Monthly Archives: December 2011

I Want to be a Woodchip

Shortly after 4 bedtime stories, 3 goodnight kisses, 2 tuck ins and 1 glass of water, part of an arsenal of light’s out stalling tactics, Mei finally quieted down for sleep. Or maybe not, as evidenced later by a piercing wail, followed by her (rarely sympathetic) older sister calling, “Mom, come quick. Mei is afraid she is going to die!”

Mei clung to me with the Vulcan grip only a frightened 5-year-old can muster, sobbing into my shoulder, “I wish I had never been born a person because people die. I wish I was a wood chip, because they don’t ever die. They only turn to dust.”

My kids always end up at schools where playgrounds are covered with the dusty chips, instead of that bouncy, recycled sneaker surface that costs a bundle. Both girls bring them home in their shoes, folds of clothing, hanging in their hair. Mei likes to cram her pockets full of the wooden nuggets, where they remain hidden until I find a soggy pile at the bottom of the washer.

Despite this close association with dead tree bits, I didn’t know what to say. A comparison between the life cycle of trees and the decay of the human body wasn’t what she needed. So she clung and cried, I soothed and whispered about God’s promises. Death is not the end! Jesus will be with us always!  She wasn’t impressed when I couldn’t tell her exactly how God would do all this, and we ended with a little prayer and a vow to reread “When Dinosaurs Die” (best resource for kids and death) in the morning.

Years of theology, preaching funerals and even accompanying others in their dying and I am still at a loss when approached by a five-year-old’s urgent questions about death, which are about as real as you can get. But keep ’em coming. Such questions, which can cling to us like wood chips, make for parenting and life moments that are as real as you can get.

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Thank You, Mr. Havel

“Keep the company of those who seek the truth- run from those who have found it”

I’m missing Mr. Havel since the announcement of his death this week, his observant eye and sharp tongue.  In my years of living in and traveling the East Bloc, he was one of a group of intellectuals and writers whose convictions about freedom and truth inspired me, along with their willingness to be imprisoned for them. He always made clear he was an accidental activist, an artist who rebelled against the banality of a system that forced people to live a lie.  He seemed to suggest if he could do it – anyone could.

In these days of being urged to Occupy Something, he occupied words. He knew the power of language and said, “I really do inhabit a system in which words are capable of shaking the entire structure of government, where words can prove mightier than ten military divisions.” In plays, in poems, in novels, Eastern European intellectuals like Havel did as the Biblical prophets did, using subversive speech to name an alternate reality, and thereby overcoming the reality imposed by their oppressors.

Thank you, Mr. Havel, for rising to the challenges of your time and leaving me the hope that we  can do so in ours.

“The kind of hope that I often think about…I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world.  Either we have hope within us, or we don’t. It is a dimension of the soul
It’s not essentially dependent upon some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.

Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

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Helper Hand

The day I received the call from the adoption agency announcing the referral of a 20 month old girl with no right hand, I took a breath and said yes, not knowing what that would mean. What I got is the delightful, gloriously happy, bundle of energy that is Mei in my life. I have also entered the world of limb differences (the PC term) and an amazing community of families and individuals negotiating life without a limb.

In blogs I follow and through online groups for parents, I’ve gotten good advice about learning to swim, working with teachers and tying shoes. I read posts from frantic mothers-to-be who have just found out their baby will be lacking a hand or foot and are wondering what they did wrong, if they can love him/her and worrying how hard their child’s life will be. There are always many who chime in with reassurance, but when one new mom wondered about finding a support group for her unborn child, the best response was that it was the mom who probably needed one – the kid would be fine.

That’s my experience. Mei is fine, does everything, and when she can’t she asks for help. I’m the one who has needed the help – learning to respond to pitying stares or bizarre questions, dealing with the emotions when someone calls my child “handicapped”, responding when she asks why God made her like that, worrying about bullying and limitations as she grows.

We start a new chapter on Friday when Mei gets her “helper hand”, the name we have given to her new arm/hand prosthesis. On our first visit to Shriner’s Hospital (great place!) she looked over the options, ranging from passive arm to myoelectric, and grabbed a plastic dummy hand and put it on. “This one! My own new hand!” she said. We are getting the next step up, a hand that opens and closes by means of a shoulder harness. I think learning to use it will be a pain in the butt and it will at first be harder for her to do things with it than without. But we need to give it a try and see what happens. The Shriners Doc said kids will use them when they are motivated to do a particular task. Helper hand may come in handy next time the teacher asks the class to trace their hands to make a Thanksgiving turkey (NOT my favorite craft!!!).  If that’s not motivation enough, it will definitely level the playing field when she and her big sister are trying to pinch one another.

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Sport Package

I used to date a car guy. Since I am a good sport (and because I like new things), I attended car shows, learned how to differentiate Audi model years and was soon able to speak with authority about a HEMI, torque and something called a sport package.

This came in handy when I bought a new car yesterday. I’m working with an obliging local business who took note of what I wanted (low mileage, gas sipping,  hatchback, not yellow) and went foraging at auctions. They brought me an older, low end Nissan Versa (boring) and a newer, loaded Mazda 3 (overstimulating). Maybe they pulled a Goldilocks on me. “What about a Ford Focus?”, they asked. After trying extremes of too hard and too soft, too hot and too cold, but still savoring the luxury of the Mazda, I said, “That could work. As long as it comes with a SPORT PACKAGE”.

It sure does! Two days later, there she was. A 2012, only 9,000 miles. But even though I’m a sucker for a good spoiler and  aluminum wheels, it was the fabulouso gas mileage that sold me.  38 MPG highway – really?! “Cecille the Automobile” came home with us the same day.

“What’s a sport package?”, Helen asked. “Car bling,” I replied, “some chrome, leather or details that make it look fancy.” “Oh,” she said, “Accessories”. Exactly.


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Visualize This

I’ve cracked the code! My writing code, that is. For years I’ve started journals and stopped, leaving me with a shelf of lovely bound books full of blank pages, with just an entry or two in the very front. But last night, looking at the rack of just-baked cookies, the words I wanted to write about them popped into my head. So I snapped a blurry picture and made my first successful blog post.

I realized this sort of thing happens all the time! I’ll look at something and know just what I want to say about it…but it never seems journal-worthy, or it is forgotten by the time I get back to my dusty journal shelf, so I let it pass. But here’s the insight – I am a visual writer.

It reminds me of when I learned to pray aloud. You would think that seminary would teach us preachers to offer loud and long oral prayers out of our heads. Not so. We only learn how to read oral prayers someone else has written – albeit with appropriate hand gestures. In my early pastor years, I would clutch up inside when ever someone would say “Why don’t we start with a prayer?” and all heads would turn to me, the professional pray-er. I cracked the code when I realized I was a visual prayer giver, and when I would visualize the object of concern (the waiting potluck and ladies who made it, the refugees receiving the quilts we were about to pack and send, the family members gathered around their loved one’s deathbed) the words would just flow, describing what we were commending to God. It helps that you pray with your eyes closed for this.

So, no photo today, just an insight. Blog as subtitle. Prayer as caption.

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Not All Cookies Are Created Equal

We got cracking on Christmas cookies today by making my grandmother’s sand tarts. These simple treats used to be the ugly stepsisters on the family cookie tray, passed over for more complex mouthfuls made with ground nuts, molasses, cardamom or dark chocolate. Maybe its an aging thing, but suddenly simplicity reigns in my cookie pantheon. Just butter, flour, eggs, soda and sugar, rolled wafer thin, sprinkled with something pretty and baked. Its the crispness paired with the buttery melt that makes it so satisfying.

This cookie recipe makes a huge amount, so a certain fatigue sets in with all the rolling of chilled dough into paper thin slices (and if you don’t work quickly it gets too warm to cut and transfer to the sheets so you have to put the dough  back in the fridge to chill out). So I get into production line mode and just shake red or green sugar crystals on top and call it ready for baking. Helen had a different approach.  She made each little shape into a work of art, arranging toppings on her cookie canvas. You can see her inspired creations on the right (the boot has mud on the bottom!) while my plain Janes are on the left.  I whipped out five sheets worth in the same time she made one. But I really wished I could sit and consider the integrity of each cookie. Since there’s still half a batch of dough to get through tomorrow, I just might take the slow train for a change. Image

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