Fans and no fans

The box fan propped inside the kitchen window hums behind me.  I’m outside, because at least out here, a breeze has begun to blow.  It’s hot.  Not like hazy, hot, and humid hot, but still hot.  Like the kind of stifling heat of my freshman dorm room.  My roommate brought a powerful floor fan, and we kept it cranked up.  It helped only at little in the air-conditionless dormitory.  The big white house in Campbellsburg was likewise old and minus an air-conditioner, so it was plus a metal box fan, a few plastic ones, and the attic fan.  Something about the familiar whir of a good ol’ plugged-in, 1-2-3-knobbed fan whistles a nonconformist tune, open and simple.

My brother and I used to sit in front of the fan and talk, laughing at our own antics.  A few years before “Luuuukke, I amm yourrrr faaaaa-ther,” we threw our voices into the spinning paddles and relished the results.  Sometimes, we carried on a ridiculous conversation.  Other times, a long and drawn out “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh” would suffice.  Dual purpose:  entertaining and cooling.

At night, if the setting was on low, I could hear the crickets and cicadas singing through.  The lullaby of the simple machine accompanying the insect song hovered over the sleep of the sun-kissed and play-worn.  The dawn let the temperatures drop to that dewy morning cool, the air pressed the motor and the paddles a little harder, and I snuggled a little deeper under the covers.

At some point, we moved to a house with central air.  Rarely did the windows have the same usage, and the box fans went by the wayside.  Outside of freshman and sophomore years in Lexington, fans were a relic of my way back past.

I’m sitting outside, at our home in Colorado, miles and years away from my childhood and college.  The chatter from my son’s television show pours through the open windows.  My husband’s glass clanged as he set it on the countertop.  No loud voices–happy ones or frustrated ones–spilling out of our house would be kept from earshot of the mom who just walked past with her little boy.  My neighbor watered her flowers and invited Journey the dog over the play with Oliver the dog.  Because we don’t have air-conditioning, because we went outside to feel the littlest offering of  the wind.

The fan in the window drones steadily. Night is coming.  The welcome coolness of the dawn will be a while.  



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Retrospective Grace

My Ford Escort sat ready, packed up and full gas tank.  A week or so after high school graduation, the next obvious move was to leave home for the summer.  It was one step closer to freshman year of college and the beginning of adulthood.  Except I didn’t know anything.

The summer proved how little I knew, how arrogant I was, how terribly small I really felt inside.  I tried new kinds of clothes, makeup like in the advertisements.  Dishonesty and pride wear about as well, and are as obviously false.  I left my summer job while it was still summer.

When the heat of summer began to fade into fall, my parents took me to Jewel Hall at the University of Kentucky.  While they parked the car, the story goes that I dropped my blue jean Gap duffle bag down near the front desk of the lobby, looked around and said to no one in particular, “Where do I put my shit?”  (I don’t remember that exactly, though I know my friend would not lie.)  A kind and gracious someone must have heard me and, without chiding me at all nor turning me over a knee for the darn good spanking that I deserved, offered me the check-in information I needed to be able to locate where I should put my sh-stuff.

Mom made her way back inside and helped me get settled, and she left me there.  She let me go.  I didn’t know anything.  Still.

What I really didn’t know, until just a month or so ago, was all manner of things my mother must have felt but never said.  I don’t know them now because she’s since told me.  I know them because I’m there.

On paper, being a mom means certain things.  Like, one day, it’s your job to watch from the door of the nest and wave happily as your little-now-big kid spreads out their full wingspan and flies out over the watercolored horizon.  And on paper, you revel in the glory of it all.  On paper, you cry a little tear on this page, but on the next page, your job is done.  I know Mom tried to tell me, without as many words, which is more her way.

On paper, it is easy to know a lot of things, to say a lot of things.  But you don’t know how small a fraction the paper weighs in actuality.

I’m sorry for hiding behind words and appearance, for the conceit of massive insecurity.  I’m terribly sorry for thinking I really didn’t need anyone in authority, as if somehow I had acquired all of the knowledge on my own, all of the knowledge I would ever need.  For believing that previous generations were out of touch, for cutting myself off from the blessing of hearing what I could learn from the roads they had traveled–I repent.

And for having a potty mouth, when I could have deferred out of kindness to those around me. I’m sorry.

I guess this is how we come to learn anything at all.  We live.  Then we walk around in shoes that once belonged to someone else, someone wiser and more learned.  Those wiser ones wait with kindness, and they offer grace for when we didn’t know.


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Little lights shining

Just a little bit before Sunday School hour, we gathered in one of the classrooms to sing.  All of the age groups, whomever arrived to participate, huddled next to the upright piano which carried a tune in a specific old, upright way.  Aunt Betty sat on the spinning stool and situated herself.  Her reading glasses hung around her neck, and she reached to put them on with one hand.  Then she played all of the songs that I don’t ever remember learning, we just knew them.

Only a boy named David.  And we slung that one little stone round and round and round and round till the giant came tumbling down.  Deep and wide, deep and wide.  The fountain flowed to our motions.  We sang about our own story, about our own involvement in God’s greater narrative.  We were numbered among all the little children of the world.  Jesus loved, we love.  We had a little light.

I put my pointer finger up, small though it was, and let my little light shine.  No hiding it under a bushel, and no letting Satan blow it out–I’m gonna let it shine.  We always sang, “Shine it all over Campbellsburg, I’m gonna let it shine!” Campbellsburg was about as big a world as I knew, and I imagined that little light going all over my world.  A charge I had to keep.

I imagined all the little children of the world–red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.  I didn’t know very many other children who looked that much different than my Caucasian self, but I tried to imagine all of them, so many different children, all over the rest of the bigger world, outside of my small world.  If Jesus loved them, maybe they had little lights, too, shining all over their communities.  I tried to grasp it, as much as I could reach in my young mind, how many children Jesus loved.  Maybe that is where it started, wrestling with the vastness of the world.

Years ago, I moved past the borders of my hometown.  Bit by bit, year by year, God has stretched me past the edges of my comfort zone.  I have bumped into people from all kinds of geographies and people groups, people in all manner of seasons and stages of life, people with varying beliefs and values.

Missionaries in our family opened the culture of Botswana to us, expanding our view past facts and photos from National Geographic.  When we lived in Appalachia, the secretary at the small school our kids attended spoke four languages.  She shared with me the perspectives she had gained on war, because she grew up in a part of Europe that endured great devastation from both World Wars.  Her story gave flesh to history I had only read in books, flesh that challenged me.  My husband traveled to Peru, and he returned to share experiences that changed him and thus changed the fabric of our family life.  My friend, Reegan, opened my eyes to the reality of modern day slavery.  I have never been the same.  We currently live in an area where, when I visit the Post Office, I may hear three or four other languages from the folks in line.  Only weeks ago, I sat at my own kitchen table with a young woman who lives in Slovakia; we shared a meal, and she told me how she came to know the love of Jesus in spite of living in a predominantly atheistic region.  A man from Haiti (also fluent in four languages) spoke some words of deep encouragement to my son this past week.  I found out on Saturday that we have neighbors from Kyrgyzstan.

I’m holding my little light up, along with all of the children of the world.  It seems small, insignificant really.  But I can shine it in my home, in the worlds of my children, on their struggles.  I can put it with my 76-year old neighbor’s little light, and we can make a brighter glow.  I will hold it up to my young friend who wants desperately to know that she is of value.  Jesus loves.  I want to love like that.

Sometimes, with tangible awareness, I see and experience all over again how and when a piece of foundational stone was placed under my feet, a long time ago when my feet were very small.  Aunt Betty and Minnie and Sue, thank you for pressing your fingers into that old piano and singing truth over me.  It mattered that you let your light shine, that you loved the little children of the world.




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Rain falls on everyone

It’s 5:00 p.m.  I’m watching the rain water fall on the leaves of the hollyhocks.  The sky darkened a few minutes ago and forced me to turn on a light in the kitchen, as if somehow nighttime descended already.  The sirens sounded warning, and all of the people in our house made way to the basement.  Before I sat down, I stood at the sliding glass door, watching the sky and listening, eyeing the waterfowl for clues from them about any impending danger.

All at once, I was little, standing inside my grandparents’ back porch, nose pressed against rain-dropped glass, watching my grandfather on the stoop.  He smoked a cigarette and scanned the horizon, listening and waiting.  I saw him spit, like men do, like farmers do.  When he came back in, I told him that spitting was not polite.  He didn’t answer me.  Tornados had been forecasted, and we waited for them with my grandparents.  I don’t remember anything else about that evening.

I woke up the next day to the sound of my mom changing a load of laundry.  I saw her feet from my spot on the concrete basement floor.  The tornado had indeed swept through our little town, obliterating all of Main Street.  I had missed the whole thing, including the part where my parents carried my sleeping self from my grandparents’ cellar to the car and into our house.

The rest of what I know from that historic event comes from the aerial photos that lined the back walls of James’ Java Shop.  Over the years, people talked about the buildings and businesses the way they were before the storm.  I collected and borrowed memories from other people to fill in the blanks.  I only have one specific polaroid to call my own.  The image of my grandfather–clad in his Big Ben brand blue farming pants and shirt, smoking a cigarette and watching the skies, spitting.

The all-clear signals just sounded.  My Facebook feed lets me know that other areas around us got pelted with hail and torrential rains.  Water swelled in the streets in parts of Denver.  Hurrying and scurrying to stop the water from damaging a basement there. No danger here.  Here, the geese go on as usual, and the hollyhock leaves are stilled.  Life shifts, in a few moments.  Even with the warning and watching the skies, taking shelter and spitting, it happens.  Sometimes here, sometimes there.  Just like that.



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belonging with grace and peace

Dad leaned over and half-whispered, half-grumbled, “I hate this part.”  The greeting time.  He hated it, though hate is a strong word.  He had belonged to that congregation since near the beginning of time, I think.  He certainly knew everyone.  Even if they were a first-time guest, he knew someone who knew them somehow.  Week after week, he would turn to me and shake my hand first, whisper his protest, then turn to the rest of the nearby back row occupants.

It is what we do in church, take a moment to say hello those around us.  I don’t have an affinity for the greeting part of the liturgy either.  Pass the grace and peace of Christ.  It’s beneficial and right.  It’s also clunky and obligatory.  When they call us back together, relief.  Not again till next week.  I’m with you, Dad.

Maybe it’s the introvert in me, the part of me that wants to belong and belong quietly, by myself.  Maybe not everyone shares my dad’s sentiments, or mine.

The difficulty in belonging anywhere (and I think we all want to belong somewhere to something) is that we can’t be a part alone.  It requires giving of self in some capacity–whether shaking the hand of someone you don’t know, or introducing yourself to someone you are afraid won’t like you, or passing grace and peace to someone you would rather not know.  Unless we just want only to be a part of churches and other congregations of sorts where everyone looks exactly like us, where all of the people vote the same, think the same, read the same.  Which, kind of, we do.  But that isn’t one body with many parts and functions.  That’s a bunch of hands gathered in one place doing only hand tasks, succeeding in the hand category.  That isn’t belonging so much as it is segregating and dividing.

I think a lot about sitting in the back row with my dad and the practice of greeting.  Maybe Dad didn’t like it because he already did belong.  This was his tribe, his people.  The ones who voted Republican even though he voted Democrat, the ones who loved the apostle Paul even though he thought Paul was full of himself, the ones who thought he was a subpar businessman and the ones who knew he meant well anyway.  Oh, it wasn’t a perfect gathering, but they belonged to one another just the same.  And Dad had already greeted them on the road, in the coffee shop, at the gas station, at the bank, at the drugstore.

Maybe I struggle because I don’t know if I belong or where I belong or if I can give myself to a place of belonging at all.  It certainly appeals more to try and find a space or group of people more like me, who do read and think the same and talk the same and on and on.  But is that what the Kingdom of God is like?  We all belong, because we are all one big, happy homogenous family?

It’s the time in the service where we take a few minutes to greet those around us with the grace and peace of Christ.  If I want to belong anywhere at all ever, like I used to belong there on the one pew of that little church, then I must step into the awkward and extend a hand.  Grace and peace.  I am going to give it from the depths of myself, and I’m going to receive it in return.



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