I want her safe from so many things. But, she’s not worried about her safety. And, I love her for that.

She wants more than her mother’s dreams for her. I want more for her, too. I want her to rise above my not-good-enough parenting. I want her to soar above my fears and hers. I have always felt like she needed to learn so much from me and her father. Ever since we agreed to let her go away to Costa Rica for a year, I have felt desperate to cram into her “the rest” of what she needs to know from me. She needed to know more, and I’m out of time. Did she learn enough? Did I? I realize the truth, now that she’s gone. It was I who did not learn enough from her. Most of my tears today have been for myself—for what I’ve lost. I’ve lost any more opportunities to have my sweet, trusting, shining girl at home to teach me how to be more like she is. The loss is huge. I wasted too many opportunities over the last 18 years. It feels as if someone has died. Someone has. My baby girl is gone. When she returns, she will be my baby girl no more. Can I celebrate that? I will try.

More than anything else, I want to know that her story will go on. Tomorrow, when she wakes up, there will be new characters in her story. I want to know that her “backstory,” which includes me, won’t be a painful memory—won’t be something she needs to recover from. Will she willingly write me into the next chapter, or is she breathing a huge sigh of relief that she’s finally free? I would like to know that I will show up as a welcome character in the next part of her story. I’m not ready to be only a memory.

At the end of this day, when my daughter goes to sleep far from home, I want her strongest memory of today to be how tightly her mama hugged her—how much her mama didn’t want to let go—but that her mama did. I want her to believe without a doubt that her mama loves her bigger than the universe, higher than the sky, and deeper than the ocean. Even more, I want her to know that God loves her—more than I do. I want her to know that her mama loves her enough to let her live her life, trusting in a God Who is big enough to keep her safe. The same God Who will keep her mama safe through this long year. Keeping me safe from fear might be the bigger job.

On the drive home from the airport, my son sat in the back seat. He turned 16 yesterday. I have three years to learn so much more from him before he puts us through another day like today. I won’t be ready then either!

**UPDATE Three Years Later (10-18-13): On the very day we put our daughter on that airplane, she met the man she would marry. He's a fine young man, and we are very blessed. Does God know what he's doing? Always!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Imperfectly Good

Last week I was thinking about the subject of perfection after reading a book in which the author had a fascinating perspective on God's creative work in Genesis. Then, just today, I was reading Rachel's blog, Small Notebook, and again, I'm facing the subject of perfection. In her post Rachel admits that she used to be discontented if her life and surroundings couldn't be perfect. She made a conscious decision to be satisfied with "good" instead of "perfect." My response to her post:

Has anyone considered that the word “perfect” means “finished” or “complete”? Nothing we do in this life, especially with regard to our homes and families, is going to be finished, and we wouldn’t want it to be. We want our homes to change as we change. We want our children to grow and mature. Not even God created Eden perfect. When He was done with His part of creation (he left some for us to do), He didn’t say, “It is perfect.” He said, “It is good.” And, when he created man and woman, he went all out and said, “Very good!” God built into creation the idea that things would mature and grow. In other words, things would change. So nothing was created perfect, because that would have left no room for growth. God is obviously delighted with “good.”

Am I as satisfied with "good" as He is?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

It's Never about the Limas

I love lima beans. I realize that many people do not love lima beans. It's rare to meet someone who is neutral about lima beans. It's a love or hate thing with lima beans. "Love" and "hate" are strong words to use about an ordinary, unassuming legume, but alas, lima beans evoke strong emotion. It's strange, really. The truth is, if there aren't lima beans around, it will be something else that we love or hate. But, this time of year, it's limas.

If only it were only about lima beans, but it's never really about lima beans. (If you hate lima beans, and you're keeping track of how many times I've used the word "lima," you'd like me to move on and make it about something other than lima beans!)

I work in a church office, and once a month, a group of ladies comes to the church to work on quilts in the church basement. As part of their quilting day at church, they have lunch together, each lady bringing a special dish of food to share. The church staff is always invited to sample their dishes, which is a treat for us. Last week the ladies came, and when I went to the kitchen to get my lunch out of the refrigerator, one of the quilting ladies was uncovering her dish. It was a very large pot full of big, beautiful lima beans (non-lima-lovers, stay with me), and I immediately admired them. I asked if they came from her garden. She said they did. She only had to ask once if I wanted some. I took a bowl full! I knew they were going to be good, and they were. I love lima beans, you see.

As each person came into the kitchen, they seemed drawn to the large, enameled pot. "What's in there?" I quickly answered that question several times, "Wonderful lima beans, fresh from Betty's* garden." Apparently, my choice of adjectives was too much for one of the ladies. She grumbled, "If you like lima beans!" I was instantly deflated by her words, and they weren't even my lima beans! She managed to level both Betty and me with her short commentary. It was immediately clear how she felt not only about what Betty chose to grow in her garden and bring to a pot luck lunch but also about my personal taste for lima beans and my obvious delight in these particular lima beans. It was one of the most economical slams I've heard in a long time. Touché!

It was almost by instinct that I turned to look at Betty to see her reaction to the careless comment. I felt sorry for her, and I was hoping she hadn't heard the negative response. I'm not sure if Betty heard it and just chose to ignore it or if it stung her like it did me. I just know I felt bad for her. She had brought a part of herself, something she had lovingly gathered from her own garden and shared with us, and one unkind remark changed the whole experience. It was sad. I confess I was irritated with the lady who made the comment. I wondered why she felt it was necessary to share her opinion about lima beans at that particular moment. Did it not occur to her that the person who brought the beans had to be standing in the small kitchen? Did she think it was necessary that we all know that she hates lima beans? Couldn't she have just passed by the pot of beans and sampled the other dishes? Am I making too much of a side dish story?

I know. They were just beans. It was just one person's opinion. We've all heard opinions about lima beans. Everyone seems to have one. Why dwell on it? Why blog about it endlessly? But, the whole scene bothered me. It still does. That day, I took my bowl of limas out of the kitchen and back to my desk to eat them, all the while feeling sorry for Betty. They were the best lima beans I'd ever had. I told her so. I told her she had made my day by bringing them. But, I had made my comment before the other lady's comment. Her comment flattened mine.

The power of words! I know it all too well. I've been on the receiving end of plenty of careless and thoughtless comments. I really do believe most are made thoughtlessly (literally without thought). If I believed otherwise, I would be even more upset about the lima bean comment! You'd think that someone who makes such a big deal about a careless, lima bean remark (I've been talking about this for several paragraphs already!) would herself be extremely careful with her own words. She would never fire back with a thoughtless remark or an honest-but-unnecessary opinion about another person or another person's food or clothes or hair or accent or abilities or intelligence or manners or beliefs or.... Oh, yes she would! Oh, yes she has! And, when she has, it's never been about any of those things. Because, it's never about the lima beans. It's about something else. We are seldom neutral about our opinion of lima beans, and I'm not sure we can be neutral in our opinion of people. Is it really one or the other? Love or hate?

This is a little too convicting for me. I wish it could just be about lima beans!

*Not her real name

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Daughter Given Me

An argument is brewing between my head and my heart. Several months ago I agreed to something that my heart is now struggling to accept. My daughter is leaving home in one week. In a moment of what seemed like rational thought, we gave our permission for her to go, but now an ache is growing in my heart as the day approaches. She is eighteen and heading out on a year-long adventure between high school and college. She is going to Costa Rica, but it might as well be Mars. The reality that she will be so far from home is weighing heavier every day.

My daughter is everything I am not. She has big faith; I doubt everything. She forgives before it’s even needed; I wait for a confession and then decide if forgiveness is deserved. She is wildly optimistic; I am a pessimist about all things, foreign or domestic. She has large dreams; I struggle to stay asleep. She gets excited about every little thing; I welcome excitement, but cut it down before it gets all the way through the door. She makes friends easily; I hardly make them. She is sunny; I am overcast with deep, ominous clouds. She loves to be messy and spontaneous; I am messy and spontaneous, but I do not love it.

I try to envision what our home will be like without her. It will be neater, but so what! It will be simpler, which is something I say I want, but now I don’t care. There’s a shadow coming closer, and I am beginning to question our decision to let her go. My sanguine girl would hate all this melancholy brooding. She likes to take her index fingers and push the corners of my mouth up into a smile. And, the faintest smile pleases her. That is her nature. She looks for good…and she finds it.

Tomorrow she will sing Chris Rice’s “Missin’ You” in church. And, I will take in every word, because my heart isn’t aching enough yet!

“Hear me, O Father, Master of the Universe. Thou hast given me a daughter who brings me great pride and pleasure; and for this kindness I thank Thee for ever and ever. Amen.” (a Jewish blessing)