Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Things I learned on a Picnic

I remember learning about friendship at a very early age. In my neighborhood there were probably a dozen kids or so who were our age. Our moms would throw these make shift picnics in the backyards. They would spread ratty old blankets across the grass and lay out a spread of sandwiches, homemade cookies and usually some sort of prepackaged supermarket treat. At first I can remember that these little alfresco dining escapades captured our imaginations and allowed us to dream up grand adventures in which we were pirates eating our spoils on the deck of a great ship or fair maidens trapped forever in a castle by a wicked emperor who would only allow us to eat what grain we could find scattered on the grounds of our beautiful prison. Later though, our little yard picnics became long, lazy afternoons filled with the lively banter or delicate discussion of friendship. We began to share our lives in the well tended grasses of our neighborhood. “You get your mom to make the lemonade and I’ll talk my mom out of the chocolate chip cookies she was making this morning. Meet back here at two o”clock and don’t forget your boom box.” We would meet beneath the protection of the weeping willows that outlined T’s property and spill secrets before the plastic cups and Tupperware containers hit the blanket. Our words were backlit by the drama of the tunes that spilled from the speakers; the likes of Bryan Adams and Madonna.

I had forgotten about those blissful afternoons until the other day when one of my best friends called and asked what I was doing. I recited a litany of duties including such things as laundry, cleaning and cooking when she intoned, “ Okay. Well I just made a great new recipe for cookies. ( This friend happens to be an incredible chef…how lucky am I?). and thought maybe if you had the wine we could sit on your patio and hang out.”

The laundry went undone that day and I’m pretty sure I still haven’t cleaned out the back closet but P and I talked for hours snuggled deep in the bright teal Adirondack chairs on my front patio. We talked over our marriages and shared concerns about our kids. But we delved further still. We talked about dreams we still held for our lives and giggled over a few aspirations we were glad had failed.

As P’s taillights drew slowly away from my house later into that evening I watched, thankful for the grassy backyard picnics of my youth. Our moms gifted us then with what they must have understood would be so important one day… that friendship takes time. It always seemed okay back in the neighborhood to invest time into relationships. I don’t think there were less demands on my mom. I don’t think her time was any less valuable than mine. I think she just chose to value people over schedules. I’m pretty certain that has everything to do with why I can make real and lasting connections with friends today.

We’ve come a long way since those clandestine meetings beneath the whispering willows I suppose. And then again if you call me on any given day, you can be sure I’ll uncork the wine and pull the homemade cookies from the freezer. Pull up a teal blue chair my friend and tell me what’s on your mind.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mrs. Eisenhower's Legacy

Dwight Eisenhower was the 34th President of our Country. He was an amazing leader. “Ike” as people generally referred to him was a war hero during the Second World War. He was a Republican but because of his straight forward and authentic approach to politics he earned the respect of a democratic congress for 3 terms and was able to be an effective presidents even with an opposing party in congress.

I read just a little bit about him in my devotions this morning. The writer of the book I was reading (To Own a Dragon, by Donald Miller) was amazed as he read about Ike’s life. You see Eisenhower grew up in a home with two functioning parents who made it their goal that their children would grow up knowing how important and necessary their role in the family was. Their thought that this would lead their children to realize the importance and necessity of their roles in their communities and for Dwight, even the world was proved true when he became president.

I started thinking about that as I finished my devotion time this morning. I started to wonder if I’ve raised my children with the sense that they are important to our family, to their community and to the world? If I asked them, would they, like young Dwight at age 9 or 10 already be confident enough to agree that they were not only important but essential to our family. That our family couldn’t be our family without them and that God has assigned to them an important task of leadership. Do my kids understand their importance?

Jesus did. In John 3 it says, “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in His hands. Whoever believes the Son will have life but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

Why did God say that He placed everything in Jesus’ hands? Because through Jesus people would either come to know God the Father or not.

No, we haven’t been given the role of saving the world from sin. But that doesn’t mean that our role isn’t crucial. If we don’t offer what you have been given to offer the world… which is really just you being you… the world, your community and especially your family will miss out. We’ll miss out on understanding something of Jesus, God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

As a mother is there anything more precious I could lavish on my children than this beautiful truth? That they are relevent?Eisenhower’s mother puts me to shame in so many ways. For one thing, this woman memorized the entire New Testament. What a beautiful gift she gave to her children in that kind of example but also in being able to call on that kind of understanding when she needed to deal with them in their lives. Also though, Mrs. Eisenhower was fond of this belief; she believed that all the world’s problems could be solved if every child understood his necessity and importance in the world.

I think we shy away from these thoughts because we worry that we’re placing too much importance on ourselves as individuals rather than realizing the supreme capabilities of a sovereign God who doesn’t NEED us to reveal his love or will to the world. Of course this is true. He’s God and He can certainly handle these kind of intricate revelations on his own. But He CHOOSES to use us to do that. When we fail to realize that ourselves or to teach it to our kids we miss out. We miss out and so does our community. We miss out not on being needed by God but by being WANTED by Him. He wants to use our lives to bear witness to who He is. Each of us has a unique and beautiful aspect or characteristic of His to mirror in a unique and beautiful way. If we understood that better. If our children understood that better is it true that the world would be transformed?

I’m challenging myself today to be more effective in instilling that possibility in my kids. I’m challenging myself to believe it myself and be purposeful then in the offering of it to my community.

*** Please no criticisms on the book or author references. I understand your concerns. I’m reading critically. You can trust me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Art of Legacy

There was a time in my life when I didn’t value the generations that came before me. In fact I suppose that was true of most of my life. Until recently. My thirties have brought with them an awareness of my own life lessons and I suppose a respect for what other’s have learned as well. More and more lately I find myself wanting to soak up another woman’s life stories.

I go to work and listen to my friends there, friends my mother’s age tell me stories of sorority life on university campus in the 60s. Another woman recalls a near death experience as a child. There is a woman just shy of a decade older than me who, 10 years ago I may have written off as too unhip to be worthy of my ear and now I find her stories alive with color and interest.

One of my favorite things about being the oldest of an oldest and marrying an oldest of an oldest is that when we gather at extended family dinners I am privy to the most beautiful collection of women in our aunts. As we sit around the remains of dinner served, forking away at a chocolate cake that sits at the center of the table, we commune. We laugh and we listen and sometimes we cry. I find myself unusually quiet in these moments. Is it because there is something almost holy about them, these amazing women who’ve graced the span of my life? I suppose that is part of it. But I also find myself humbled by the richness of their lives. It is a richness that is built year upon year, not unlike the sumptuous layer upon layer of cake we devour together as we chat.

I love to sit at my grandmother’s side as she tells stories of marrying my grandfather at seventeen because she and he were employed by the same farmer. My maternal grandpa has been in Glory for 26 years now. Grams has been remarried for 8 of those years. There’s a lot of story in that.

My dad’s dad has stories of an entirely different nature. He recalls his time as a POW guard in Italy at the end of World War II. The sounds of captured German soldiers singing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” still ring in his ears. He is not a man given to much grace, but somehow he found it for those incarcerated men of war. He understood what they could not because he realized they had been given little choice.

Looking back on my own, in comparison, short years on the planet, I realize how many mistakes I’ve made. Most often I’ve learned more from the bad than the good, if I’m being honest. And I suppose that’s okay. Perhaps one day my nieces will share the remains of a chocolate cake at my table and suddenly realize how important my stories are. Maybe not. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far into my thirties, it’s this; Much has been lived and much learned in the hearing of another person’s story. And the choice is up to me. I can listen. Or I can simply walk away. But to choose the latter is to neglect one of life’s greatest gifts; the richness of life not only lived, but shared. Shared across the span of generations. This is the art of legacy.