Corelleware

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Mother’s Day began with the sound of shattering glass. It was 7:00 a.m. My son-in-law had left for his job at the church. My husband was at the convenience store. The grandkids, where are the grandkids?

I lay listening for the commotion I was certain would follow. My daughter, down the hall in another room was doing the same. But there was no shrieking, no stampede, just silence really – except for… a muffled cry?

So in the still of the morning, though I longed to linger in bed, my curiosity won the moment.  I slipped on my glasses, donned my robe, and tumbled out of bed the way you do when the mind wakes but the bones still slumber.

And dragging my protesting body, I worked my way out the door, down the stairs, down the hall and stopped, at the entrance to the kitchen. On the floor lay the shattered remains of a plate, a Corelle plate, strewn in a six foot radius. And there, at about the ten o’clock mark, stood Lucy. Ballet flats, ivory lace dress, perfectly coiffed Lucy. Head in her hands, stifling her sobs, nine year old Lucy.

Corelleware. Those nearly indestructible dishes. The ones that just never quit. The patterns may be old and dated but those darn dishes never wear themselves out. If you have them, you’ve probably owned them for 30 plus years, or you got them from someone who did. They can take the heat of the oven, the chill of the freezer and the pounding of the dishwasher. The harvest gold and avocado green clash with the stainless steel but dang it, they are just too sturdy to chuck. They outlive and outlast and out serve all the competition.

Funny thing about Corelle though… it’s strong until it isn’t, durable until it isn’t, resilient until it isn’t.

And as I stood there, as Lucy stood there, I recalled the times I’ve been oh too painfully like Corelle. Strong until I wasn’t. Durable until I wasn’t. Resilient until I wasn’t. Moms, are so good, so much of the time, at keeping it all together. Until comes the moment we aren’t. Until we have steered and steadied and staid ourselves but the storm strikes anyway. And the stress becomes too much. And we fail and fall and fracture – shards everywhere, penetrating everything, striking everyone.  Yes, we pick up the pieces, but still, the damage is done.

One of the blessings of multi-generational living is that it’s nearly a do-over.  An amazing opportunity to “get it right” the second time around. To allow the lessons of the past to guide the actions of the present. And yet, the beauty is we don’t have to wait until we’re 60 or 50 or even 40, until we’re grandmothers or great-grandmothers. Do overs happen anytime we allow our past weaknesses to morph into present strength, our past failures to drive us to future success. Anytime we to chose to learn from our mistakes.

And nearly forty years of motherhood has taught me that it isn’t broken plates that I regret, but broken spirits. And so, this day, this Mother’s day, I rewound the tape and sang a new song. Lucy received no scolding, no shaming, no shards. And as I gently swept the glass from around her feet, we talked about how her best laid plans for Mother’s Day went from feast to fiasco in one furious flash. And it was a sweet time for Lucy and I, sweet as the sausage she could no longer serve.  Me – extending grace, she – recieving it. Because broken plates, like broken anythings, can be occasions for guilting or for guiding, for chastising or for charity, for rebuking or for restoring. I know that now.

And so this plate shattering, food splattering morning has swept up some broken pieces of my own soul. Pieces left astray since the last time I couldn’t quite hold it all together. Pieces replaced with peace.  It is healing, cathartic really, those moments we “get it right.” And I am savoring this one.

There is no perfect mother. So I will strive for being second best – The Corelleware of Motherhood. Sturdy. Old. Dated, but not worn. Withstanding the heat and the chill and the pounding. Out-living, out-lasting, out-serving. And oy vey, clashing with the 21st century.  If the dinnerware fits…

And alas, I smile. Because, Corelleware.

And because today I am one broken plate closer to a new set of dishes.

 

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socks

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3 year old Josiah has become my foe.

It started the day I was comfortably reading on the sectional and he decided to body slam me. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to engage this little guy, I cast my book aside and “fought him off.”  It has since become a daily ritual. “ZuZu (Grandma Sue) fight with me?”

And so I do. His toddler frame, my aging body, we are pretty much evenly matched. We roll around on the sofa, or the carpet, my “Joe Dragon” challenging his “Batman.” He takes flying leaps, unaware he could break my bones. I capture him, by the ankles, knees, waist, whatever I can get hold of, and threaten never to release him, until he fights and squirms and wriggles free, delighted to have escaped my clutches.

One day as he broke loose, I managed to grab the arch of his foot and threatened to steal his sock. I tugged at it taunting in hollow voice, “This sock has all your power. I’m going to take it from you!” He fought me off with a vengeance, but not a fun vengeance. It was one thing to tickle, and roll, and jab and pounce. It was quite another to steal his sock. He didn’t like it. He did not want to lose that sock. And his angst when I tried to take it, confused me. It was, after all, just a sock.

Within earshot of his protesting cries, 6 year old Mariele could stifle herself no longer. With the righteousness and confidence of a David encountering Goliath she marched up to the two of us, interrupted our tug of war, and with furrowed brows and piercing eyes, brandished her weapon:

Truth.

After glaring and pursing her lips at me, she admonished her little brother…

“JOSIAH! THERE IS NO POWER IN YOUR SOCKS!!!”

Our duel slowed as I watched him process this information. Wanting the battle to continue, I tried to assert otherwise. But the Truth burrowed in, captured the flag, and staked it’s claim in Josiah’s mind.

As it took hold, Josiah jumped up and faced me. Fearless. Chuck Norris style. I ducked as he deliberately lifted a foot, ripped off a sock and chucked it at me. Ducked again when it’s mate came hurtling my way. And with that, Josiah was free. Free of the fear of losing his socks. Free of having to cling and fight and run lest they be slipped off his little feet. Free from believing his socks possessed all he needed to conquer his enemies.

The moment he understood his socks had no power, he ceased to need them.

Relate much? ‘Cause I sure do! More often than I care to admit, I’ve been in Josiah’s shoes socks, admiring their fit, believing their lies, thinking they suited me.

So many brands have warmed my feet. Socks labeled “unforgiveness” to punish offenders. Or the pair marked “guilt” to soothe my conscience. I wore some tagged “pride” to protect my image. There was even “dependency”, the pair I couldn’t live without.  I clung tightly to my socks, fought to keep them on, fending off anyone who would take them away. Believing they would make good on their promises. 

Instead, these imitation ruby slippers, fueled my anger, prolonged my sorrow, eroded my self-confidence and kept me weak. And worse, they concealed the best in me, things like mercy, compassion, humility, and strength. And as long as they were on my feet, I was their prisoner.

And I’m guessing,  you might be too.

Can I be Mariele for a moment, scorning the one who taunts you? Brandishing my weapon:

Truth.

That it might burrow in, capture the flag and stake it’s claim. That it might take hold in your mind, so you might rise, victorious, Chuck Norris style, ready to bare your feet.

Because regardless or the price, or the purpose or the promise  – 

“THERE IS NO POWER IN YOUR SOCKS!!!”


“Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.”  ~Malcolm Muggeridge


 

Weeds

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Some weeks ago I was asked to speak about “a season of my life” during a women’s brunch at church. The message was to be brief, and encouraging. I knew that I should share about the prior 7 years… a very dry and empty spiritual time from which I was only just beginning to emerge. But I didn’t know, I had no idea, how I could possibly relate this experience in a manner that might be encouraging to anyone. Because honestly, I wasn’t encouraged by it myself.

My “walk in the desert” began in 2008 with the death of my beloved nephew Jon. He was among the first of many soldiers to be undone by the effects of PTSD after returning from the Iraq war. He was only 24 and I loved him as if he was my own. His suicide, coupled with subsequent tension within my family, seemed to sever all connection between mind and soul. During those years I laughed, I cried, I celebrated, I worried, but I didn’t feel.

I didn’t feel the presence of God in my life though I knew He was real. My prayers seemed to return empty, unheard, though I knew He could hear me. The spiritual rituals to which I had been accustomed, no longer moved me, inspired me, comforted me. It was all dead to me, and I to it. The only time I felt remotely close to God was during long hours on my knees weeding my gardens. I’d pour out my heart to Him, tears watering squatters as they were yanked from the earth. Twice I heard his voice. Two times. Heavenly nuggets more precious than gold. He gave me only enough to sustain me. But He gave me enough.

And then slowly, ever so slowly, in the past year… a flicker. A twitch. A spark. Like the butterfly flutter of a gestating infant, I began to feel the Spirit move within me once again. The soul stirring as if from a long, deep sleep.

And though I was grateful to be exiting such bleak spiritual darkness, I had no idea how I might relate my journey in a manner that would be helpful to anybody.

And so I fell asleep one night, struggling to find some purpose to my path.

God speaks to us in many ways, sometimes in our dreams.

At some point during the night I woke to the salty sting of tears sliding past my temples. I was weeping. And the memory of my dream was clear, solid, as a window pane. I had been pleading with a distant God. “Where were You all those years when I sought you out? Where were you as I languished in my garden, emptying my soul?”

And that night, 
               in that dream, 
                             God appeared. 

Not as a person, but as a presence. 
And I was swept up in His arms. Swaddled in his Love.
And He spoke words to me that even today, move me to tears.
Because I had been so wrong about Him. 
And so undeserving.
Yet He was so compassionate.
 
He simply said,

“Susan, didn’t you know? While you were weeding, I was weeding too.”

And as I slowly drifted back to wake, clinging the edge of the glass, not wanting it to slip away, it all crystallized. Seven years of darkness crystallized. And suddenly I understood.

While I was weeding, He was weeding too.

In my sorrow, I had neglected the landscape of my soul, and allowed a lot of awful things to take root, crowding out the Good that once flourished. Suffocating the very breath of God. Muffling the sound of His voice. Leaving no room for that which I longed.

And He weeded.

For seven years He weeded. I must have been a mess.

Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted.”

Matthew 15:13 NLT

God uproots nations. He uproots cities. He uproots the wicked and the disobedient. That which defiles – He uproots.

So too in our souls.  He weeds grief and plants joy. He weeds despair and plants hope. He weeds lies and plants truth. The God I thought had abandoned me, had instead knelt by my side and weeded. As I weeded.

Until the fertile soil lay bear, readied for new growth, good growth, His growth.

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At the end of the day, when my gardening is complete, I’ve developed a little ritual. I rake up the debris, collect up the tools. Pile everything into the wheelbarrow and cart it 10 paces into the yard. And then I turn and survey the freshly groomed earth. And behold – something beautiful.

When the Lord’s work in us is complete, will he not also, from His seat on the throne, give a long approving nod to us

as he takes in what he sees.

Before him.

Something beautiful.

You and I.

Something beautiful.

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:6 NIV

jada

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I recently spent a week in New Jersey with Christi and her family as they welcomed our newest grandchild, Judah, into the world. As I reflect on all the sweet moments of that week, the one eclipsing all others was spent with Jada.

Jada is eight. She has twin older brothers and twin younger sisters. And now her new brother Judah.

At bedtime, her older brothers begged me to tell stories of their mom when she was little. And they would bust up laughing as I recalled the hilariously funny things their mother did when she was young.

But when I went to tuck Jada in on my last night there, she surprised me by asking for stories about Aunt Mellie. I thought for a bit, and then I said, “Jada, Aunt Mellie wasn’t wild and crazy like your mother. She was sweet and quiet and very well behaved. She wanted to do things properly. And when Aunt Erica was born, Mellie was my little helper. She changed her diapers and her clothes, she talked to her and played with her and helped me take care of her.”

“How old was Aunt Mellie then?”

“She was eight years old, just like you!”

Jada got quiet, and looked down for a moment – deep in thought.

And then she raised her head. No longer pensive, her eyes were bright, her smile, beaming. And with complete clarity, she announced, “I want to be like Aunt Mellie.”

I don’t know when or how dreams are born or what births the desire to be a certain way. But in that moment, on Jada’s bed, something crystallized for her. It was as tangible as the comforter beneath us. And she was so sincere, so genuine – my sweet granddaughter – choosing goodness over glory. I was moved with emotion.

“Grandma Sue, why are your eyes wet?”

This time it was I who looked down for a moment – deep in thought.

When I raised my head, my eyes were bright, my smile, beaming.

“Happiness tears, Jada. Happiness tears.”

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good…  for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

-Luke 6:45 (KJV)

 

 

legacies

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What do you do in a cabin in the woods, with relatively few resources and a room full of great-grandchildren? If you are my 80-something year old mother, you grab the Sunday paper and start folding.

Newspaper hats.

I joined in and we laughed as we tried to remember how to craft these nostalgic head pieces. It took several attempts to make one hat, but when the kids saw what we were up to, they wanted in. Eight caps later, we were transformed into sailors of a sort marching towards my daughter’s cabin chanting “We want funnel cakes, we want funnel cakes.”

And as I’ve done so many times before, I neatly folded and tucked the memory away in my mind, knowing someday I’d want to retrieve it, read it and repeat it. Someday, if I’m blessed enough to be surrounded by great-grandchildren, I’d want to recall what “GG” did when she was in my shoes. All my adult life I’ve been recalling what GG does. Sometimes subconsciously, sometimes intentionally.  But she has unwittingly guided me into most of the best moments I’ve known as a parent.

This is her legacy. Her gift to her children, and their children, and their children. This unwritten manual of how to live and love and be. What better inheritance can a parent leave a child?

And as I’ve relied on her tender instruction to “show me the way,” I’ve become acutely aware that one day, perhaps even already, my own children will follow me the way I follow mom. And the thought is both daunting and intimidating. Whether I want to or not, I am also building a legacy. And I want it to be a good one.

I carry with me now, a legacy perspective. It is the lens through which I view the present with the refraction of the future. And I live accordingly. So when someone questions how I’ve been able to share my home with my daughter, her husband and their four children for the past 3 years, the answer is simple. This isn’t about today. It’s about tomorrow. About how my children and grandchildren will remember this time. My life is my story, and they will be revisiting it’s pages one day. When they open that book I want them to find joy and wisdom and strength and love and encouragement and hope. I want it to be full of happy memories and unwavering faith and gentle guidance. This isn’t just any old fairy tale. This is my legacy. And in so many ways, it is also my mother’s.

And the beauty is that this is something anyone can do. Any one. Regardless of the past or brokenness or mistakes. Regardless of income or education or health. We are the general contractor of our own legacy. We don’t have to accept shoddy construction. We can be careful and intentional with each brick that is placed, each page that is written.

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That same morning, in the busy cabin room, my mother connected her iPod to speakers and proceeded to play her favorite tunes, songs she is careful not to play too frequently, lest she tire of them. She futilely attempted to silence the room for one song in particular. A song I’d never heard before… one she’d discovered on a trip to Nova Scotia with my father. Her face lit up as the first verse concluded, chorus ensued. “Here it comes!” she anticipated and she raised both arms as if conducting some unseen orchestra, and with eyes fixed upward she sang along. Above the din of the kids, I heard the words:

We rise again in the faces of our children,
We rise again in the voices of our song,
We rise again in the waves out on the ocean,
And then we rise again.

“Rise Again” by Leon Dubinsky

I do not know what captivated my mother, if it was the melody, or the message, or the memory that came to mind. But I know what choked my throat and wet my eyes. The beautiful truth that a life well lived never really leaves. That through her legacy, the best in my mother will “rise again” in her children and their children. And that, Lord willing, GG will be visible for many generations to come.

And so, perhaps, will I.

 

what a wonderful world

In the wake of yet another unspeakably violent attack on humanity, I found myself bracing for the inevitable aftershocks of helplessness and despair. The wringing of the hands. The questions with no answers. The feeling that life as we know it is circling the drain, about to be washed away.

And then I remembered…

…the other world we live in.

A world where goodness and happiness abounds. Where mommies and daddies love and nurture their young. Where children laugh and play and eat pbj’s and run and build forts and pick raspberries and know nothing of the evil lurking in dark places. The same week some monster drove a truck through a crowd, we were celebrating family. Living, laughing, loving together. This too is our world. It is easy to forget, or take for granted, or lose perspective, but for every act of violence, there are, I suspect, thousands of beautiful moments that go unnoticed. It is when we open our eyes that we see light instead of darkness.

As I reviewed the photos on my laptop, moved with emotion and gratitude, I found myself humming the refrain to Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World. And as the verses echoed through my mind, I remembered the time frame in which that song was released – during the racially charged, assassination weary, Vietnam war era 60’s. And yet there was Louis Armstrong singing these beautiful words.

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world.

– Bob Thiele, George David Weiss

What was written as an anecdote for those times, remains a potent elixir for our day. And any one of us could add new lyrics to this sweet tasting remedy, reflecting our own unique line of sight – the beauty within the boundaries of our lives.

I need not venture beyond my own backyard.

I see children playing, I see them run.
Laughing and giggling and just having fun
and I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world.

 

 

forgiveness

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“You mean his mother is alive?” The question startled me and I struggled for the words to answer.

When our nephew Jon came to live with us, his relationship with his mom was severed. She’d made repeated attempts to reconcile, but Jon was not interested. He’d rip open her frequent and remorseful letters, only to retrieve whatever cash might be inside, refusing to engage any further. I’d return from work to find cremated traces of her correspondence scattered along the brick walk. 22 years of mothering, tiny flakes of ash. Despite his rejection, she kept writing. Kept seeking forgiveness. Steadfast in her determination to build a bridge.

Still, I hadn’t grasped how bad things were till his friend posed that question. Jon had always been so close to his mom. Now he wasn’t simply ignoring her, he was telling others she was dead.  I knew deep down, Jon loved his mother, but the divide between them was so wide and so deep, it seemed impossible to cross. Easier to pretend her gone. But you cannot pretend away pain. I recalled a quote that I read as a teen, a nugget of wisdom that stuck with me over the years, pushing me to resolve instead of entomb:

When you repress or suppress those things which you don’t want to live with you don’t really solve the problem because you don’t bury the problem dead – you bury it alive. It remains alive and active inside of you.
-John Powell

Now it was compelling me to redirect Jon. I encouraged him to try to forgive her. Several times I broached the subject. He wasn’t interested. One night I decided to cast a vision, paint a picture of a future other than the one he was choosing. “Wouldn’t it be great if you could sit on the porch and laugh about old times like you used to. You and your mom, joking and telling stories…” He shrugged his shoulders and walked away. Deaf ears. Rejected canvas.

But a few nights later he came downstairs and with a funny grin, and nodding head, and smooth demeanor he spoke. “Auntie Sue, I was thinking about what you said, and I thought, yeah it would be fun, me and my mom sitting on the porch and laughing. I’m gonna call her.”

And just like that he went upstairs and dialed her number.

Unfortunately, anger doesn’t always dissolve. Sometimes it comes to a roaring boil before it evaporates. That was the case with Jon. Though he fully intended to make amends, when his mother answered the phone a thousand profanities shot out of his mouth. Like water busting a dam, he couldn’t stay the emotion. For nearly two hours he spewed forth every cuss word imaginable, his voice penetrating the floor beneath him, the ceiling over my head. This, I thought, is the sound of excavation. Unearthing the rot to build a strong foundation. This too, bridge building. Though it was awkward to hear, it was good for Jon to release all of that pent up anger and sorrow and pain.

Forgiveness is difficult, and messy. What was it like, Lord, when you forgave me? Was it hard for you, like it was hard for Jonny? Did you ache and anger at my rejection? Did you want to write me off for having failed you? Was there pain, deep pain that weighed you down? And yet, you didn’t require a thousand letters from me. You didn’t make me wait and worry and wonder if things could ever be made right. I remember when I went to you. One afternoon when I was 24. Burdened with guilt and fear and an awareness of how very far I was from you. A few words I spoke, words of faith and sorrow and desire.  And in that moment, a bridge appeared. One from you to me, from me to you. Across a great divide.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
-Luke 15:20-24 NIV

And though I didn’t deserve it, You ran to me and threw your arms around the pathetic prodigal that I was. Though you should have, could have, might have rejected me, you instead celebrated my return. In spite of everything, you celebrated my return.

I hoped Jon’s mother would hang in there. Not give in to pride. I paced and I prayed. Tom, busy in the garage, got periodic updates, “Jon’s still going at it, honey, keep praying.”

His mother stayed the course. She received every blistering word that Jonny spit forth. One click and she could have cut him off. But she didn’t hang up. She listened. and listened. and listened some more. Tom rotated tires, I prayed, and she listened. Tom changed the oil, I prayed, and she listened. She didn’t argue, she didn’t defend, she listened. Listened until every last bit of anger had dissipated. Until the pot lay dry and every four letter word was spoken. Until there was nothing left to vent.

When the house grew quiet I sat motionless, waiting, not sure what to expect.

And then Jon appeared.

Smiling.

And as if the chasm between them had never existed he announced, “My mom’s coming to visit.” One phone call. Two hours. And canyon crossed. Gap bridged.

They had made peace. The prodigal mother and her son had made peace.

I cannot comprehend my Father’s ability to forgive me so graciously and completely and quickly. Because to me, forgiveness looks far more like the path Jonny traveled. A complicated quagmire, wrought with land mines and the potential for more hurt. On this side of eternity, in the shell of flawed humanity, it is a slow, painful process with uncertain resolution. And for some reason, we want to hang onto the pain, instead of release it. And anger seems the easiest choice. And we prefer the poison of bitterness over the sweetness of peace. And yet, having had a ringside seat to it, I am convinced forgiveness is among the greatest gifts we can receive and give. And that, as we extend it, so we receive it. When we forgive another, we gift ourselves.

Less than a year after Jon and his mother reconciled, he tragically lost his life. But during their final months together, they talked and  hugged and joked and comforted. She was fully his mother. He, fully her son. Brushstrokes of hope became happy evenings laughing and reminiscing about old times.  Jon died knowing his mother loved him. And she lives knowing she was forgiven. Together they built a bridge towards forgiveness. And found one another. And that indeed is reason to celebrate.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
– St. Francis of Assisi

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