Summer Time

With the school year over, my To-Do List looks a little different:

1. Wake up to daylight.

2. Have a second cup of coffee.  Finish the coffee while it is still hot.  

3. Pee whenever I want to.

4. Hydrate.

5. Repeat item 3.

6. Be outside.

7. Eat when I am actually hungry.

8. Think about things.

9.Drink more coffee later with ice cubes because it is a choice, not because it is what sits before me from morning.

I am pleased to report that on Day 3, I am wildly successful in completing this To-Do List.  Not that it has been easy. Take item 4, for example.  Whoever decided that everyone should drink 64 ounces of water a day must also have invented water-boarding as a form of torture.  I do love my chilled water (infused with natural flavors), but by ounce 48 I’m drowning.  However, I have flushed 2 lbs out of my body, so I will Keep Hydrating and Carry On.

The real struggle is with my addiction to To-Do Lists. I have other Lists for this summer.

  • All the things I need to do to be better prepared for the next school year. (As though,after 33 years in the classroom,I am unprepared.  Still…)
  • All the things I need to do around the house because it fell into near total chaos during the school year.  Only the bi-weekly sprint to tidy before the cleaning ladies arrived saved us from total disaster.
  • All the things I need to do to be the perfectly healthy individual that everyone else I know is.  Or at least so I can visit the doctor for a checkup and not cringe.
  • All the people I am going to invite over because I don’t have the overstimulation of the work week as an excuse and because introverts love to spend their vacation hosting events.  (FYI, for an introvert, hosting more than 2 people is an event.  So if I invite just two of you over,  consider than an act of love.  More than two, I am sacrificing myself on your behalf.)
  • All the summery fun things I need to do to feel like I had a vacation.

So, yeah, the list of Lists is fraught with opportunities for failure.  There is no way to do this.  And each of these Lists comes with Sub-Lists.  And yet I need the Lists or I will do nothing.  It’s like my WeekSheet of lesson plans.  I may not get everything done by Friday,  but I come a whole lot closer if I work to the plan.

A missionary to Cameroon shared at church last Sunday his struggle with being back in the States for a year.  The Africans have a saying, “Westerners have clocks; Africans have time.” It is hard to shift from one timeframe to another.  That really resonated with my launch into summer.  I have a “need” To Do while simultaneously desiring a break from the tyranny of doing.  I long to discern the difference between maximizing my minutes and fully living in time. I long for a compromise between the list the top of this page and the List of Lists lurking beneath it.

For the moment, my compromise is looking like this:

  • Look at each day as a day of possibilities. What can I do as opposed to what ought I to do? (Being the first-born that I inescapably am, my “can-I’s” will surely contain enought “oughts” to keep me from sliding into total slothful irresponsibility.)
  • Follow the nudges of the Holy Spirit and be open to divine appointments.

And for the immediate moment, I am behind on my water intake and I have to go to the bathroom.


In search of green

St.  Paddy’s Day is upon us along with another Winter Weather Advisory for 2-5 inches of snow. Since it’s likely the only green I’ll be seeing tomorrow will be on my shamrock scarf, I go outside this dismal afternoon to look for green.

A dreary place to look for green

A dreary place to look for green

It’s not that I expect to find the riotous bloom of tulips and daffodils.  I just want signs of life. The predominant color outside appears to be dead leaf/mud brown.  Show me the  green. Pleeeese.

I look in the usual places.

The periwinkle hides under a brown blanket of leaves until I rake it away for instant spring.

I know I can always rake the periwinkle for a green pick-me-up.

I know I can always rake the periwinkle for a green pick-me-up.

Tentative daffodils ask, "Is Winter gone yet?"

Tentative daffodils ask, “Is Winter gone yet?”

Daffodils hide with the periwinkle. They peek up tentatively. Daylilies along the windblown and heavily plowed driveway look vulnerable to the elements as they emerge.  Teeny tiny promises of the lush green to come.  But so tiny and cheerless. I need more green than that.

Daylilies look vulnerable to the forecasted snow.

Daylilies look vulnerable to the forecasted snow.

Arborvitae is green.  And holly.  I decorate with them for Christmas.  I don’t want to count them. That  green isn’t “good enough.”  I want the promise of spring.

Because I’m zooming in on one color, I spy hints of greenage in the underbrush.  Oh, a vine.  With thorns. I don’t like thorns.

Vine...with thorns

Vine…with thorns

Moss...and a chipmunk hole.  Alvin!!!!!!

Moss…and a chipmunk hole. Alvin!!!!!!

Moss is green.  We have a fair amount of moss because our yard is highly acidic and moss seems to like it better than grass does.  The thing is, moss is kind of nice.  It’s soft.  And when the sun warms it up, it’s a lovely green. The only problem with moss is that it is not  grass.  But it isn’t trying to be.

Rhododendron braved the winter and came out ready to bloom.

Rhododendron braved the winter and came out ready to bloom.

Rhododendron leaves are green.  They are always green.  Here they sit with buds waiting for spring.  Good ol’ rhododendron.  Always there.  Oh, now I wish I had taken their picture in the bitter cold of an ice storm when their leaves were curled in on themselves. They looked miserable then.  And now I take for granted the buds that will offer glorious red blooms in May.

I’ve been reading Ann Voscamp’s One Thousand Gifts in which she takes up a friend’s dare to chronicle one thousand things she can be thankful for. My search for green parallels her search for graces.  The grace that is too small.  Or too hard to find.  Or too ordinary.  Or too thorny.  But there all the same.  Like the rhododendron.  If one cares to look at it.

So where is the green, the sign of life?  It’s all around me.  It’s in the promise of spring popping up timidly from winter.  It’s in the vines coursing like arteries with warming earth.  It’s in the evergreens that stand faithfully through winter.  It’s in the moss, covering the nakedness of the impoverished soil.

And I’m reminded of the prayer of St. Patrick, “The Breastplate of St. Patrick,” the grand prayer for God’s protection (and worth a read in its entirety, so click on the link):

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity
Through belief in the threeness
Through confession of the Oneness
Towards the creator…

Christ to protect me today…
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left
Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Green.  It’s not just for Christmas.  It’s not just for coloring beer.  St. Paddy’s Day is a reminder to be wearin’ it…even if it snows.

There is green in there.

There is green in there.

Are you ready?

It is the dreaded count-down-to-Christmas question.  It is the opener for probably every conversation during December…especially among women.  On Friday, this question launched a teaching colleague into a rant on how much cooking she had to do for the holidays and how she was never going to find time to do it.  Then everyone else in the group piped up with what they had left to do.

“Are you ready?”

No! We’re not ready!  Dumb questions get dumb answers.  I think we ask the question in order to find out who is more not ready than we are.  Even those who are ready hedge their answer with, “Pretty much.  All I have left to do is…”

How ready are you?   Take the poll.

I am sympathetic toward those who reply with “buy all the presents” or “declutter and clean the entire house and decorate it.”  They fall a tad into the dysfunctional group but, hey, we all have our dysfunctional moments.  I’m the type to ransack the house for scotch tape that I was  very good about buying in advance.  And for those of you who never get Christmas cards from me, I really, really do think of you.  As for purses–Hi, Mom!  And John, save some whisky and eggnog for the rest of us.

The definition of “ready” depends, of course, on one’s stage in life.    Although I have yet to  wrap any gifts, some of which I actually ordered in September, I will do it today (ok,maybe tomorrow) because I long ago learned the lesson that things come up at the last minute.  One year it was a stomach bug at midnight on December 23.  I was helpless to do anything until midnight of December 24.  This year it is a last minute request to help one daughter watch the baby of another daughter on Monday.  Toddler of the helping daughter is throwing up today.  Yeah, this  bodes well.

The year after the stomach bug episode, I learned that being ready means making sure the husband is ready, too.  I had all my gifts wrapped and, at bedtime on Christmas Eve, asked hubby if he was planning to wrap his.  He thought he was ready because he had actually bought presents before Christmas Eve.  (There was that one year when the malls closed and he wasn’t finished shopping….he learned from that.)

Part of being ready has always been to have the house ready.  Decorations are key, but underlying the decorations is this idea that dirt should not be underlying the decorations.  One mom of young ones lamented recently that she didn’t know how she was going to get the house clean in order to decorate.  Silly mom.  You don’t clean the whole house.  You just clean the part that you want to decorate.  It’s all going to get dirty again anyway.

In getting ready, it is important not to peak too soon–or you’ll be twiddling your thumbs waiting for Valentine’s Day.  Admit it, part of the excitement of Christmas is the adrenaline rush of stress.  It’s what keeps us from a sugar cookie induced diabetic coma at the darkest part of the year.  All the running around gets our heart rate up.  You just have to know your limits.  Blinking lights are pretty, but there are easier ways to enjoy lights than having an emergency and calling 911.

However, the most important part of Christmas readiness is knowing what to let go of.  This year, I’m thinking that I need to let go of the need to be ready.  I ‘ve always looked at the Advent season as the time to prepare myself spiritually for Christ’s coming.  The need to get my heart in order dovetails, for me,  with the urgency of doing.  (Come on, get the heart right.)  But upon reflection, my heart is never right enough and no one at that first Christmas was ready.

Picture Mary going into labor with no place to stay.  Joseph wishing desperately that Travelocity existed.  Shepherds hanging out in the fields until a flash mob of angels appears.  Who is ever ready for a bazillion angels to show up singing?

Christmas happened.  It had nothing to do with to-do lists and buying presents.  It had everything to do with being present.  (Time to cue the Who’s in Whoville singing “fa-who-dor-aze.)  Jesus showed up.  I don’t know exactly when and where he’ll show up next, but I do want to be ready to be there.  He might be at the Post Office.  He might be in the UPS driver.  Or even in me.

In the meantime, there are these gifts I could wrap and some cards to address.  Where is that tape?  And do we have any stamps?

There's another roll of tape around somewhere...

There’s another roll of tape around somewhere…

Jesus wept

CIMG4876Ask a class of Christian school students who are forced to memorize Bible verses to recommend one, and inevitably some wise guy will suggest “Jesus wept.”

“Please…can you  give us that one?  The one we did last week was sooooooooo long.”

Why don’t I want to give them that one?  Well, duh, they already know it.  However, they do not know it in French, so I agree.

Weeks ago, I agreed that we would memorize “Jesus wept” in French.  Jesus pleura.  It provides a good example of the literary past tense and happens to be shorter than the modern translation: Jesus a pleuré.  It’s a nice short verse for a three and a half day week, with some sobriety for Holy Week. Furthermore, it’s the end of third quarter and we are all feeling a little fried.

So Friday I began typing Jesus pleura on my “week sheets” of lessons for next week, but with the fresh news that a dear colleague of eighteen years has end stage pancreatic cancer. He goes from classroom to diagnosis to hospice in one fell swoop.  The news is a punch in the gut.

Jesus pleura.

And God has done it again.  He has taken a verse that was scheduled for some random reason–it’s the next page in my Bible, it’s part of a sermon series planned months in advance, whatever–and entered my world.  That’s one of the tricky things about selecting memory verses.  If I pick one like “Love is patient; love is kind” I inevitably find the circumstances of my week challenging the lack of patience and kindness in my heart.

This time God has prepared in advance a  comfort that he knew I would need.

Jesus pleura.  Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died.  With that, Jesus says, “I know.  It hurts.  Death sucks.”

Why did Jesus weep?  Was it because Lazarus was dead?  He was really, really dead, too.  Not like the sickbed miracles Jesus had done before.  Three days dead.  In the tomb dead.  But Jesus brought him back to life.  If he had the power to do that, why weep over it?

Or was it because of the grief of separation–a separation that Jesus himself would soon experience from his Father?  Seeing the grief of Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha got him weeping.  It hurts to be separated and death is the ultimate separation.  It hurts even when God is saying, “It is time.”

Wait, God, we’re not finished enjoying Tim yet.  We don’t want him to die.  We want him to get better.  We want his laugh to roll down the hall again and interrupt our classes with our own responsive laughter. “There he goes again!”  We want to enjoy his curmudgeonly attitude during faculty meetings–an outward appearance that represents what we all feel on the inside.  Ok, I even want a bear hug, even though he does it in front of students and makes me feel unprofessional.

Jesus pleura.  Jesus gets it.  He feels it.  Good Friday commemorates Jesus’ death and his separation from his Father, but Easter Sunday celebrates his victory over that separation.  Good Friday is why I weep for the pending departure of my friend and colleague, but Easter Sunday is why am not despondent.  Death is the ultimate separation, but in Christ it is not permanent.  We have an eternity of fellowship without lesson plans and emails to look forward to.   And I don’t know about the streets being paved with gold, but the setting in heaven has got to be better than the pathetic table in the hallway that is considered our “teacher’s lounge.”

Jesus pleura.  Jesus comforts me in my sadness.

Jesus is risen.  Jesus assures me of eternity.

When it’s my turn to go, I expect a booming laugh to greet me when I arrive.  Tim is sure to be assigned celestial “car pool” duty. (And if he doesn’t want it, he’d better put his request in now!)

peace on earth


Joyful images to “like” on  Facebook: six year old grandson grinning the gap in his smile from his newly yanked front tooth; one year old twins in candy-cane striped pjs caught in the act of “emptying” the dishwasher and trying to escape Mom’s “wrath.”

Candlelight images pleading for us all to pray for the families of the little children and the teachers gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School for no discernable reason.

Joyful image of toddler grandson playing “peek-a-boo” in a closet.

News report of first grade teacher hiding her students in a closet, cradling their faces in her hands and calming them by saying, “Let me see your smile.”

Our perfect Christmas tree, decked out in glory, glows warmly in the background.

A firehouse, set up to sell Christmas trees but now a staging area for national media, beams Christmas red and green in the background.

Boxes of Christmas gifts pile up at my house from all the online ordering I have done.

The guidance counselor at my school notes, “Those children have Christmas presents that they won’t be opening.”

Peace on earth.  Goodwill to men.  As if the tragedy weren’t enough, it comes now–during the season of comfort and joy.  Where’s the comfort?  Where’s the joy?  How can one even enjoy what one has when the pain of others is so, so hard?

My Bible reading this morning took me to seemingly random places that turned out to be not so random at all.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  That’s from Philippians 1:2.  It’s the standard opening line for the New Testament letters.  Oh.  It’s God’s standard opening line.  Grace and peace.  From God.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more… (Philippians 1:9).   In an online essay (“Americans, united in horror for a moment”), AP reporter Ted Anthony quotes dear old Mister Rogers speaking on coping with tragedy:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, `Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,'” he once said. “To this day, especially in times of `disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

Thank you,  Mister Rogers, for still keeping our eyes focused on the good in the midst of evil.  May love abound more and more–as  we act on the grace and peace.

The people all tried to touch (Jesus), because power was coming from him and healing them all. … Looking at his disciples he said, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”  (Luke 6: 19, 21)  There’s that discord, tackled head on.  That line about “blessed are those who weep” can sound really hollow when in the midst of the weeping.  It’s like people trying to comfort the  bereaved by saying, “He’s in a better place.”  It really doesn’t take the hurt away.  Ah…but what if the one saying it had such power that people were trying to touch him to be healed by it?

This is about when Karen Carpenter popped into my head–just a fragment of tune and lyrics.  I had to scroll through my mental Rolodex to place the song.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will
to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead,
nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on
earth, good will to men.”

It is still the season of comfort and joy.  It’s just that today we are conscious of how much we need it. And, like the Who’s in Whoville,  we know that it won’t come from packages, decorations or roast beast.

God rest you merry gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay;

Remember Christ our Savior

Was born on Christmas Day

To save us all from Satan’s power

When we were gone astray;

O tidings of comfort and joy.

Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our  Lord Jesus Christ.


It’s Advent, not Christmas…that’s what I tell myself

I’ve lived long enough to know better, but I still entertain fantasies that the Christmas decorations will go up in a perfectly clean house.  The truth is, my standards and energy levels are going lower every year.

In my idealized world, the screens will come off the windows and the windows will be sparkling clean before I put the candles in the windows.  Sigh.  I used to actually do this.  This year, I slapped the candles in the windows with a little wish that I might get back to those windows to wipe the outside sills clean.  Forget about the screens.  Well, it might happen.  In a bazillion years, when I can afford to retire.

Some people manage to put all the decorations up in one mammoth weekend.  For me, they go up in stages.  I actually like this approach.  It makes decorating an Advent activity, preparing for the  twelve days of Christmas which begin on December 25, rather than celebrating Christmas from Thanksgiving until December 26.

One of the nuns from my childhood taught that the Advent season was the time to prepare our hearts for Jesus’ coming.  She likened it to preparing our homes for Christmas.  That always stuck with me–Advent as the time of preparation.

The nun, however, neglected to mention all the boxes.  I have boxes of Christmas decorations all over the house.  Boxes filled with boxes, to be precise.  Clear Tupperware storage containers, red-and-green Christmas storage containers, and not a few big plastic trashbags filled with wreaths, and tree ornaments, and lights, and Christmas-y do-dads. I can’t put them away until I’ve emptied them.

This would be easier if putting them away didn’t involve my husband climbing an extension ladder to get into the attic.  In the idealized world, we’d have a pull-down ladder so I could go into the attic whenever my little heart desired.  My grandmother had a very cumbersome entry to her attic.  It involved climbing up the shelves in her linen closet.  It was crazy, but an eighty year old woman could do it.  I, however, cannot get into my own attic.  And so, the Christmas boxes are in the hallway until I can convince my husband to climb back up to store them for the season.  There is a good liklihood that he won’t be convinced, in which case, I will be stacking the  boxes in my office for the duration of the season. And firmly closing the door against curious guests.

I could not survive without doors to close.  I’m not sure what that says about my spiritual preparations, except to say that I’m pretty darn sure I’m stuffing a lot of spiritual stuff in closets, too.

When my kids were still kids and living at home (as opposed to being adults and living at home), I used to do a lot of screaming on Christmas Eve.  “Santa will not come until your rooms are clean!”  It was a desperate move on my part, and for a few brief years even effective, although we all knew that Christmas was coming whether or not the rooms were clean.

Ha–that’s the point.  Christmas is coming, ready or not.  Jesus came, whether Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds were ready or not.  Jesus is coming, ready or not.