Growth

A page from Things My Parents Taught Me

ShuttersA mother never knows just how much attention her children are paying to her, but every once in a while she discovers they know her better than she thinks they do.

That was my discovery when my son, an eighth grade language arts teacher sent me an email explaining that they were writing memoirs in class, and, I guess while his students were writing, he was inspired to write a “Slice of Life” piece which was inspired by my style of writing.

Always the wise guy, as all my sons seem to be, he titled it as being from Things My Parents Taught Me. I share it, with a smile. He knows me – not just my style of writing – so well.

There’s a weathered house around the corner from me, where the bushes grow feverishly, aiming to devour the tattered relic.

Where a faded American flag flutters solitarily. It’s a home where a shutter gracefully dangles on paint-chipped cedar shingles. Where cracked windows are marked with the battle scars of childhood rock throwing. Where a gate sways on a hinge, drunkenly guarding the distant memories etched in the house’s history. Where a broken rocking chair sits on time warped planks, grayed by years of weather. It’s the kind of place many passer-bys would miss.

It’s the kind of place my mother would love.

She’s always had a penchant for gentle simplicity and for distinguished houses. The kind of house that needs some work and calls for that special someone to restore the beauty, to realize the potential. I think a dream exists for her – a dream of moving into a house around the corner and accepting the challenges that await, even if they are daunting.

She is not one to shy away from difficulty, to allow the task to leave its mark on her. She would see the house for what it could be – and who knows, maybe she would bring her husband to help, because it seems he’s pretty good with his hands, and I’m sure there would be a leaky roof and damaged walls and worn floorboards.

But I also know that it’s easy to miss that house, if we’re not looking for it. And it seems that often we, as people, don’t see it. We don’t see that we have become like the house around the corner, battered by many storms, grayed by time.

We don’t realize that we have left too many repairs unattended, that we have forgotten to make an investment in ourselves and in others. And as we examine who we are or who we have become, hopefully we see that, in the end, we are worth restoring.

I wish I wrote that.


Broken hands are a sure path to God

MarybrokenhandAfter my parents died and it came time to pack up all of their possessions, I found a small statue of Mary tucked away in the dark corner of a bedroom shelf – a memory from my youth. I had named her Our Lady of the Broken Hands.

She had not come through the years unscathed. Her hands, pressed together in prayer, were missing the fingers, and her torso, once broken completely in half, had been glued together by my dad at my mother’s insistence. She would never entertain the idea of throwing away her beautiful statue just because of a little thing like being broken in a few places.

For many years, Our Lady of the Broken Hands sat on my desk at work next to a second statue of Mary with a similar affliction. She has no hands. This small, delicately carved wooden statue was damaged in a move from one office to another. When I unwrapped her and saw that her hands were missing I could not help but stop to reflect on the two statues that now stood side by side in their imperfection.

They became, for me, a constant reminder of a painful and wonderful lesson – we, like they, are beautiful in our brokenness.

And broken we are, whether or not we are willing to admit it.

My broken statues of Mary remind me that my own imperfections are the vehicles for God’s work in me, and that with faith, patience, courage and passion we can each move beyond the limitations of our imperfections to fulfill all our God-given potential.

We are God’s creation, after all, as the very imperfect king, David, reminds us in his song to God: “Lord, you have searched me, you know me; you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar, my travels and my rest you mark; with all my ways you are familiar . . .You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me; wonderful are your works! My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be.”

There is a reason for our imperfection. It keeps us close to God and allows God room to work in us.

But since I am always in need of reminding, I will be happy to make room next to Our Lady of the Broken Hands for any less-than-perfect statue that needs a home.

 “God expects but one thing of you, and that is that you should come out of yourself in so far as you are a created being and let God be God in you.”  Meister Eckhart

 

Google image from ngm.nationalgeographic.com

 


Mary's wisdom is a mother's wisdom

Visitation, modern, fuzzyThere is an adage that the best gift a father can give his children is to love their mother. I would add, after raising six sons and being a wife, the best gift a mother can give her children is to love herself.

This is a wisdom that was long in coming for me, and even though my children are all grown, I am still struggling to learn how to take care of myself.

As mothers, we have a tendency to sink into the mindset that if we can’t do everything perfectly ourselves, then we are bad mothers. Nothing can be further from the truth.  There is not a person on earth who doesn’t have limitations, and to acknowledge our limitations is not to admit defeat.

It is to be wise.

Women helping women is an ancient tradition welling up from the truth that raising children and caring for a family is hard work. There is no work harder, no physical labor more strenuous, no emotional effort more demanding. Without help we can quickly burn out and our children are the ones who suffer from that burn out.

God calls us to one thing – to love as God loves.

This has nothing to do with how many tasks, dishes or children we can juggle at one time; how long we can go without sleep, or how many burdens we can carry on our very human shoulders. 

Love is about nurturing the seeds of potential God has planted in each heart through our patience, our presence and our prayer. It is about respecting the dignity of the life God has placed in our care. It is about giving roots and wings and abundant offerings of forgiveness – not just to our children, but to our “selves.”

 “During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? … Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.”  Luke 1:39-43,56

 

 

 


With love, we unfold from bud to flower

Sometimes you just need flowers.                                                                                                                                     Rosebud2

A friend told me that years ago, and I realized how right she was when I received an unexpected arrangement from my son at a time when I really needed some cheering up.

The arrangement arrived in an iridescent, translucent vase of eggplant. The flowers were glorious in varying hues of purple — indigo, violet and plum  — looking much like a Van Gogh painting of irises.

Throughout the day, and the coming week, I couldn’t help but smile whenever I looked at the small but breathtaking arrangement. Every time a new flower opened, there seemed to be new beauty in the room; a reminder of the expansive love of God.

But as one week moved into two, there were still some buds that hadn’t opened, and while they enjoyed a delicate beauty of their own, it seemed sad that soon the flowers would need to be discarded and the buds would end their lives without having achieved their full potential and beauty. People are like buds, I thought.

Certainly, we are each created by God for some purpose; we are planted here like seeds with the potential to blossom with a beauty well beyond that of any flower. But life itself often becomes the obstacle to full growth. Our spirits may flag under the consistent challenge of moving forward, of “becoming.” We become staid, even stagnant in our growth, afraid or unable to take whatever risks we need to take to fulfill our purpose.

That is where people have an advantage over flowers. We are reflective beings who have the ability to recognize our own needs, and we have others in our lives who can nurture our unfolding. We are capable of love.

Before I disposed of my lovely arrangement entirely, I did something I saw my mother do a hundred times with the forsythia cut from our backyard garden. I pulled out all the buds, without too much handling, cut their stems under water and put them in a smaller bowl on my desk. My mother would have added a drop of bleach or an aspirin. I added a little anti-bacterial mouthwash, courtesy of the Internet, and made sure I changed the water every few days.  Then I waited expectantly, having learned that encouraging buds to bloom takes time and attention.

It is no different with people, whether we are nurturing ourselves or someone else.

We do the work and then wait with expectant faith knowing a loving God planted the seed.