Growing Hope

These are confusing times we are living in.  Things that are unprecedented going on all over while other things that are frighteningly precedented take place close to home and across the world.  Some days, I just want to sit with my book and dog and read and escape with the sounds of the littles playing in the background.

It’s hard to know what is right and wrong, you know?  Hard to know how to make things better…..how to wrong the rights…..how to help the hurting.  And it feels so overwhelming, wondering how the little things I do in my day to dailies could possibly make a difference.

Is it any wonder we are all so tired?

Yesterday for the second time in three months, I found myself sitting next to an elderly woman in her 80’s expressing her thoughts on the world, our country, the situations on her mind.  Different women, different circumstances, but both times I sat trying to find balance in the situation.  Would my firmly stating how much I disagree with her change the world for the better?  Should I speak loudly and strongly what I believe is right and wrong?  Would I make things better by trying to explain how she wasn’t seeing things in what I believed to be the right light, or would I only alienate her and make things worse?

I couldn’t be sure.

Both times, I said something like, “Well, it is hard.”

“People are hurting.”

“I am not sure that everyone sees it that way.”

“It’s hard to know what the right thing is, isn’t it?”

Because it is.  None of what I said was an untruth, but I didn’t come out and say, “I BELIEVE YOU ARE WRONG.”

I just couldn’t.  And both times, I left feeling bad–wondering if I’d let down those who are hurting.

The difference yesterday though was that my littles, Cooter who is now 10 1/2 and our Princess who is almost 13, were there and listening.

*sigh*

As we left and got in our vehicle, I answered questions that Cooter had about what had transpired.  He wanted to know all kinds of things, like what the woman had been referring to and why she believed what she did.  One part I could answer, the other I could only guess.  And I told him that.  Then we talked about how we all see things differently.

And then we moved on to other important subjects–like what was for lunch.  Cooter is very meal-focused these days.  Must be that whole growing boy thing.

Then this morning, Cooter brought his Grammar/Literature book to me.  Some days there are readings that he is asked to read aloud to me.  This morning he came with an urgent need to read it to me NOW.

“Mama,” he said.  “You have to hear this.  It made me think about that lady yesterday.”

And then he read from his text–

Japanese Culture: Part 2

by Jennifer D. Lerud

Family, honor, good manners, and outside appearances are very important to the Japanese people.  They have two forms of behavior: omote, which is the public, formal, and conventional behavior that governs how close they stand to each other and who shakes hands first, for example; and ura, which is their private, informal, “relaxing at home” form of behavior.  They believe it is proper to agree with anyone older than themselves–even if the person is wrong–in order to avoid humiliating or bringing dishonor on an elder person.  The Japanese people display people’s ages in newsletters at work, and school and work desks according to age, and even hand out cups of tea in order of age.  Social ranking and status are important things…..

(from The Good and the Beautiful, Level 4–Book 2 Course Book, p. 11)

“See, Mama? That’s what you did yesterday.”

Bless him.

I’m not writing this to debate about whether I should have stood up yesterday or three months ago and called these women out.  It didn’t happen, and I don’t know if it will happen tomorrow or next week or next year, should such a situation arise again, as it likely will.  I’m writing this because I’m trying to wrap my brain around a child who was paying attention, and a timely lesson that spoke to him, and the fact that he saw the connection and shared it with me.

Most days it’s all little things that are dots that I don’t connect into a big picture until much later–if ever.  It’s reminding Cooter umpteen times to rinse out his oatmeal bowl before it becomes glue in the bowl or listening to our Princess practicing “The Carol of the Bells” for her piano recital.  It’s making sure that swim suits and dance leotards are clean and dry, and that scripts and epi-pens are in hand as we head out the door.  It’s grocery shopping and meal planning and reminding little people to empty the dishwasher.  It’s talking on the phone with our law student and trying not to miss her too much, knowing she’s where she’s supposed to be.  Sometimes it’s even making time to read my new favorite book or watch the newest Hallmark movie.

And most of the time, these little things don’t connect…..

But today, they did.  Today I’m thankful for a perfectly timed (I’m looking at You) Literature passage that gave me grace…..for that same passage that spoke to a little fella and helped him understand the ways of the world a little more.

Mostly I’m thankful for this process of “raising children”–that label is so limiting and not at all what we are doing together, y’all.  Together, all of us, we are growing hope.  As these little people watch and listen and read and begin to understand and teach us through their eyes and with their hearts–we are raising the ones who will carry our stories, our love, our light, and pass it along to the next generation.

And today, that is everything to me.

Love to all.

 

 

 

The One About Vocabulary and Book Burning

Some days our homeschooling goes beautifully.  We are on our game, learning all the things, and we stay focused, on track, and we get through everything that we need to do in a timely manner.  Then we are able to move on to other things that we really enjoy.  Or nap.  Naps are good too.

Today was NOT one of those days.

But it was still beautiful.

Which is one of the main reasons I love homeschooling.  It can be a success without being  a neat and tidy notebooked, paperclipped, stapled, workbook process.  It can be messy and chaotic and loud and scattered and done in fits and starts and still be really good.

Like today.

This morning Cooter started off building with his Legos in his room.  I know this because I could hear the sound of Legos being pushed and stacked and moved around.  That is NOT what reviewing your times tables sounds like.  When we finally sat down together he had his Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary that he got for his birthday on his lap.  As I wrapped up what I was working on, he asked me questions–vocabulary questions–what does “reprisal” mean?  What does “trumps” mean?  I think we went through ten words before I realized that we were indeed “schooling,” only I didn’t tell him.  Sometimes it’s best to let the learning just happen without calling it that.

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Who am I kidding?  With this one, it’s best to do that as much of the time as possible.

This afternoon I left them working on their writing, and I went to attack Mt. Washmore waiting for me on the couch.  I was folding clothes when I heard Cooter call my name.  I turned around to see him standing in the kitchen doorway.

“Well, I have a funeral to go to now.”

Because I know this child well, I didn’t clench or panic as I might have if it were any of my other children.

“Yeah?  Why is that?  Whose funeral?”

(WARNING: SPOILER ALERT FOR ANYONE WHO HASN’T READ THE HARRY POTTER BOOKS!)

 

 

 

 

“Sirius.  Sirius Black.”  He paused.  I took in the too bright eyes and the smile that seemed plastered on.  Oh my heart.  “He was my favorite character.”

I rushed over to him.  Yes, he’s nine now.  Yes, he’s rough and tumble and getting too old to hold my hand in parking lots much anymore, but I RUSHED OVER and grabbed hold of him and held him tight.

And he let me.

“Oh, baby, I’m so sorry.  I know.  I know.  It’s hard.  I’m so sorry.”

We’ve been learning a lot about grief over the past four plus years.  When my Daddy died, Cooter wouldn’t have much to do with Mama for a few weeks, and she was so afraid he was mad at her or blamed her.  He didn’t.  He just turned inwards.  He did the same thing when Mama passed.  Our Princess cried her heart out, tears for days, but Cooter just turned inward and was very stoic.

But today, today my little guy looked up at me and said, after I told him it was okay to cry, even if he needed to go to his room and be by himself to do it,  “I’m going to burn this book.  That’s what I’m going to do.  I’ll finish these last few pages, but then I’m going to burn it.”  He choked back the other unsaid things I heard in his voice and walked off.

This evening as he was reading the last of it in the car, he mentioned again his desire to burn the book when he was done.  His sister, who was delighted to find her very own copy at the used bookstore (a copy of her own that wasn’t her big sister’s), begged him not to.  “Do you know how hard it was to find that book?”  Finally, we agreed that might not be the thing to do, and we talked about Sirius and how he had gone just on the other side of the veil.  Just like Maemae and Cap had.  They are still with us, right there, just on the other side.  He nodded.

But still.

I remember when I read that chapter of the book.  I had so hoped Harry’s summer woes were over.  That he was going to finally have a good place, a good person who loved him, to spend his summers with and not the Dursleys.  But instead, life dealt him and all of them another terrible blow, and his life was upended yet again.

Much like real life.  Just when we think things might settle and be okay…..topsy turvy it goes, and we have to learn how to live with the new normal.

And so it would seem that on this day that no math was done (tomorrow will be really fun, y’all) and writing wasn’t finished, and we didn’t discuss the Bill of Rights as planned, that learning happened.  Important and good and hard learning.

And that right there.  That’s why I love homeschooling.  From vocabulary inspired by Star Wars to holding my baby through his book burning thoughts to sharing our thoughts on life and death and grief together, I love it.

It’s not my favorite everyday, and tomorrow I might need to be reminded how much I love it, but right now, I wouldn’t trade it for all the free time in the world.

Love to all.

Quicksand

“If there’s anything to be amazed at,” said MayDean, holding the toothpick out of the side of her mouth with amazing skill while she talked, “it’s that all of these folks–look around you, ever’ single one of them, they all have fallen at some point or another in their lives.  There’s just no way around it.  There’s no way to know the pitfalls afore you on the path you’ve chosen, the one you’re on right now.  So yeah, they’ve fallen and don’t you believe anyone that tells you diff’rent. You hear me?”

“Yes ma’am.”  There was no sense arguing, and yes, I had actually heard the words she was saying.  Only now I was wondering what else was coming.

“So get ready ’cause this here’s the part I don’t understand.  Ever’ one of ’em have fallen. But ain’t nobody talking about it.  Everybody out here has a story that could help somebody else.  A warning flag for the pitfall or a lesson about how to get out of it.  Or even who to call when it feels like the quicksand is pulling you under.  But nobody’s saying a word.  Zip.  Nada.  Not a blame thing.   And that just feels wrong to me–to hang on to the one thing that could help another person, all to save your own skin from facing truth.” She shook her head.  “I just don’t get it.  But then, me, I’ve gotten old enough that most of the folks are gone who know much of my story, so I can tell what I want.  And I’m telling it.  I don’t want to leave this world holding within my hands and heart something that could save another.”  She looked real thoughtful for a moment.  “Would I hold on to a cure for the cancer if I found it by falling in a mudpit and rolling around with hogs?”

She bounced the toothpick up and down with her teeth, looking out toward the  technicolor painted sunset on the horizon.  “Nope.  I’m here to say I wouldn’t.  I don’t care how I got it.  If it’ll help, it’ll tell.”

And with that she pushed up out of the creaking rocker, made her way off the porch, and headed down the path to home, leaving without another word to those of us whom she called family.

And that was then it occurred to me how much of my childhood I spent terrified of stepping in quicksand, and I wondered why no one ever mentions it anymore.

Quicksandwarning

“Quicksandwarning” by Hughesdarren – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Car Conversations

For whatever reason, some of the best conversations I’ve had with my children have been in the car.  Or truck.  Or whatever.

Tonight Cooter and I were on the way home from Evening Prayer together, just the two of us, when he suddenly asked one of THOSE questions.

You know, the ones where you gulp and feel yourself floundering for just the right words because you know, YOU KNOW, that he’s likely to remember your answer for a long, long time.

“Mama, why was there segregation?”

Oh my heart.

As the seconds ticked by the best I could come up with–and this is not a new conversation for us–was to remind him that sometimes people are afraid of people who are different and how some folks with light skin thought they were better than people with darker skin and even, at one point, thought they could own these people.

Once again, he was indignant over this injustice.

“We are all equal, we just have different gifts! Folks need to know that.  We all have different things we are good at, but we are all equal.”

Bless that heart.  Out of the mouths of babes…..

As he continued sharing his thoughts, it was heart-wrenching to hear him say, “Well, I’m glad that doesn’t happen anymore.”  Oh baby boy, how I wish.  Then he asked, “Mama, what should I do if someone is being unkind to someone else or is wanting to segregate people?  What should I do?  Should I just step away from the situation?”

How I wish I didn’t need to have these conversations with my child, but I’m so grateful he wants to have them.  That he’s genuinely asking me what is right.  I’m treading carefully here though.  This is way more important than multiplication or grammar or learning how a bill becomes a law.

So we talked about how the first thing you do when you know something is wrong is you stand up and say so.  Stand up for what you believe is right.

“Like you do?”

I searched my memory for what on earth he was referring to.  He continued, “So my friends and I should make signs and stand up to let folks know what is right?”

Oh bless. He’s thinking of the vigils for the people on death row.  He’s really been paying attention.  (Both wonderful and frightening, that.)

“Sure, buddy.  That’s a start.”

He talked about his friends and then, “You know, sometimes when I’m with my friends, and I hold back the way I’m feeling, sometimes it feels heavy on my shoulders.”

I know that feeling too, bud.

So we talked about the best way to share our thoughts and feelings with other people.  It was a good talk.  Hard, because I didn’t know he felt like he had to do that when he was with his friends, but a good one.

Good because he wanted to talk to me.

My little guy and I shared some really important things on the ride home tonight.

And it only takes us fifteen minutes to get home, y’all.

He’s a deep thinker for such a young fella.  But it didn’t take him long to swing it back around and start singing, “It was a Sunday morning and I ate four doughnuts, doughnuts, doughnuts, and it felt great…..until it didn’t…..”

And…..he’s back.  My class clown.  My self-proclaimed future comedian.

Tonight I’m thankful for rides home in the dark when hearts are open and shared.  I’m thankful for the one who talks, and that I can listen.  I love the deep conversations and the silly songs.  Because they are both very much a part of this journey we are on.  And it takes both to make it beautiful.

Love to all.

FREE_high_resolution_cars_driving_at_night_creative_commons_attribution_(9368836860)

By Pink Sherbet Photography from Utah, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Answering the Hard Question

This evening I sat with two young people and a retired friend as we listened to an amazing woman share about the hard work–the good work–she is doing to help women and men who are in the human trafficking industry.  It was a very eye opening and hard discussion.  It is heart breaking, and despite what we might have previously thought, it is very much happening right here in our community.  Not just Atlanta, or even Macon. Right here.

All the brokenness.

As we listened, the young man who sat next to the speaker looked at her with his eyes wide.  He asked, fumbling at first to find the right words, in a quiet voice, “Is there, I mean, is anyone–I mean surely–is anyone doing anything to stop this from happening at all?  How can we stop it?  What are people doing to make this better?”

Bless him.

He is not even a legal adult yet.  He is hearing about heartbreak and brokenness and darkness that has been going on since before he was born, and it was as though for the first time, he felt the weight of what is before him–and all of his generation–that needs to be fixed and made better.

Bless him.  Bless all of them.

They are looking at those of us who are of my generation, most likely, wondering why we let it get this bad.  Why the human trafficking industry is the fastest growing one, right behind drug trafficking.  They are asking us, “What have you done to make this better?”

Many will say they didn’t know. They weren’t aware. That they didn’t realize it was happening here in our country, our community.  Many see it as a foreign issue, happening only in countries far, far away.

As I heard the stories tonight, any misconceptions like that were shattered and blown away.

I can never say again I didn’t know.  And now that I know, I have a duty to answer this young man’s question–

What am I doing to stop this?

I have a lot of thinking to do about what I heard tonight.  And about the look on that sweet soul’s face, his puzzled pain over what he was hearing.  It’s wrong, and if we stand by and do nothing, it will continue to grow.  That one thing is certain.

Will you join me in thinking on this, and working on the answer to “What are people doing to make this better?”

For more information, you can visit http://outofdarkness.org

Love, much love, to all.

foundation-stone-08-healing-by-the-laying-on-of-hands-35-638

via slideshare.net

Three of My Favorite Words

This past week has been filled with texts, posts, e-mails, phone calls, and face to face expressions of three of the most precious words to hear–

“Are you okay?”

I’ve said ’em, I’ve read ’em, I’ve typed ’em, and I’ve even skyped ’em.

Are. You. Okay?

Aren’t they powerful?  To be in the midst of a hard time and have someone come in, take your hands, and look you in the eye and ask that question.  Someone who really cares about your answer.  Or open up an email notification and those be the introductory words.  Or get a text out of the blue with those words or their very close first cousin words–

“How are you?”

It’s been a hard week in many ways, but it has had its brighter moments.  Most of those involve someone I love and one or the other of these three word questions.  In three words I feel embraced, cared about, and like I matter to someone.  With those three words I am seeking to convey all of those things, but mostly I am saying, “I love you and I really want to know that you are okay.”

Because sometimes okay is good enough, okay is real and raw and honest, acknowledging that while all might not be perfect or pleasant or going the way I’d like for it to, I will go on. I will move forward.  Okay is I might be curled up in a ball right now, but I will eat a bite in a little while and I will get dressed and I will do the next thing.  Okay is hesitantly hopeful–okay says I’m here, I showed up, and I will do it again tomorrow.

And in weeks like this, I’ll take it.

I’m okay.  Thanks for checking.

How are you?

Love to all.

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P.S. Before I hit publish, I was doing the nightly wrapping up around here, and I remembered this that made me smile.  About the time Daddy became bedridden in his fight with lymphoma, I came across a Youtube personality, Glozell. (watch this one or this one if you are curious) She made me laugh, but what I remember the most was her introduction.  “Is you okay?  Is you? Good. ‘Cause I wanted to know.”  I started greeting Daddy that way, and it made him laugh.  And because I really did want to know if he was, contextually speaking, okay.  Okay was a gift in those days.  And some days it still is.  Love to all.

A Question for the Prodigal Son’s Father

A question.

Just one.

This afternoon was one of those hazy, gray days with just enough drizzle that you were never quite sure if it was raining or not.  There was a little bit of a chill in the air, and it was very quiet in our neighborhood.  The streets usually overrun with children after school were empty.

My littles were working on their lessons.  I was taking care of my day to dailies when our Princess came in and asked me if she could go outside.  I looked out the windows to my right just in case I was wrong and the skies had turned blue and sunny in the last thirty seconds.

No.  They hadn’t.

“I don’t think so.  It’s raining outside, isn’t it?”

“But Cooter’s out there,” she said, just enough above a whine not to get called out for it but close enough that her message got through.

“No, he’s not supposed to be,” I told her, as I remembered him commenting on his buddies being outside.  (To which I had said, No, you’re not going out there.)

We started searching the house, calling his name.  Nothing.  Miss Sophie followed us around, and I headed straight for the front door.

Only I saw no one.  “I’m going outside,” I called out, and I took off across the yard, hollering his name like I was back home in the country again.

I didn’t care.

The street was so quiet, it was almost unbearable.  The silence was tangible, and it wrapped around my throat and heart, nearly choking me.

I looked back at the house and realized the garage was open, so he most likely had his bike.  Only it wasn’t flung down in someone’s front yard like it normally is, a surefire clue to where he could be.

The silence was suffocating me.  I kept walking.  One foot in front of the other.

In that moment, all I could picture was trying to tell the Fella that I’d lost our boy. And what on earth I would say to the 911 operator.

Thankfully in the next moment, as I got about 2/3 of the way up the street, I saw a glint of yellow.  His bike?

And then his face.

I nearly wept right then as ALL THE FEELS washed over me.  You name it, I felt it.

Mostly I was exhausted.  That had been the longest walk down our little street that I’ve ever had.

From where he was, he saw my face and said nothing.  As I couldn’t speak, I pointed at our house.  He all but flew past me on his bike and into the garage out of sight.  I slowly turned around and started back toward the house.  One foot in front of the other.

I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew he was in big trouble.  Possibly the biggest he’s ever been in.

When I got in the house, I was all prepared to light into him, but I did take a moment.  And I breathed.

He looked so small and uncertain and maybe a little scared sitting on the couch across from me.  All of the anger melted away for a second.  I or Someone reminded me that the worst hadn’t happened.  I had my child right here with me.  He was okay.

“Come here, buddy,” I choked out.  And he knew exactly what I wanted.  We hugged for a long minute.  And then I started crying, telling him how scared I had been.

And then…..

I started fussing.  One more fit.  I named the rules he had broken–one, leaving the house without asking, two, riding his bike up the street without asking, and three, going in someone else’s yard where he would be out of eyesight from ours.  Our rule is if you can’t see our house, I can’t see you–so only go where you can.

He listened and tears crept into his eyes.  I was rational but I laid it out for him–how scared I’d been, how disobedient he’d been, how I was thankful, and that he was OH SO VERY MUCH FOR A LONG, LONG TIME grounded.  I didn’t explain it in exactly a calm voice either.  And I might have been loud.

I hugged him one more time, and then I sat him down in front of his lessons as he wondered aloud what exactly being grounded looked like.  He was contrite but curious.

I walked away.

"Return of the Prodigal Son, 1914. CHristian Rohlfs" by Creator:Christian Rohlf - http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/detail.php?ID=71448. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son,_1914._CHristian_Rohlfs.jpg#/media/File:Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son,_1914._CHristian_Rohlfs.jpg

“Return of the Prodigal Son, 1914. CHristian Rohlfs” by Creator:Christian Rohlf – http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/detail.php?ID=71448. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son,_1914._CHristian_Rohlfs.jpg#/media/File:Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son,_1914._CHristian_Rohlfs.jpg

Later this evening I thought about the Prodigal Son story found in the Good Book.  The one where a man has two sons, and one chooses to take his inheritance early and goes off and squanders it, and then winds up working feeding pigs for a farmer.  He finally decides to swallow his pride and go back home and ask his father to take him on as a hired servant.  As he heads towards home, his father sees him, and goes running to greet him.  The father plans a big ol’ hootenanny to welcome him home, which doesn’t exactly sit well with the son who has stayed home and spent all this time doing his father’s bidding.  I get it, and that’s a story for another night–but what made me go back and reread it tonight is I was wondering if the father had advance notice the son was coming home.  That he was alive–and okay.

I read it over three times.  I don’t think he did.

So there the father was–all this time gone by where he’d likely heard about the partying and then nothing.  He didn’t know if his son was dead or alive or what, and then one day the son comes home.

And the father greets him.  With open arms.  He ran to his son.

And I just have one question, one little thought rattling around in my mind–

After you hugged your son, so thankful and relieved that he was alive and in front of you and seemingly okay, did you then take a moment to impress upon him all the worrying you had done in all that time and how irresponsible and inconsiderate he had been not to at least communicate better with you, because after all you are his father and you love him, but there are rules and stuff as to how to be kind and respectful to those you love?  

Did you?  

Did you ground him?  

I can understand what that hug was like for you–you had this lost child in your arms.  You could touch him, breathe him in, hold him in your arms.  But can you identify with my frustrations and anger and pain and fear that followed the hug?  

I mean, I think it would have been okay to do all that and then move on to the feast.  It seemed to flow that way around here.  After the dust settled, I made them a pot of “sort of from scratch” chicken noodle soup, and it was good and comforting and just what we all needed after the emotional upheaval of the afternoon.  I even served the pears my Prodigal asked for.

But his sister sure got some too.  Because I appreciate that she hung around like she was supposed to.

Tonight I’m thankful that my children are tucked in bed safe and sound, and that none of the horrible things going through my head about 5:30 this afternoon came to fruition.  I give thanks for the “intervention” in my heart that had me hug my son with gratitude before letting him know exactly where he had gone wrong.  I don’t know if I was right or wrong in raising my voice and calling him out, but what’s done is done now.  I just know that this world we live in can be a scary place, and I walk a fine line between not wanting to scare my children and trying to impress upon them the importance of being smart and staying safe.

And to think I was excited when Cooter learned to ride his bike.

May we all have someone happy to see us when we return back to where we came from, running to us with open arms that wrap us up in love–and may we recognize that sometimes the heart behind the fussing and correcting really, really does love us.

Love to all.