Archive for April, 2008

Look Inside

At the other place I write http://weblog.xanga.com/mavan  I’ve been writing poetry.  I don’t claim to be a fine poet, but it has been fun to try my hand at some daily poetry challenges during some of the month of April.

I’ve noticed something, though.  Some of what I have written has been surprisingly somber–maybe even morbid. 

I haven’t been writing reality poetry–I think maybe that’s one of the things that appeals to me about poetry writing.  It feels perfectly okay to let my mind and imagination loose to create with fewer words to get tangled in thought.  It’s the freedom of the canvas and brush, only with words.  A poem can paint a picture of a scene, an event, a moment in time that has never been anywhere but in my mind.  In general, i don’t feel that I can write prose that way unless I make the disclaimer “This is pure fiction.”

Even so, it’s been surprising to me that some of the images that have turned into poems have been shaded darkly. 

Maybe writing poetry is something like dreaming:  Emotions, thoughts, people, memories, and events recombine into something that has never existed in reality. 

But still–maybe I should take a look inside… 


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On Our Way

It would appear that our lives will be changing in significant ways in the next few months.

Yesterday, Zach and I visited South Side High School.  The purpose of our visit was evaluative: Our quest was to make a final determination if this was the place for Zach to finish out his high school education.  (Zach is currently a freshman in our home school.)  We (Michael, Zach, and I) have spent the last couple of months, since Zach first asked if he might be allowed to attend South Side, talking and praying, and talking and praying some more, about seemingly every aspect of Zach transitioning from home school to public school.  We had come to the place where we felt that the only thing left to do in the decision-making process was to see for ourselves what might lie ahead.

Zach has never attended public school–probably the only times he’s even been in a school building are as an attendee at sporting or fine arts events, when he’s gone with his parents to vote, or when he went to South Side to obtain a work permit last spring.  It’s been–ahem!–35 years since I graduated from high school; I’ve been to some of those same events that Zach has over the years, and I did do a short stint as a substitute teacher in my own high school the spring after my college graduation (imagine subbing in one of your siblings’ classes).  So, in light of things you hear in general about high schools these days and some things we have heard about this school in particular, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect.

Ours was a very, very positive experience.  The adults with whom we dealt couldn’t have been nicer.  I commented to Zach that (sadly) the behavior of the students in the honors classes we visited (we did not spend our time together–Zach shadowed a current SSHS freshman named Colin, and I was in the company the freshman guidance counselor, Mr. H.) was better than what I’ve sometimes seen in church youth gatherings, in terms of respect, attentiveness, and courtesy.  I couldn’t help thinking, as I observed in a biology class where the students were reviewing some reading assignment using some very cool hand-held classroom quizzing devices, that it’s very possible that Zach might consider each day in this setting as a great adventure, especially after 10 years of being the only student in his class at home. 

In my conversation with Mr. H., it was encouraging to hear him relate, just briefly, when I had said enough about myself that it was clear that I had some kind of faith life, how he could see that God had prepared him for his current job through various life experiences along the way (which included growing up as a military kid and teaching in a local elementary school.)  I feel that way about Zach going to South Side–I’m convinced it will become a significant part of his story.

And, I’m pretty sure that it will become a significant part of mine too. 

Off we go!


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“You’re up way past your bedtime, Daughter.”

“I know–I’ll probably regret it tomorrow.  Definitely violating the ‘every student deserves a well-rested teacher’ principle.  But I’ve been writing and thinking, and I’m thinking now about that deal in front of Meijer today.  I still am not sure what I should have done.  You saw the whole thing, of course.”

“Yes.  People were saying afterward that it was a good thing that the firemen ‘just happened’ to be there when those people had a need.  Comments like that always make me chuckle.”

“Sure… yeah, but…Well, when I got out of my car to go into the store, there they were–these fireman gathered around someone lying on the ground up near the store but still in the parking lot, close to the back of someone’s car.  There was another car parked in the driving lane of the lot.  There were a couple of store people there too.  I couldn’t tell if the person on the ground had been hit or had collapsed or what.  I heard one of the firemen, kneeling by the person in need, asking if he–I think it was a he, just by the bit of clothing I saw–could move his toe.  I tried not to gawk and kept on walking, but the sight that I couldn’t escape even as I passed by was the woman standing there.  She obviously was someone connected with the person around whom this drama focused.  She wasn’t crying–appeared more to be in shock, really.  She held her hands up, covering her mouth as though she might be trying to keep a scream from escaping.  Momentarily, I felt I should turn out of my way and go over and give her a hug (I think that’s what I would have wanted…just to know that I was not alone in this endless moment).  But my feet kept walking and, as the store door opened before me, the image of the priest and the Levite who passed by the wounded man on the Jericho road before the Good Samaritan stopped to help flashed through my mind.  But I kept on walking.”

“Why do you suppose you did that–kept on walking, I mean?”

“I know it wasn’t that I was in a hurry.  I had three hours that I could have spent, and it wouldn’t have made a big dent in my day.  Zach was at work and I was running some errands.  I didn’t want to be in the way…I never really want to make a scene.  I wasn’t afraid of not knowing what to say and do–I’ve been on the scene of accidents on my street a time or two (Remember that time the guy got killed in the motorcycle accident right at the end of my driveway?  When my feet propelled me out there in the pouring rain to hold an umbrella over the man’s face and the heads of those who were trying to help him, that seemed like the most natural place in the world to be at that moment.).  But today I just kept walking…that bothered me.  I kept asking myself what I’d been waiting for–an out-loud voice telling me what to do?  I don’t know…”

“So, what did you do next?”

“You know–When I came out of the store, the fire truck and firemen were gone.  There was an ambulance there and the person who’d been on the ground was nowhere in sight.  I always think, when the ambulance doesn’t rush right off, that’s not a very good sign.  I always figure the person must have died.  Or I guess he could have been in the ambulance getting patched up or something.  I still wasn’t really thinking so much about the victim, though, because there was that lady again.  Someone had brought a bench out there and she was sitting on it, with another lady.  That lady had her arm around the the connected-to-the-victim lady, and they were talking.  That made me glad….relieved, really.  I prayed that the bystander lady would be a comfort to the other one.”

“That’s good–praying is always good.”

“I haven’t told you the craziest part yet.  As I drove away, I wondered a) how many people, like me, had just walked by and not stepped over to offer any help and b) how many Christians, like me, had been among them.  I wondered if the lady who did stop by was a Christ follower–I hoped she was.  Then came the crazy part.  I made one more quick stop–at Big Lots.  It’s only about a mile or so away.  When I came out of that store, I had the strongest urge to go back to Meijer, and, if that lady was still there, just get out of my car and tell her I’d been there earlier and felt like I just needed to come back and see if there was anything I could do for her.  I came that close to turning left out of that Big Lots parking lot, but I turned right and went on my way.”

“So, Daughter, what is it, exactly, that is troubling you about all this?”

“Here’s just it:  Was it You telling me?  In the big picture of things, does it matter what I did, when all those other people saw the situation too and kept on walking too?  Was it a “should” or a “could”–or doesn’t that part matter?  Was this a “do it to the least of these” moment that I missed?  Was it me violating the Golden Rule–again?  It’s easy to say, ‘I can’t help everyone.’ and then help no one.  I’ve been telling the 3rd-graders to whom I teach religious ed that my neighbor is the person who needs help that I can give.  After all these years, am I still not very good at knowing when it’s You talking to me….Oh, boy….Just tell me:  Daddy, what would you have done?” 

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That phrase popped into my mind yesterday morning during worship celebration. (I really like that description we have begun to use at our church to describe what we do when we meet together on Sunday mornings.)

I have always loved the fact that our church sanctuary is roundish.  The side sections on the main floor hug the sides of the platform.  The balcony feels that way, too, even though the side seating sections are perpendicular to the platform.  Even if you can’t picture the set-up, believe me when I tell you that the place evokes a sense of intimacy.

Perhaps it is because our congregation has begun meeting as one in a single service lately (we have had two separate services of differing styles for the past few years) that I have this sense of coming together around the focus of one mission and One Person.  Perhaps it is because those up front, leading us in worship, are varied in age, in style of public worship, but obviously one in passion for the Object of that worship.  Perhaps my spirit is in tune with all of it in a new way.  But, whatever the reason, the beat of the music, the cadence of the words echo “Gather ’round” as they hit my heart.

Today was another example of that in my life.  It didn’t happen in a church sanctuary.  This particular gathering round took place in places as far-flung as Pennsylvania, Colorado, Oregon, Sierra Leone, and Russia.  This morning, I sent an email to a group of friends in those places and others, asking for prayer about a decision we are in the process of making as a family.  The replies I received–some, almost instantly; I might as well as have been IM’ing!–brought tears to my eyes.  It was like one of those scenes where a person sits on a chair in the middle of a circle and everyone who is willing gathers ’round that one, with a hand of blessing touching, to pray.  I feel that I’ve been sitting on that chair today.

And then, tonight–one more instance of gathering ’round.  This time, a whole bunch of people who know each other are, from our separate places, gathering around some people that most of us don’t know.  But this thing we do know:  this brother and sister of ours need to know God’s peace and presence and help as they are in a position to be the hands and heart and hugs of Jesus to a family that is hurting because of the loss of a child.  And, so we reach out and make a difference because we can… 

That’s the way it is in the family of God.


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This morning a little after 5:30, a 5.2 magnitude earthquake rattled many Midwesterners out of bed…not literally, but it did surprise and jangle a few nerves. 

It was time for us to get up and we were awake, just not out of bed yet.  Around 5:30 we heard some sounds which we couldn’t identify–I thought it sounded like our house sounds sometimes when the temperature changes, and things crack and creak; Michael thought it sounded like plaster cracking.  We checked around to see if anything was amiss.  Finding nothing so, we might have written it all off as a fluke or a product of morning brain fog (odd, though, that we should have the same fog) had I not turned the radio on to catch the news. 

The call-in lines were abuzz with people telling what they had experienced a few minutes earlier.  It didn’t take long to surmise that we’d experienced an earthquake.  It was confirmed shortly thereafter by the experts who monitor such things. 

I’ve just been listening to the afternoon news and people are still talking about it.  

I wonder:  What if I’d not turned on the radio or talked with anyone else about what we heard/experienced?  If such a thing was even possible in this communication saturated culture, we may never have known our region had had an earthquake.  It was the conversation in community that brought shape and understanding to the circumstance.

Life has its earthquakes.  Some are quite obvious–you don’t need anyone to tell you when they’ve occurred.  Then there are those deeper ripples in life, like this morning’s quake.  They happen, we notice something a little different going on, but, without shared life, we may ignore the evidence and write it off as nothing significant. 

The analogy breaks down here, but I’m thinking this:  It may well be that sharing the “tremors” of my experience within community may help me avoid “the big one.”  

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From Park Lady to Grandma

Our back yard has a swing set (although, for a number of years, we have not hung swings out–it’s just a slide and a monkey bar of the horizontal ladder/walk-across-by-swinging-from-your-hands variety).  We were blessed with this piece of equipment years ago when a faculty colleague of Michael’s offered it to us because his own kids had outgrown it–he even volunteered to deliver and install it, complete with concrete poured in the holes for stability!  It has been enjoyed by our own children and by visitors and neighborhood kids over the past almost 20 years.

We live in a neighborhood where children are wont to enter and play in one’s yard uninvited–especially if you have a swing set or a basketball hoop.  We have generally discouraged the uninvited basketball because of car, window, and driveway issues.  But, as long as a few reasonable rules are followed (such as no lifting the bottom of the slide up and banging it repeatedly on the ground, and all sticks stay on the ground), and I am not expected to babysit, and the back gate gets closed when the children leave (we’re currently working on that one, as we do every spring when children reappear outdoors), I do not too much mind it when those neighborhood children play out back.  It has been a good way to get to know them and, eventually in most but not all cases, to get to meet their parents too. 

The little children who live two doors down began the (very welcome) habit a couple of years ago of knocking on our door and asking before they went out back to play.  (Most of the neighborhood children enter the backyard through the alley, but generally not these children.)  I chuckled the first time they asked, in all earnestness, if they could play in our “park”.  I finally figured out that, to them, since we had a swing set, our yard qualified as a park.  It wasn’t long before I was being greeted by these same children as “Park Lady”. 

My two-doors-down neighbors haven’t spent much time in the backyard yet this spring.  But the little children who live in the house across the alley behind ours play daily.  Today, a new title was bestowed on me from the backyard for the first time:  “Grandma”.  Now, I am a grandma–but not to these children.  I guess, since I was out in back yesterday with my granddaughter and told them who she was, that is my new identity in their eyes.  I guess being the neighborhood grandma wouldn’t be so bad.

The little four-year-old guy from the family across the alley–his sister is the one who started the “Grandma” business–asked me later this afternoon what my real name is.  I told him “Miss Amy” (I still have a hard time with little children just calling adults by their first name, period, with no title of respect–old fashioned, I know.).  I heard him tell his mom that my name is “Miss Amy” so we’ll see what happens.

I’ll keep answering. 

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Right from the get-go, I know that midnight has something to do with this–I should be in bed.  The mind is still going, and the body is not yet screaming for a reprieve from the current upright position.  (All of this will be seen in a very different light when the 5AM wake-up alarm is blinking.)

I’ve just been reading on a website for students of indexing.  (I had to sign up for it as part of my first instructor-graded indexing assignment.)  As I read, doubts arise:  Can I really learn this skill well enough to ask someone to pay me to perform it?  Can I really run a small business as a freelancer? 

Then I think about other doubts that swirl in the mist and fog of the midnight mind:  Is Zach really ready for what would be demanded of him at South Side High School?  Can Kris and I really pull off the bridal shower we are giving on Sunday?  Is using our inheritance money to pay off our house really the wisest use of those funds?  Those are the ones that float to the surface.  But when the scratch has been made there, others, more deeply embedded, are exposed:  Am I really doing the best I can do in homeschooling Zach?  Do I sacrifice enough for my family?  Do I care enough about my neighbors?  Will I survive–will we survive–if the economic state of the USA turns on its head and really does change our society as we know it? 

Meteor-like into the swirl comes streaking the truth that matters:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Throw into the mix comforting words:  “I have loved you with an everlasting love…” and I can see a light breaking through the enshrouding questions.  Steady, steady now…just follow the Light that is enough for the next step.       

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