Category Archives: Musings

I like to pray this way

Savoring life is a powerful form of prayer.  As a working mom, I’m glad about that.  Even if I don’t have time for the kind of prayer I used to do, I can make a point to notice the things around me as I go throughout my day.  The things I see, hear, smell, touch, taste — they point me toward the source of all creation, and I’m always happier when I realize that.

Here are a few of the sensory highlights of the last week.

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Yesterday evening, I spent a half- hour throwing footballs with the kids on the front lawn.   It wasn’t easy; there were two boys and two footballs and only one me, so I had to stay on my toes so as not to be whacked in the nose, Marcia-Brady style.  But it was fun, and the feel of the grass under my bare feet — cool, soft, inviting — was intoxicating.  I don’t go barefoot often enough.

SOUND

In the mornings on the way to work, I listen to classical music on the radio (I used to tune into the news, but I’ve realized it doesn’t get me in a good mental place for the start of the day.  Chopin is much better.)   And along with the music, the morning DJ has a wonderfully calming voice.  Call me crazy, but his soothing tones always makes me feel like the day will be just fine, even if I’m running twenty minutes late and have just spilled my coffee on myself.  (It really needs to be a new Beatitude: Blessed are those who bring peace to the commuter.)

SIGHT (and SMELL)

These are the latest offerings from my garden.  Aren’t they something?

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The red one is the Mr. Lincoln I planted earlier this summer.  It seems very contented  and has been blooming profusely.  I feel happy just looking at this gorgeous trinity.  And the smell … no words can do it justice.

Where have you been finding God this week?

Old photographs, new technology — the pluses and minuses of going digital

PanAm

Photographs have been on my mind lately.  Earlier this summer, my husband and his sisters started the process of getting old negatives and slides transferred to digital files.  In the course of doing so, they’ve found all kinds of family pictures that haven’t seen the light of day for decades.

And in the course of making a memorial website for my mother-in-law Joan, we’ve been reviewing all sorts of photos from her life.  We’ve seen her as a young girl, as a beautiful bride, as a stylish traveler in the terrific photo above (PanAm Airlines!).

Photos mean a lot, no doubt about that.

Since getting a digital camera and a Smartphone, I never seem to develop actual prints anymore.  I used to order some periodically and send them to Joan, who I knew liked to have actual hard copies of snapshots of the grandsons to share around (I wish I had sent her a lot more than I did).  But most of the photos that I snap now end up on Google or on the computer.

And I have mixed feelings about all of this.

When you have young kids, a digital camera is a super thing.  You can instantly assess a family grouping and see whether everyone is smiling, whether anyone is looking down.  When the boys were first crawling and walking, they’d move so fast that sometimes they would be out of the shot before I knew it; with a digital camera, I knew to take another one.  And it’s certainly less expensive than developing a roll of film that may contain a bunch of duds.  You can also share digital photos so very easily (this blog post is proof of that).

And yet there’s something about holding old photographs that is romantic in the broadest sense.  Those black and white photos with the white scalloped edges, the Polaroids, the small square color photos from the 60s and 70s where the color seems slightly off — they are a past you can hold.   Somehow it is nice for these photos to take up actual space, to exist on their own independent of technology.  It’s almost a spiritual experience to leaf through an old album, or to turn over an old snapshot and see an inscription like Christmas 1944 written in old-fashioned cursive on the back.

Easter 1974

My family on Easter, 1974. A tie like that needs to be recorded for the ages.

And while on the one hand, technology helps us preserve photographs for the future, I am all too aware of my tendency to leave photos languishing by the hundreds on the computer, where they don’t see the light of day.  I always think,  “Oh, I’ll make an album with those someday,” and then I never do.  Will members of my family even find these photos in the future?  Will they even know of their existence if they are not sitting in a box or album somewhere?

I don’t want to turn the clock back to the time without digital cameras, for sure. But have we lost something in the process of making the shift from film to digital?   I think so, and I’d love to find a way to get it back.

What about you?  How do you handle family photos?  Any thoughts on the digital vs. film debate?

Grace and kindness personified

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My very kind and beautiful  mother-in-law passed away on Monday following a brief illness.  It is hard to believe; we saw her just four weeks ago when we went back for a visit, and all of this is so unexpected and awful.  I want to pay tribute to her here, though I write this knowing that anything I write pales in comparison to the lovely soul she was.  But I am going to try.

If you spent even five minutes in Joan’s company, you could tell that she was a class act.  Even better, Joan was class plus kindness.  Even though she was beautiful and gracious and stylish and well-read and intelligent, she did not have a snobbish bone in her body.  She was warm and loving and humble and real.  I’ve known her for thirteen years, and I don’t think I have ever heard her say a bad word about anyone.

From the first time I met her, she welcomed me and made me feel so at home.  I’ve never been able to relate to mother-in-law jokes, not even in the slightest, because she was the polar opposite of the stereotypical overbearing force.  She was comforting, thoughtful, quietly encouraging.

Joan also wrote cards rather than emails, something that is increasingly rare these days.  It is hard to think that there will not be anymore of those, written in her neat cursive, in our mailbox.  They were always very newsy, full of information about what she and Bob were up to, which was usually a lot; she was very active in volunteer organizations of different kinds in the community, and her absence will be felt by more than just her family and close friends.  She was the epitome of a civic-minded person whose involvement was driven not by a need for personal accolades, but purely by a love of the community of Oneonta, New York, where she lived.

She was such a terrific grandmother, too, whether she was sending cards for the boys for holidays or playing endless rounds of tic-tac-toe with Matthew  (she lost with much better grace than her young grandson did).  When we visited them in New York he loved to play badminton with her, and it’s not every woman in her late seventies who can keep up with a kid’s boundless energy.  She loved the boys so much, and I am grateful for the memories we have:  for the photos of them sitting on either side of Grandma as she reads a bedtime story, for the times we rented boats and spent an afternoon enjoying the rocky wooded beauty of Otsego Lake, for the joy in her faces when she saw each of her young grandsons for the first time.

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I was looking around the house the other day and thinking about all of the gifts Joan has given me over the years.  There is the small pewter angel, the plaque saying “How Does Your Garden Grow?” (she knew I loved gardening), the Hummel figurine she gave us when Matthew was born, so many sweet and thoughtful things.

Then I thought about the best gift she gave me.  That gift is Scott.    So much of the person he is comes from his mom.  It’s a gift not just to me, but to everyone who knows him, who encounters the gentle strength that he learned in large part from her.  A great mother is a beautiful, powerful thing.

These past few days, the idea of the communion of saints has been such a comfort. When my friend Mary died, I got such solace from picturing her up in heaven, still her wonderful self, only healed from the illness that she suffered.  I feel the same way about Joan.  I have no doubt that she continues to care for and love us, only this time from a perch in heaven, where there is no such thing as illness and where her body and strength are restored to badminton-playing levels.

The other day, when I told the boys that Grandma Joan had died, Matthew wanted to know what she was doing now.  I told her she was arriving in heaven, and that people she loved were probably running out to greet her.  I like to picture her being welcomed by her parents and her brother Jerry, and other friends and family who went before her, so overjoyed to be with her again.

Those of us here will miss her terribly.  But somehow it helps to think of her still surrounded by love, by people who love her, and to know that her love reaches out to us still as we navigate this new world without her.

And these words help me, too:

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then someone at my side says: “There, she is gone.”

“Gone where?”

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says “There, she is gone,” there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout “Here she comes!” 

  — Henry Van Dyke

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I love you, Joan.  Thank you for everything.

Guest-posting at In(courage)

One of the nicest gifts I’ve ever received is this needlepoint.  My Aunt Karen made it for me when I was in eighth grade.

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In addition to being pretty to look at, this needlepoint also inspired a very helpful seven-day prayer exercise.  You can read all about it in  My Week Of The Fruit Of The Spirit over at In(courage).

Have a mindful, intentional Tuesday!

The kindness of strangers

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Stylish souvenir tote

There’s nothing like a backless hospital gown to make you realize how vulnerable you really are.  I spent much of yesterday in one, so I know.

First of all, no one needs to worry; I was in the hospital for a planned surgical procedure, but the procedure was for something absolutely non-sinister.  I don’t want to get too personal about my medical history on a blog, but you can trust me that there is no reason for alarm.  If a raging hypochondriac like me says everything is fine, believe me, everything is fine.

But I will say that the entire experience made me realize just how much we – and  specifically I  – need other people.

“Hospitals are fascinating,” said Scott, who was there with me before the surgery and in the post-op room.  “They are like these little worlds.”  And really, they are: busy worlds with systems and customs and protocol and residents who work together to make people like me come out of everything okay.  In my brief time there, we interacted with at least five nurses, one guy who came to do the blood test, one guy who did the EKG, the guys who wheeled me to and from the OR, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the fleet of attending folk in the OR, the nurse in the recovery room, and the elderly auxiliary volunteer in the maroon blazer who pushed me in a wheelchair out to the car.

It seems like so much fuss for just one person and one issue, but I’m glad they were all there.  And nearly everyone was so kind.  It’s one thing to have medical knowledge, and another to have both medical knowledge and a warm, calming demeanor.

As much as the medical issue itself wasn’t a huge deal, I will admit that I was nervous about the procedure.  I felt vulnerable in ways I normally don’t.  It’s not fun to feel like a badly-wrapped Christmas package in a paper gown,  not a whole lot of fun to have a stranger slapping EKG stickers on your chest,  not a lot of fun to need help getting out of bed and to the bathroom.  And the knowledge that I’d be totally out for an hour was slightly unsettling.

So I’m grateful for everyone who helped make it all a little less scary.  It may be a job for them, the thing they do every day, but for the patients, it’s kind of a big deal.

And I felt God’s presence there, in the nurse who distracted me with talk about her favorite English teacher while she put the IV in my hand, and in the recovery room nurse who was so kind as I swam out of my anesthesia fog and tried to get my bearings and no doubt made little to no sense, and in the skill of the surgeon who took care of it all and sealed me up neatly with glue.  (Odd to think that I was closed up with staples after my C-sections, with glue after this procedure.  What’s next — packing tape?).

I’m far more lucid today than I was yesterday, hence this blog post, and though it’s hard to be housebound, there’s something good about it, too.  It’s a forced chance to slow down, to rely on my  husband to make dinner instead of doing it myself.  It’s a chance to baby myself, which I don’t do very often, and it has prompted lots of hugs from both boys as well as the gift of a sweet, abstract impressionist drawing from my younger son.

And most of all, it’s reminded me that  God’s goodness shows up in lots of disguises, including blue scrubs.