Sunday, August 20, 2017

Deserving of a Chance

This is a picture of me holding our friends' youngest daughter.  It was taken last Wednesday evening, three days before the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.

Many wise columnists have written about Charlottesville this past week, so I won't attempt to frame the broad social, cultural, or political picture in these brief words.  Instead, I simply want to share a small picture -- this literal picture that captures a moment when a child trusted me and nestled into my arms for a few minutes. 

She happens to be black, just like I happen to be white.  Neither of us had any choosing in this matter.

This child deserves to grow up safely and equally.  Fathers and mothers who are raising young black boys and girls deserve to not fear for their children's safety, security, and futures, as I only can imagine that they do every day.

Our country appears to be moving backwards.  It's almost paralyzing.  As I attempted to explain the recent events to my daughters, my youngest asked the question so many of us are thinking, "Why?  Why would they do that?"

Because man's heart is capable of hatred.  Because racism and oppression are trenchant.  Because our world is fallen.  Because evil and sin exist.  Because, somehow, they were taught it.

As I watch my children process, I imagine them thinking of the people we know and love who are black.  Their favorite neighbor, Mr. Joe, who just invited them over for peach cobbler and always buys a treat from them when they set up their lemonade stand.  Their friends in school and church.  The college students who come to our house each week to share a meal.

They can't fathom how others could hate simply based on skin color.  And I think it's because they've been exposed, all of their young lives, to some degree of diversity, and that they've seen respect and friendship and love modeled.

My heart has been heavy.  Last Saturday's events in Charlottesville aren't new, sadly.  They reveal what's under the surface.  And it reminds me that in my home, in my neighborhood, in my community, in my classrooms, and in my church, now more than ever, we need to demonstrate a firm commitment to loving our neighbors as ourselves, whether they be black, or white, or any range in between.

That young girl in the picture?  She deserves a chance at the best possible life. 

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Repeat As Needed: "It's Going to be OK"

Off and on for the past week, I've felt vaguely anxious.  I haven't been able to pinpoint why, or particularly about what, but I've been the slightest bit off.  I mentioned it to my husband, who said that he felt the same way.  Then he added, "The semester is starting soon.  We're in that holding pattern again."

Light bulb moment.  My anxiety was merely a byproduct of looming unknowns.  I'm waiting on updates from colleagues; I'm creating four different syllabi; I'll meet new students and experience new classrooms in less than two weeks.  All the while, I'm immersed in the daily summer (non)routine with my kids, so my preparatory work for the semester is done only when I can steal small segments of time.

I don't know how I didn't identify this pattern more clearly.  I always feel this way before a new academic year starts.  More importantly, given that I've started over a dozen academic years before, I also know that the details always work out.  The new courses get planned, the new students become familiar, the new schedule is learned, and good things come from it all.

It all works out.

So, when the anxious feelings return, I tell myself, "It's going to be okay.  This is normal.  Keep working, trust God, and forge ahead."

It makes a difference.

At the same time, off and on for the past week, my middle daughter has acted out.  She snaps at people for no reason, storming our house in a volatile huff.  We talk one night as I'm tucking her into bed.  She's feeling vaguely anxious, too, and she hasn't been able to pinpoint why, or particularly about what, either.

She and I work through the same process.  School is starting soon.  You're waiting to learn your teacher, and you want to know if your friends will be in your class.  It's normal to feel a bit nervous.  But remember how you felt this same way last year?  And the year before?  And remember how it worked out?  You're going to be okay, kiddo.  

And then we pray.  I thank God that she'll be assigned the right teacher, even if it's not the preferred teacher.  I thank God that she'll have the right friends with her, and if it doesn't seem that way, that she'll remember that she's never alone, that God goes with her.

Together, we'll repeat this as often as needed, until it rings true:  It's going to be okay.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Perks of Owning an Old Car

We own an old car.  I won't bore you with details about make and model and year, but I will say that while there certainly are older cars on the road, ours is getting up there.  I'll call it a seasoned vehicle.

This past weekend I took a road trip to visit a dear friend.  For three hours, it just was me, my thoughts, and the open road.  And -- because of the age of my vehicle -- there also was a small trove of ancient cassette tapes that I've held onto for rare moments like this, moments when a little reminder of life at age 18, like one mixed tape aptly titled Traveling Music (circa 1996), hits the spot.

Yes, there are still some perks of owning an old car.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Making a Mess of This Parenting Thing

It all started with the slime.  For reasons I don't fully understand, my oldest daughter is obsessed with slime, which is why we now own a gallon jug of Elmer's glue, a box of Borax, and an infuriating Styrofoam-bead-like substance called floam.  Despite receiving ample instruction about how and where slime should be made or played with -- hard surfaces only! not on the couch! not on the carpet! -- each of our three kids have gotten slime on various soft surfaces like the couch, the carpet, the new ottoman, and creatively, bedroom curtains.

With each incident, I grew increasingly angry.  I repeated phrases like, "You know better."  I banned it for extended periods.  Then, being more proactive and calmer, I coached them to use a plastic tablecloth.  It's mostly worked.  The girls are now mostly responsible with slime.  

Except for once last week when, belying all prior instruction and correction, one child got slime on the couch.  In an effort to clean it up, she conspired with her sisters, squirted a generous dob of hair conditioner onto the sticky mess, and then scrubbed it with toilet paper which deteriorated and clumped into hundreds of gloppy bits.  (Because that's how a child cleans slime.)  Then she spoke of it to no one.

But, as we all know, messes tend to get found out.  I spied the still-damp aftermath later that day and raised the red flag, "Alright, WHO did it?"  Even my normally calm and unflappably patient husband had enough.  I stood beside him as he railed at the girls, all of whom sat silently on the now-slimed, stained, and conditioned couch.  I was angry, playing chords of "Do you have to ruin every single object in this house?"   He seemed even angrier, with refrains of "Why didn't you tell us instead of making it worse?"

It wasn't pretty.  It wasn't the type of atmosphere I want to characterize our household.

As the evening wore on, with everyone either bristled or sullen, I thought more about the incident.  Yes, our daughter had disobeyed.  Yes, she knew it was wrong.  And yes, that disobedience made a mess -- a mess that she tried to cover up, nonetheless.

But that's where I got stuck.  My daughter had known that she'd get in trouble for getting the slime on the couch.  So she tried to hide it -- or, more aptly, she tried to fix it.  It just so happened that her fix hadn't worked, so she got in trouble for that, too.

Darned if you do.  Darned if you don't.  The Catch-22 made me pause.

I thought of some messes I've made in my life.  Big messes.  Messes with family, or messes with relationships, or messes from poor choices.  I know what it's like to want to hide those messes, to cover them up, to speak of them to no one, to hope they'll just go away on their own, and then to languish under their weight because they never really go away on their own.  They fester until they're dealt with.

Mostly, I thought about how gentle God is when I come to Him with my mess.  When I point the proverbial slime on my couch and say, "I did that.  I knew better, but for whatever reason, I still went ahead and did it.  Now it's a mess.  I'm stuck, and I'm so sorry."

When I confess, He forgives me fully.  He doesn't make me wallow.  When I confess, He frees me.  I no longer waste away under the heavy weight of my guilt.

During this particular slime incident, though, I had wanted my kids to wallow.  I had been ticked off, and rightfully so.  They did know better, after all.  But it struck me hard -- my reaction and correction had been fueled with anger and passive-aggressive complaints.  Contrast that with God, who certainly corrects, but does so with grace.

And that's how slime brought it to my knees.  That's how slime found me apologizing to my kids for my bad behavior, for my mismanagement of anger, for my mess.  Joel and I both approached the girls.  We messed up.  Your action was wrong, but so was our response.  We're sorry.  You can come to us with your messes.  We're not perfect and we might get upset, but we love you.  You're always more important than things.  Always.  You don't have to hide your messes from us.

Even more importantly: You never have to hide your messes from God.  He loves you.  Unlike us, He is entirely perfect.  His response will reflect that perfection.  There's freedom when you confess.

After all, throughout my walk with Jesus, I've learned that freedom isn't reached by letting enough time pass until I no longer feel the sting of my wrongdoing.  It's not achieved by convincing myself that I meant well.  It's not accomplished by overcoming with better deeds in the future.  It's found by taking ownership and admitting -- to myself, to others, to God -- that I missed the mark and asking for forgiveness, rather than hiding my mess.

I go to God regularly with my shortcomings as a parent.  On any given day, I feel as if there are endless permutations of ways I'm messing up my children, each time just a bit differently, like a combination lock of dysfunction.  I sometimes swing like a pendulum, wondering whether I'm too permissive or too strict, too hand-off or too overbearing, all in the same afternoon.

But perhaps this is by design.  We parents are going to mess up.  Our children are going to make mistakes, too.  When I'm honest with my kids about my failures, asking their forgiveness when necessary, we all experience healing.  It models for them how to make wrong things right, which might be one of the most valuable lessons they ever learn.

So today, if you've made a mess of parenting, don't despair and don't hide.  Take it to God.  He already knows you did it, and He'll help you to clean it up.

Are you new to Robin Kramer Writes?  I'd love for you join me and follow my blog on Facebook.  Check out some other popular posts below!

The Lie that We Should Be Like the Other Girls
Good Moms Don't Feel Like This
When You're THAT Mother (and your kids are THOSE kids)
To the Woman Who is Trying To Do It All

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Receiving End of Hospitality

Recently I read a humor piece by a man who hates HGTV.  One of the reasons for his disgruntlement is that every couple buying or renovating a home claims to want a space for entertaining.  He writes:

"Maybe it’s just me, but I like to have people over approximately once or twice a year, tops.  But every couple on these shows has to make mention of the fact that they love to entertain. They love to have people over, and this open concept living room and kitchen is just perfect for entertaining!  Personally, I would add extra walls to give me more dark corners in which to hide when people visit."

This made me laugh, even given that fact that we entertain regularly.  Our house becomes a hub for friends, neighbors, and family on special events, like our recent Fourth of July bash which had so many side dishes that I dubbed it The Thanksgiving of Summer.

Plus, with my husband's job as a college football chaplain, we have large groups of young and hungry people over on a weekly basis.  We feed them from a crock pot so large that it resembles a trough.

Our brand of entertaining, though frequent, is rarely glamorous.  It's more like an assembly line where twenty guests make their way through our kitchen in a line and devour 15 pounds of taco meat, or pulled pork, or spaghetti with meat sauce, depending on what meal we prepare in bulk that week.  There are no frills, but there are plenty of dishes afterward.

This past weekend, though, I was on the receiving end of hospitality.  We visited my husband's aunt and uncle who live about an hour a way for the day.  It was a large gathering with cousins and cousins' children (who, according to Google, are called "cousins once removed," in case you wondered but, like me, can never keep the nomenclature straight.)  And there was food -- lots of food! -- and I prepared none of it.

I simply made my way through their kitchen in a line, sampling a bit of everything, and was so grateful for the hospitality.  When I commented on being chilly, my aunt-in-law (which is a term I'm making up, but think that Google would accept) loaned me a sweater.

I felt extremely welcomed and cared for.  It's good to be hospitable, and it's equally good to be on the receiving end of hospitality.

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

To the Next Crop of Young Mothers

Early yesterday evening I saw a teenage neighbor and her friend drive down our street, windows down, radio playing, friend in the passenger seat laughing, wind blowing through their hair.  It was the picture of freedom.

I watched with admiration.  It's been a while since I've looked like that.  I no longer leave the house at 7:00 in the evening, windows down, by myself or with a friend.  When I'm pulling away on our street, it's now in a minivan with three school-aged kids in tow.  I'm the mom shuffling kids to the pool with a tote bag for towels and sunscreen, or to the library with a tote bag for books, or to the grocery store where I forget our reusable tote bags and exit with too many plastic bags instead.  I always seem to be carrying things, like a Sherpa.

I'm the opposite of my teenage neighbor and her friend with the wind blowing through their hair.

Yet, I as I watched their car disappear down my street, I remembered that years ago, when my children were babies, I often felt undeniably trapped during the evening hours.  I could get through mornings and afternoons, but evenings sapped my resolve.  My girls were most fussy after dinner, and I'd spend those languid evening hours rocking and pacing with a baby crying in my ear, feeling as if the walls of my house were closing in on me, that I might never make it through.

There were some desperate nights then.

Now, with school-aged kids, even though my days still brim with activity, shuffling, whining, correction, meal preparation, and cleaning up after messes, it's not quite as hard as those early years.  When I watched my teenage neighbor drive away, I experienced a small surge of wistfulness at her freedom -- just enough to remind me of how powerful that urge had been years ago, how I had felt that I needed to get out or I'd suffocate.

I don't feel that intensity any longer.  It's easier now.

But I know that some moms, especially you dear young moms who can't even slip out to Wal-Mart by yourselves for twenty minutes because babies need to nurse and toddlers are clingy, do feel this way.  The baby keeps crying, the walls are closing in, and you feel -- even though you love your children -- that you're losing a part of your mind or yourself.

It's real.

And, as I learn mostly in hindsight, it's a stage that passes.  You get yourself back. 

One day we were the teenagers driving away, carefree.  At some point, we might be the mom rocking the baby, watching the teenagers in the car and wishing it could be us.  And maybe, just maybe, someone older watches us when we're with our young children, reminiscing wistfully about those earlier years because their own children have grown and are now gone.  Life is funny.  The cycles keep cycling.

But, today, if you're going through a hard part of the cycle, give yourself grace and keep going.  It will pass soon enough.  Somehow it always does.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

These Days, You'll Find Me in the Garage

We no longer can park either vehicle in our garage.  The entrance to one stall is blocked by a truckload of rocks that were delivered from a local home and garden center and now await their slow removal, wheelbarrow-full by wheelbarrow-full, as they get placed in our garden landscaping.

The other stall is slowly getting taken over by piles for the garage sale we'll hold at the end of the month.  As I carry boxes of outgrown clothes, books we'll never read again, and unneeded household items, I already hope for the elusive garage sale impossibility: that every single item will sell.

Between the boxes, I've set up drop cloths and a station where I'm working to refinish a cabinet, a bookshelf, and our kitchen table.  I finished the kitchen table once before and was so pleased with the results -- dents had been filled, Sharpie marker and other stains from the kids had been sanded off, and the new driftwood gray finish was a vast improvement from the old blonde wood.  My good work was short lived, though: months later, the kids spilled a bottle of nail polish remover on top of old work papers, which caused the print to transfer onto the table, decoupage-style.  So now I'm sanding it down and trying once more, hopeful that this could be the time that actually sticks.

This lifestyle of putzing and painting, working with my hands and cleaning up the messes from the rest of the year, fits the month of July, the one month where I'm most distant from academia.  In July, if you need me, you'll find me in the garage.

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Sunday, July 2, 2017

New Things: Vacation Edition

Last week we went on vacation with my husband's family.  Each summer for the past ten years, we've traveled together for one week each summer to the shore of Delaware, sometimes near Fenwick Island, and this year on the north side of Bethany Beach, toward Dewey and Rehoboth.

For obvious reasons, I love the idea of vacation.  It's a chance, quite literally, to vacate your normal routine.  I stepped away from teaching and campus, and I checked email just enough to be considered borderline responsible.  This was good. 

Even better, vacation is a time to have new experiences, a few of which I'll detail here for you.

1) Car Troubles.  About halfway to the beach -- deep enough to be far away from home, yet not deep enough to be close to our destination -- the transmission of our minivan spontaneously died.  It was ugly.  I never had given much thought how we'd navigate a breakdown on the highway en route to vacation, and I'll spare you the details, except that it involved a long wait and small rental vehicle.

I should add that our rental car was the cleanest vehicle that I have traveled in for the last decade, which (almost, but certainly not quite) made me forget about the accompanying expenses.

2) New Running Trails.  Almost every morning before the heat of the day, my husband and I took a run.  I'd like to report that we ran together, but he's much faster than I, so he'd join me for my first mile (his "warm-up") before I'd continue at my slower pace.

I found new trails that were flat, well-marked, and happily populated with a handful of walkers, bikers, and other runners.  Even though I got turned around one morning and ended up running a mile more than I had intended, I always aim to pick safe and easy routes when I'm in unfamiliar locations.  (One generally unstated life goal is that I refuse to become the subject of a Reader's Digest "Drama in Real Life" article. Safety first, kids.)


Plus, one of the trails led me to a scenic outlook where I paused to catch my breath, watch the water on the bay, and take a picture of my feet, because you take pictures of your feet when you're on vacation.

3) Kayaking.  Our rental house had a kayak for our use just a short walk away, and one evening while I was on a solitary kayaking expedition, I saw a bald eagle.  He was so close I could see the yellow of his beak as he flew overhead, and then he landed in a pine tree where I sat and watched him, paddling every so often to keep myself anchored to the spot.

I had no phone with me to capture a picture, but I think I preferred just having the moment to myself.

4) Funland.  There's nothing new about our family visiting Funland at the Rehoboth Boardwalk, given that we've been taking the kids there for years, but this year Funland had a new ride: the SuperFlip 360.  I was born for rides like this.

But the moment I loved the most -- even more than riding with my kids, or the happy nostalgia of the books of green Funland tickets -- was when we met a 100-year-old woman who was in line to ride the tea cups.

That is how you live life.  You ride the tea cups on the boardwalk when you're 100.

5) The Fractured Prune.  Nobody in our family quite understands the name, but we were told a few years ago that we should visit a Fractured Prune doughnut shop.  This year we finally did.  I'm generally not a huge fan of doughnuts, as I have plenty of other dietary vices, but these were good doughnuts. 

6) Yahtzee.  My mother-in-law and I played four rounds of Yahzee during the week.  When we play, we don't just play a single column, either; we play Triple Yahzee, which gives you more places to bury bad rolls.  I was on a hot streak for three games (one game I rolled four Yahzees! Four of them, I tell you! That's a new record!), but I was slaughtered during the final game.  Alas, you can't win them all.

7) Sunscreen.  We've had this one bottle of sunscreen forever.  It never expires, and we frequently use it, yet we can never finish it.  My husband and I both marvel: how does this sunscreen never run out?  It's a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Well, this vacation, it finally ran out.  I have her to thank.

Now we're returning to the standard nuts and bolts of life back at home, like unpacking, doing laundry, buying groceries, and getting caught up with the mail.  It's good to come back to regular life, but I'm always thankful for that week-long chance to vacate it in the first place.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

No apology needed, yet we give them anyway.

The sink in our upstairs bathroom broke.  To clarify, the pipe underneath the sink in our upstairs bathroom broke, which caused a steady stream of water to puddle at the base of our vanity along with the Lysol wipes, hand soaps, and bottle of toilet bowl cleanser.  Eventually, the puddle must have reached critical mass and spilled onto our bathroom floor, creating a puddle there, too -- one that I stepped in, which is how I discovered the leak.

My husband called his friend, a handyman for a local apartment complex, to look at the pipe.  The next morning while I was at work, his friend came, diagnosed the problem, repaired the pipe, and went on his way.  Simple.

I came home, pleased with the quick fix and how I wouldn't need to brush my teeth at my bathtub spigot that evening.

Then I looked around our bedroom for a moment, knowing that our handyman friend must have walked through it to reach the bathroom.  The bed was made, but the rest of the room was a mess.  Because I had been painting my oldest daughter's room, all of her belongings had been transferred to our room.  Unwieldy mounds of her bed linens, stuffed animals, and books were stacked on top of our own furniture.  Her mirror, bulletin board, and pictures leaned against our bedroom walls.

Clutter everywhere.

As I looked around, I wondered if my husband had thought to explain the mess to his friend as he directed him to our bathroom.  I didn't ask, though, because I know the answer would have been no.

He wouldn't have said, "You see, Robin was painting Reese's room, so we had to move all of her stuff into here.  Please don't mind the mess."

He wouldn't have said, "Sorry, I know this place is a disaster."

He wouldn't have offered an apology or explanation, because there was no apology or explanation needed.  He knows that it's our house and we live there.  He knows that sometimes rooms get painted, and possessions temporarily get relocated into piles in other rooms, and pipes break, and messes naturally occur, and other people witness them.

In other words, he wouldn't have offered an apology because he understands that people live in houses, and living can be a messy prospect.  And because he's a man.

In contrast, I've noticed how quickly apologies are issued when a woman lets another woman into her home -- sometimes even before the guest steps through the front doorway.  Sorry that there's still a half-eaten waffle and syrup dripped on the kitchen table, even though it's almost dinner.  Sorry my kids have dropped their socks everywhere.  I'm just warning you... this place is a mess.

Our apologies and explanations suggest that it's a moral failing if throw blankets aren't neatly draped across the back of couches, or mail is unsorted on the counter, or shoes are left at the front door, or unrinsed dinner plates still sit in the kitchen sink. 

We apologize to each other for living in our own spaces, as if this is wrong, as if real life shouldn't take place within the walls of our homes.  At the same time, we all know that real life does take place in our homes -- and, sometimes, real life involves a broken pipe, a painting project, and a bedroom in a state of upheaval.

Best yet, real life also involves friends who are willing to come at a moment's notice and help when you're in a pinch, without caring whether your bedroom is messy.

That's real life.  When no apology or explanation is needed, let's stop giving them.

Let's give other people the gift of knowing that our houses look just like their houses: lived in.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Another Parenting Milestone

A lot of parenting involves slogging through the daily routine, but every so often, you encounter a moment that stops you in your tracks.  There are traditional firsts, like the time your child first rolls or takes uncertain steps.  There are highly-photographed firsts, like first days of school.  There are firsts that make parents sigh in relief, like when a baby first blessedly sleeps through the night, or when kids first learn to buckle their own seat belts and you no longer have to wheedle yourself into back seats to click them into safety.

In my parenting journey, I experienced those types of early firsts years ago.  Even so, life keeps evolving, and yesterday I experienced another first.

I drove my daughter and her friend to the public pool, dropped them off at the curb, waved as they walked to the counter and showed their passes, and then drove away.

Let me recap: I left my child in a public place -- one that is not school -- and then I left the premises.  Because she's twelve.  Because she and her friend are very responsible and capable of surviving without adult supervision for two hours.  Because I have reached the point in parenting where I'm not needed every single moment of every single day.

Parenting from the sidelines.  It's a first, I tell you.

Image compliments of USAG Livorno PAO

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Monday, June 19, 2017

The Unfinished State of Many Things

I like doing projects because I like when projects are done.  I enjoy cutting the grass because I enjoy how a freshly-cut lawn looks.  I enjoy cleaning a closet because I appreciate the newly uncluttered results.  I stick with the doing because I want to get to the done.

Right now, though, I'm in the midst of doing stuff.  I'm smack dab in the middle of multiple unfinished projects.  I've applied one coat of fresh paint in my daughter's bedroom, but I missed the window to immediately apply the final coat during the weekend.  I've begun the process of packing my campus office because furniture (and faculty) are being rearranged, so I'm surrounded by boxes while at work.  I've reached the final week of teaching during the intensely compact summer schedule, a week when it gets messier with assignments, speeches, and an exam before all the loose threads are tied.

Nothing around me feels settled or complete.  I like settled and complete.

But this is okay.  I'm reminded that it's possible to be at ease in the midst of unfinished business.  It's possible to be settled even when your environment is in flux.  I can expect change, messes, and loose threads.  The in-between phases are just as normal as the it-is-finished phases.

So, this week as I finish the painting, packing, and teaching, I'll look forward to the finished results.  But I accept the process, too.  I'll get there.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mission Completed

Title: Mission Completed

Subtitle: Backpacks, you've served us well this year.  You've lugged papers and notebooks and pencils and lunch boxes for 180 days straight, but today your job is done. Let summer begin!

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Monday, June 12, 2017

The Unproductive Day

Before work this morning, I made a to-do list that was much too long for the amount of hours a day contains.  After teaching my class, I had planned to grade speeches, make a return at a store, pick up a gallon of paint for my next weekend project, mail a package, and buy groceries before driving home.  Once home, I had planned on doing at least three loads of laundry, including all the jackets that we had worn through the chilly parts of spring -- jackets that now seem obscenely warm given the mid-80 temperatures.

In my mind, I would complete all of these tasks within the two-hour window after my class ended and before my girls got home from school.  Because I have a time turner, obviously.

Nothing worked like I had planned.  I picked the slowest line in the store to make my return -- the line where the cashier couldn't find the price on an obscure item and the customer decided to pay with a check.  I finally cut my losses, moved to another line, waited until I reached the front, and then was told that returns couldn't be processed from that register.

Every stop on my itinerary was slow and irritating.  Barely anything was crossed off the list by the time my girls stepped off the bus.  To up the ante, my middle daughter said that her foot, the one she had tweaked the evening before while jumping on a neighbor's trampoline, still hurt.  I mustered all of my medical knowledge, which means that I asked her to stick out both legs, looking and feeling to see if there was any difference between the injured and normal foot, and found a sizable lump.

That's how I added an unexpected and lengthy visit to my local Med Express into an already overwhelmingly unproductive day.

As I sat in the exam room, playing mind-numbing rounds of "I Spy" and "I Went on a Picnic and I Took (fill in the blank alphabetically)," I thought back to a similar day during my own childhood.  It had been a Sunday.  I recall this detail vividly because my father had wanted to read the Sunday paper all day, and time had escaped him, and the day was nearly done, and when he finally sat down to read the paper as my brother and I prepared for bed, I accidentally stepped on my brother's backpack and impaled my foot on a pencil.

That night, my dad had driven me to a Pittsburgh ER so the doctor could remove the pencil tip lodged in my foot.  (My dad forgot to bring the newspaper with him.  The waiting room had no newspapers.  Of course.)

We all live days like this.

As I drove my daughter home after getting X-rays and planning a follow-up consultation with the orthopedist to determine if a boot was necessary (thankfully, it wasn't), my thoughts flashed back to my morning commute.  I had prayed quite specifically about the day while I drove.  Perhaps I intuitively knew that my lengthy to-do list was a pipe dream.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit was prompting me to prepare for interruptions.

But I had prayed, "Lord, let me do only what You'd have me do today.  Not more, not less.  Help me to fill this day the right way."

Maybe the right way to fill certain days simply means that you endure long lines with grace.  Maybe it means that you play a dozen rounds of I Spy in a blandly monochromatic waiting room.  Maybe it means that you drop the prescribed ought to's, like three loads of laundry, so you can instead focus on what you must do.

And when you add it all up, perhaps it's still a day well spent.  Even if you don't get to read the newspaper.

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Monday, May 29, 2017

All of the Pleasure, None of the Work

There's a 24-acre farm behind my house.  I love this a great deal.  In fact, sometimes as I let my gaze span across their hillside acreage, I pretend that I own this farm, down to the one time that I renamed the horses they had been boarding.

We've lived in our house for 11 years, and I still can't get over it.  I'm less than five minutes from a grocery store, a gas station, a Wal-Mart, and a shopping plaza, yet I also get to enjoy a farm that I don't need to maintain.  I reap all of the aesthetic pleasure, yet do none of the work.  It seems entirely unfair, like a gift I can't pay back.

Tonight as my kids were taking their baths and the evening was drawing to a close, Joel and I walked our own yard.  It's a beautiful space unto itself, one that's doubly enhanced by the farm's rolling hills. 

I thought back to how my youngest daughter's friends automatically clamored to the fence during her birthday party a few weekends ago, eager to see the newborn calves.  This is a sight for people.  It's not a typical backdrop to a backyard, and I don't want to forget it.  I don't want to ever get used to it.

So, on evenings like tonight as I walk along our gardens, noticing that the peonies are nearly past their prime, I pay close attention to what I see.

I notice the details that make us want to linger a little longer, like the bridge that invites kids (and adults alike) to walk over it.

Or the garden stools that say, won't you sit here for a while?

I notice how the clematis climbs its metal trellis,

and how the lace-leaf Japanese maple arcs over the bicycle decoration that my mom gave me.

I think about how colors compliment each other -- how purple and coral pop against a green backdrop,

and how the best lighting always comes right before the sun sets.  I see the little details when I slow down and remember to look, to really look. 

Years ago, I read a blog by a woman who was seeking advice from her counselor about happiness.  What do you envision a happy life to be?  What do you envision a happy home to look like? the counselor had asked.  Once the woman had envisioned her happiest self and home (it included baking cookies with her children), the counselor encouraged her to do those things.

This always has stuck with me.  What is my happiest vision for my home?  It's my kids playing outside, my neighbors dropping by to talk, and the people I love wanting to be together.  It's adding small beautiful touches, both inside and outside my home.  It's (trying to) keep things organized and simple enough that I'm not buried by or beholden to stuff.  It's reading good books, and being productive, and having some creative outlets.  It's working hard, but not being a slave to work so I still have the best of me to give when I'm home.

Tonight, as I walked my own backyard, looking at its quaint details and regarding the farm that I plan on always pretending to own, I realize that my vision of a happy life also includes taking evening walks with my husband around our yard during the spring and summer months.

It includes noticing and slowing down and not taking for grantedAfter all, perhaps the best way to pay back for this gift -- all of the pleasure, none of the work -- is simply to enjoy it.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Keep an Open Hand

My husband believes that Good n' Plenty candy is an acquired taste.  If this is true (and it likely is given that black licorice isn't universally loved), I guess that I acquired the taste during childhood when my dad would pour the candies into my hand.  I still like the simple, pretty appearance of the pink and white candy shells.

I recently bought a box, and this afternoon I poured myself a handful.  I had just returned from campus, and I was still mulling over an email I received about my teaching schedule for the upcoming fall.  I knew I needed to head out again and buy a few groceries for dinner before the kids got home from school, but then I remembered that I needed to switch the clothes from the washer to the dryer.

Finally, with the clothes in the dryer, my scrawled grocery list in hand, my keys located, and my thoughts still occupied with my pending teaching schedule, I headed to my car.  That's when I realized that I still had a handful of Good n' Plenty.  My fist was clenched around them; the pink and white coating had begun to smear onto my palm and fingers.

I'm not sure why this sight made me pause, but something was triggered when I saw the results of a clenched hand.  My hand, which could have been clean if I had just kept my palm open, was a sticky mess.  Sometimes, it feels right to clutch something, like it's somehow safer to exert a strong grip, but an open hand might be what's better.

As I drove to the store, I prayed.  I told God that I trusted Him with my teaching schedule, even if it was different than normal, even if it might need to be tweaked, even if it couldn't be tweaked.  And as I prayed, I felt my clenched hand opening up a bit, my strong grip loosening.  Somehow, just like the sight of my stained pink and white palm, I knew that this situation -- like most things in life -- ultimately would be better if I didn't hold on so tightly.

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