Monday, February 29, 2016

17. FIND YOUR SPOT

In the corner of our bedroom, tucked into the cradle of space between the dresser and the wall, is Anna’s spot. A thick down comforter, folded in quarters, fills that space.  Two soft lap blankets stack on top of a pillow, and a soft red stuffed fox leans against them…waiting for Anna to return. Every night, and every morning, I mentally pause at that spot when I pass from my side of the bed to the rest of the world, thinking about how deeply I love my girl.  That thought automatically triggers a silent prayer for her well being, which leads to a continued prayer for all ten of our grandchildren.
When Anna sleeps over, this is her sleeping place.  After she has brushed her teeth, and we have recited her family scripture and said a prayer, we will read a book out on the couch, or up on the bed. Then she will lay her long sable hair against the pillow in her spot, curl her slender little legs up toward her heart, and wrap her arms around whichever stuffed animal happens to be close by. Lately it’s the red fox.  I will shake one of the lap quilts like a parachute and let it fall over her nine-year-old body.  On winter nights we follow it with a second blanket.  I bend way over, kissing my fingers, then touching her forehead, and I tell her I love her.  She whispers “I love you, too.” And all is well. 

Years ago, a lifetime ago it seems, our Kate had a similar spot at my mother’s place.  All my kids had their own spot at Gram’s house.  But Kate’s, in particular, was kept warm by the continued presence of Kate.  She sure loved staying at Gram and Libby’s house! I suppose it was the relative quiet, and the great sense of belonging that attracted her quiet soul.  And maybe the lack of limitations on television viewing. Those were the days before On-Demand cable TV, and even before video recorders.  One of her favorite things was staying up into the wee hours watching paid advertising shows.  For her 5th birthday, the only thing she asked for was a Ronco Dehydrator.

Memory is an interesting vehicle for human connection.  I can hear, somewhere back there in my brain, the sound of my mother’s voice telling Kate, “Go get in your spot.” There is a warmth and safety in those words, and it makes me ache with longing for my mom.

Sometimes I’ll lie in my bed and look at Anna’s spot, pondering the fleeting nature of time, and the eternal nature of love. Other people would fold those blankets and tuck them into a closet, but I just can’t.  I choose to keep the blankets prepared in that space as a reminder of my blessed opportunity with the little treasures who call me Gummy.  Like a shrine of sorts; a reminder to give thanks.  I’ll look over at that spot and cherish it when there is a little lump of love under those blankets. A week ago Anna’s seven-year-old cousin, Ruby, slept over and filled the spot.  It sealed me to Ruby the way it seals me to Anna.

The thing about having a spot of your own is that you can return there emotionally, even if your feet are planted elsewhere.  A therapist taught me to visit such safe spots in my mind. It’s a good strategy.  I didn't have grandparents or any other relatives in Pittsburgh when I was young. But I do have two safe spots where I go in my mind; childhood spots where I feel peace.  
One is the orchard of dwarf apple trees next to the YMCA behind our house on Grace Street.  We had recently moved from small town Idaho to the bustling suburbia of Pittsburgh, PA.  I was five years old.  The orchard in the springtime was a paradise of blossoms, fragrant and abundant, and because they were dwarf trees they hovered just over my head. Walking through that orchard as a small girl I nearly hyperventilated because I never wanted to exhale; just one long fragrant inhale. It was in this spot where I believe my spirit fully embraced my body.  I know it sounds dramatic, but it was my reality.  I remember looking up through the translucent canopy of blossoms, up through the chartreuse green of newborn leaves, out to the expanse of clouds and sky.  The divine temperature of a moist spring afternoon coupled with the song of robins and other creatures of the earth.  I remember it vividly.  My hands reached up to snatch a cluster of apple blossom when I noticed the skin on my arm.  I grabbed my left wrist with my right hand and stood stunned!  “I have a body!”  I said it out loud, though no one was there to hear me. I think this was the moment when I first allowed my ancient spirit to own my earthly body, and something inside me told me that I was blessed. Now, when I need to feel peace and calm, I visit that orchard in my mind.

My other spot had peace as well, though there was a more intense sort of love that came with the peace, and there are times I need to visit that place rather than the orchard. Warm and rhythmic and fragrant as well, this spot is in the lap of my mother.  I have to travel way back to go there.  I can feel her long fingers patting my back, the melodic rumble of her voice finding the music to calm me. I can hear her heartbeat, and though I cannot identify it by comparing it to other things, the scent of her is planted unalterably in my mind. She is safety and she is assurance and she is calm and she is love. Once, when I was sixteen and something had wounded my heart, I asked my mother if she would hold me for a minute.  She sat down in her old white rocker and patted her lap, looking into my eyes.  I hesitantly stood there before her, then slowly lowered my grown girl body into her warm lap.  She tucked my head into her neck and stroked my hair.  Instinctively she started humming.  I curled my body into her and wept.  I can’t recall what was the sorrow, but I profoundly recall the love.

Think back: where is your spot?  What place, or places, are safe for your soul?  I suspect, for all of us, there is one, somewhere.  If we will focus, and ponder, we will find it.  
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During the season of Lent I make the personal commitment to write every day.  I’ve done this for the past eight years, as a token of devotion and thanks to the Lord for giving me a brain that works (usually). I publish these writings here on my blog, unedited and splattered like wet paint, as a way to share them and to keep them for myself and for my posterity.  This year I have decided to ruminate on thoughts, ideas, habits and miscellaneous personal practices I would like to put in a figurative HOPE CHEST to take with me into the rest of my life and the life beyond. Besides that, there are bits of advice I would like to tuck into the HOPE CHESTS of my kids and grandkids.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

16. NURTURE A SENSE OF HUMID

My sister Sherry is a speech language pathologist.  So is my daughter, Annie.  Sherry worked with young children in elementary schools for more than three decades. 
One day she was testing a kid for word recognition.  She said a word, had the child repeat it to her, and then the kid was to put the word in a sentence.

Word #1.  Irrigate. 
The kid rolls those “R’s out with a bit of a struggle, then follows with this sentence:
“My big sister irrigates me!”
Sherry smiles, hands him his reward for pronouncing the word, then suggests that he may have meant that his sister “irritates” him.

Same kid, word #2. Humid.
The kid hums the “m” and clicks his tongue up behind his teeth to form the “d”.
“Humid. My dad has a really good sense of humid.”
Sherry: (Chuckling) Sorry buddy, I think you meant to say “humor.”

A good clean chuckle, to a Christian soul, is like rain on the desert. We really overlook its power.  I HOPE I don’t forget that!

Last night my sister Libby told us about the time she had to correct one of the ticket agents for Trans World Airlines.  Lib was regional sales manager for TWA, and she was at the desk overseeing a large group from a travel agency.  She could hear a young agent talking to a passenger who was trying to check a cardboard box instead of a suitcase.  “Sir, you’re going to have to sign a waiver for this package.  TWA cannot be reliable for this.” The passenger objected, and the agent just kept repeating “TWA is just not reliable, you’ll need to sign a waiver.” Finally Libby stepped over to the gal and pulled her aside, “Um, I think you must mean to say that TWA cannot be liable or responsible; but we really don’t want you to keep repeating that TWA is not reliable.”


For years now we have been commenting amongst each other that some people just don’t have a good sense of humid.  And when I’m bothered by a situation, I complain that its irrigating me.  I’m terrible at telling jokes (ask my family), but I sure like a good chuckle.  And thanks to the people around me, where’s plenty to laugh about. The humid lives on!


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During the season of Lent I make the personal commitment to write every day.  I’ve done this for the past eight years, as a token of devotion and thanks to the Lord for giving me a brain that works (usually). I publish these writings here on my blog, unedited and splattered like wet paint, as a way to share them and to keep them for myself and for my posterity.  This year I have decided to ruminate on thoughts, ideas, habits and miscellaneous personal practices I would like to put in a figurative HOPE CHEST to take with me into the rest of my life and the life beyond. Besides that, there are bits of advice I would like to tuck into the HOPE CHESTS of my kids and grandkids.

Friday, February 26, 2016

15. WHAT MAKES HIM SO INTERESTING?

Here’s the scene: I’m at the stove in the kitchen, stirring up some grub for a crowd, and from the corner of my eye I observe the people gathered in the dining area.  Most of them know each other, but there is a smattering of odd men out…people who are unconnected to the rest.  We often invite new people to our family/friend dinner gatherings.  It keeps the air fresh and new in our house.  If the person is timid, or introverted by nature, I can almost always count on one of my family making sure they are not left alone and uncomfortable.  I do love this about my clan. 
My son, John, is particularly gifted with people.  Most people feel at ease around John, especially new people. It’s always been that way.  He has a way of perceiving people’s needs, and not flailing around to fulfill them, but quietly he enters their space and lets them know he is safe.  My classic image of John is sitting on a chair, amid a crowd of people, leaning in toward someone else, in deep, friendly conversation, a laugh and a nod punctuating now and again.
Someone asked me once what made John so interesting that everyone wanted to be his friend.  My answer:
Interesting people are interested people.


John is blessed to have a natural instinct that makes him extremely interested in people…in what makes them tick, in what they like to do, and where they have been, and where they’d like to go.  He is not playing a part; he really is interested.
Sometimes, when I’m forced to be in a place where I don’t know people, and I’m kind of intimidated, I simply remind myself that interesting people are interested. That's how conversation begins. Most people are willing to talk about themselves, if asked sincerely.  Most people, unless they are real grumps (and there are some out there…but relatively few) are willing to share some of themselves, if the person asking is sincerely interested. I think what makes John look so popular in a group is not that he knows how to flit around the way teenagers think popular people do, but that he knows how to find one person, and be interested. His gifts are not so much that he knows what to say, though he is talented in that, too.  It is that he knows how to listen.
John is particularly interested in his fabulous wife, Ashley!

My HOPE is that I remember to forget myself when I am in the company of other people, at least to consider that my opportunity to be with other humans is a treasure box waiting to be opened. My interest in what is inside that box not only makes the experience personally pleasing, the by-product may be that it makes me seem interesting too. Win/Win.
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During the season of Lent I make the personal commitment to write every day.  I’ve done this for the past eight years, as a token of devotion and thanks to the Lord for giving me a brain that works (usually). I publish these writings here on my blog, unedited and splattered like wet paint, as a way to share them and to keep them for myself and for my posterity.  This year I have decided to ruminate on thoughts, ideas, habits and miscellaneous personal practices I would like to put in a figurative HOPE CHEST to take with me into the rest of my life and the life beyond. Besides that, there are bits of advice I would like to tuck into the HOPE CHESTS of my kids and grandkids.

14. FIND YOUR SABBATH (go to church)

It’s a risky thing, to thrust comments like “find your Sabbath” and “go to church” out into cyberspace.  Any time someone offers religious or political commentary without the benefit of the Holy Spirit of Healthy Relationships acting as intermediary, there’s a risk. So let it be known that what I say I am saying to myself…and maybe to my children if they are willing to listen.

There are multiple layers of benefit that may be derived from the observance of a Sabbath.  I’m not going to get doctrinal here, just going to speak from the heart.

First, and most logical to the natural man…meaning the non-religious among us…is the “setting apart”. Even if you don’t believe there is a God who designed and created this spinning orb on which we live, you likely understand the logic in allowing oneself a day that is different from the rest; a day that’s set apart.  The simple change of routine is healthy.  Allowing oneself to rest from the regular labors of the week is refreshing.  But to observe an actual Sabbath, where we reconnect and refocus spiritually, we become more than refreshed, we become rejuvenated.  Rejuvenation means to be restored to a former state, or made fresh or new again.  Because I consider myself an old spirit who happens to be housed in a relatively new body, my Sabbath becomes the day when I focus on that spirit and its connection to its roots…its old home…it former stompin’ grounds, so to speak.  My religion is the thread that connects me to that former Home, which I believe will also be my future Home. I can sit in an easy chair, or out in nature and try to meditate, study and pray, but that gets really hard for me.  I fall asleep.  Which leads me to part two...
… Go to church.
Besides the obvious; the renewing of sacred covenants in partaking of the holy Sacrament, there are benefits to gathering with people from a variety of backgrounds, with different tastes, and even varying degrees of faith and spiritual understanding. Focusing in a united way on the  quest to return to a divine source is beautiful to me.  It is beautiful in my own LDS church, and it is beautiful when we go to Catholic Mass with our Catholic family, and it is beautiful when we attend other services as well.  But the covenants that are sacred and central in my life make it essential for me to attend my own church, and partake of the Sacrament as it is blessed by those who have received what I sincerely believe to be divine authority.
A friend once told me that we are all three weeks away from inactivity.  It made me laugh, until he explained it.  He said the first week we stay home from church is fine.  We all have good reason for this occasionally.  The second week can even be ok - illnesses can last this long, as can other obstacles that get in the way.  But there is something about three weeks away from the pattern that makes it feel kind of easy to not go back.  We decide it’s really easier to just hang at home, to get our chores done, or go shopping or to the zoo.  Pretty soon going to church is something we consider doing only on the high holy days, like Easter of Christmas. Otherwise, it’s just too heavy. Caution to myself: Except for illness, make no excuses to miss more than two weeks of church.
Lastly, if you’re able, gather with someone you love and share a Sunday dinner.  If you’re really lucky, you can gather with family.  I cherish, more than words can say, the sounds around our Sunday table…the conversation, the clanging of utensils against plates, the giggles and wiggles of little ones.  The aromas and the tastes and the warmth and the love. Stories about Sunday School lessons, reviews of the goings and comings of the week.  I sift back through the demands of my regular work-a-day life to find these Sabbath aesthetics and I automatically breathe slower, and deeper and the air of these moments is sweeter and cleaner and…and holy.

I recently read this, posted by someone I don’t know, but who obviously knows my heart:

My personal belief is this: I believe the primary purpose of the Sabbath is to preserve the “religion of our families.”  The word “religion” comes from the Latin “re-ligare” which means “to bind.” The Sabbath has always been thought of as the day in which we “get religion”…but if we take the true meaning of religion as our guide…the Sabbath is actually a day set apart for us “to bind” with our families. That is why we come together on Sunday. To be with and strengthen both our immediate and ward (church) families. My Sabbath rule: Always make sacrifices that strengthen your relationship with God and with family. You know you’re violating the Sabbath if you are making sacrifices that weaken those relationships. Greg Trimble

Sunday may not be a true day of rest, in the most literal sense of the word.   It is often physically exhausting. But it is, for me, a day set apart, designed to strengthen my bonds with my God, with my family, and with the ancient spirit inside of me.