Old stories new again

A new mom, just a year or so into all of the territory I had never walked before.  A tired mom.  Tired from tending to every detail, from wanting to do things just right, from learning to listen to my mom-gut that sometimes overrides the just-right.  It was a winter night, and I tucked that Maggie into her crib, her blankets just so, covering her pink-jammied self.  I said good night and turned to leave the room.

“Mommy?” she called as I was just making my way into a chair of quiet.

I turned and went right back into her room, probably stomping in some form or another.  “Yes?” I say, irritation audible in my voice.

She said something through the barrier of her pacifier.

“What?” I asked, clear annoyance spilling into my tone.

She said it again, looking up at me, eyelashes batting, finger tapping her cheek.

I reached down and grabbed hold of the passy, yanking it out of her mouth.  “What?” I repeat, punctuating the T emphatically.  Frustration drove my bus.  It was past bedtime.  I was so ready to be done for the day.

Very calmly, little articulate Maggie repeats herself without the hindrance of her pacifier, “I need some pink stuff for my cheekies.”

In the cold, damp months of winter, little faces get red and chapped.  We always put a pink, emollient solution on her rounded cheeks.  Nighttime application provided lots of stillness to let the skin heal.  That night, I forgot.  She didn’t.

At the softness of her words, the gentleness of her request, the purity of her non-clock-keeping self, I was undone.  My defenses down, and my heart put back into order in a two second interchange, tears stung my eyes.

That sacred moment beside Maggie’s crib has hovered into my thoughts so many times over the years.  I shared it again with all of the kids just the other day.  20 years later, we term it #momfail.  The ache of missing the point, of hurrying too fast, I relive it in each telling and each remembrance.  Somehow, the holiness of it all teaches across time.  The grace to redo, to stop, to look into a face and listen.

Aidan loves the story so much that he works the request into the conversation several times a day.  In reading Odysseus’s tale, he repeats back to me two or three details of the story and somehow incorporates that Odysseus or Penelope or one of the wooers needs pink stuff for their cheekies.  When Journey the dog is having a hard time because she wants to play, he tells me that she must need pink stuff for her cheekies.  Every time, he speaks in his best Maggie toddler voice impression.

When I’m most frustrated that he is so 13-years old, so distractible and loud and busy, he says, “Mom? Mom?  I need some pink stuff for my cheekies.”  He taps his cheek and ensures that I look him in the face.

I’m undone all over again.  Several times a day.  I remember, and I don’t want to hurry.  Lord, please help me not to miss the point.

 

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The skin of elephants and the Alligator Lady

I asked God the other day why I couldn’t have and didn’t have thicker skin.  My eyes roamed the room as the ache of my own frustrating ways sat on my chest.  A book, The Spirit of the Elephant, caught my attention.  John got that book for me, because he’s good and he knows of my affinity for elephants.   It’s a beautiful coffee table piece full of photos and words about elephants.  Elephants have thick skin.

As I thought about the spirit of the elephant and that kind of pachydermal covering, something came back to me that I had not thought of in years.  Now I can hardly stop thinking of it.

County fairs marked the summer calendar as a highlight.  For a least three summers, the highlight was punctuated by being able to attend a different fair in another Kentucky town.  High school classmates of my parents had a daughter between my and my brother’s ages, and we often traveled the hour and a half or so to visit them in their bigger small town. We loved it, and we especially loved it during county fair time.

Their fair offered more sights and more culture.  A horse show and a double Ferris Wheel stand out in my memory as two main larger attractions.  It was a classy deal, I thought, an up-grade.  Our parents would send us along with no fear and a spending limit and a designated hour to meet them.  We would set out on grassy pathways to explore and make good use of our time and money.

The sign said “Alligator Lady.”  We saw it and walked past.  We returned to it later, out of curiosity, out of a daring sense of adventure.  We agreed to go in.  I gave up a bit of my carnival cash, and someone opened the curtain.

Once inside, the curtain drawn again, the noise of the fair muffled.  The familiar fragrance of summer humidity laden with midway-sweet shifted to a still, stale strange.  I was face to face with a woman in a green bikini, which exposed as much of her scaled skin as dignity, the irony, would allow.  She sat behind a table, her arms resting on it so people could touch her skin.  I lifted my eyes to meet her own blue ones set inside her rough-skinned face.  I quickly looked away.  Her gaze was far away and sad, yet penetrating, soul-searching.  I reached out my hand to touch her arm; it was what I had paid for, after all.  I felt terribly uncomfortable, and, though I didn’t have the words for it then, I felt like I had violated her.  We turned to leave the stuffy room, and we walked right back out into the clanging chime-y of the carousel and the squeals and laughter of the whole fair population.  We left her sitting in her seat, waiting for another paying customer to behold the Alligator Lady.

Reliving that night at the fair, I was both in my office and transported right beside that lady again.  Her in her green bikini, her skin rough and thick, scaly and abnormal.  Me, the young girl who paid to see her.  I remembered the feeling of objectifying a person, the feeling that my small world now held the knowledge of something larger and unexplainable and hard to stomach.

As I saw it all play out again, my perspective shifted.  I prayed for the woman at the fair, for others like her, for myself and others like me.  I marveled at her courage, and I prayed that her story wasn’t as sad as I had felt it in those moments with her–a lady, another human, housed in different skin.

“Recent research suggests that elephants have a wider range of cognitive capabilities than realized previously.  Their understanding and sensitivity will only be fully appreciated if we can, in turn, apply greater understanding and sensitivity to our associations with them and pursue an open-minded research into the lives of these amazing animals, and fight more strongly on their behalf.”  pg. 250*

Perhaps it would do us good to practice saying thank you.

God, thank you that you gave me life and breath.  Thank you for the ways in which I process and take in the world.  Thank you for the gift of adversity, whether you hand it to me or simply allow it because you know it will be a grace in the end.  Thank you for the gift of other humans, the ones we love and the ones we find it difficult to love.  Thank you for teaching us to see people, for in truly seeing them, we can apply greater understanding and sensitivity to our associations with them and fight more strongly on their behalf.  Thank you, God, for my skin.

*The Spirit of the Elephant, Majestic Giant of the Animal Kingdom, by Gill Davies

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Gallibantin’

Originally posted on moving honestly:

Only one grandfather graced my childhood.  I never knew my dad’s dad, but my mom’s dad, everyone knew him.  He was hard not to know, and even as a kid, I wasn’t sure what to think of his renown.  A character, some would say.  Quietly proud of him, quietly a bit scared for his inner life and his eternal destiny.  As a child, I labored much in prayer for him.  And I absorbed different flavors of holy hanging out with him.

Up until my double digits, it was not uncommon for my brother and me to spend a night at Granny and Daddy Hob’s house on the weekends.  Farm land and left-over farm stuff–two barns, a smokehouse, and what became a shed of sorts–sat at the lower end of the property, sloping at the far edges to the fishing lake.  We played for hours in and around the buildings, soaking up the…

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Gallibantin’

Only one grandfather graced my childhood.  I never knew my dad’s dad, but my mom’s dad, everyone knew him.  He was hard not to know, and even as a kid, I wasn’t sure what to think of his renown.  A character, some would say.  Quietly proud of him, quietly a bit scared for his inner life and his eternal destiny.  As a child, I labored much in prayer for him.  And I absorbed different flavors of holy hanging out with him.

Up until my double digits, it was not uncommon for my brother and me to spend a night at Granny and Daddy Hob’s house on the weekends.  Farm land and left-over farm stuff–two barns, a smokehouse, and what became a shed of sorts–sat at the lower end of the property, sloping at the far edges to the fishing lake.  We played for hours in and around the buildings, soaking up the greasy tractor and old hay smells, tinkering with rusty tools and skipping flat stones across the surface of the water.  Granny called us in for lunch or supper, and Daddy Hob came in through the back door, hung his hat on the hooks by the basement door, and washed up with Lava soap in the porch sink.

Many times, my brother and I shared our stays with any and all nearby cousins.  After supper and an episode of The Walton’s or Little House on the Prairie, we all lighted on a bed or the couch or the floor in a sleeping bag.  The clock over the television tick-tocked in a certain Granny-and-Daddy-Hob’s-house kind of way, lulling us to sleep eventually.  The next morning, always a Sunday, meant gallivanting.  Must get sleep.

At the earliest, in that crisp and damp time of the morning, when the dew stuck to our tennis shoes, we grabbed the handle to Daddy Hob’s truck and slid across the bench seat.  The lucky ones reached for the tailgate and flung themselves into the kind of dust that only lives in the back of pick-up’s.  He cranked the engine, and off we went to do what you do when you go gallibantin’.

First stop, the Minute Mart. Daddy Hob let us pick out one candy. He laughed and talked to Paul and Vivian and whoever else was stopping on their way to church or not to church. I worried for us all, skipping church and everything.  But it never bothered my grandfather, or any of my cousins.

Treats in hand, we loaded up again.  The wind blew our hair all the through town, across the railroad bridge, and to the farm gate.  The truck lumbered over hills and across creek beds, the wind more gentle now and mingling with swirls of unfiltered tobacco smoke.  We all laughed as we jostled when Daddy Hob hit some bumps in the field.  The rearview mirror showed his blue eyes lost in a mischievous grin.

Daddy Hob called his cows by honking his horn in a certain pattern, very unlike my dad and his technique.  Funny, the cows came to his truck the same as Dad’s cows came to his truck, no matter that he called them in such a fashion.  He counted, just like Dad, and he checked the salt blocks and the feed bins.  We helped as we could or as he let us.  But mostly we just were there in the great wide open, counting cows and eating completely unapproved foods and laughing and listening and being bathed in spring sunbeams skipping through the tree limbs.

The morning waned.  We had been gone for hours, we thought.  Soon our parents came, school the next day.  A Sunday gone and no church.  Not the regular kind anyway.

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Grace for the road

Perfection is not obtainable.  We know this, intellectually.  Or maybe we don’t.

Maybe it is reachable in a category.  Say, cooking or baking.  A perfect culinary creation, a cake made by a master chef.  Or in a sports field.  Figure skaters and gymnasts can achieve perfect 10’s.  The SAT and ACT, perfect scores have been recorded.  Or the one time a scientific experiment led to the discovery of something that changed history, is that not a perfect equation?

But what about everyday stuff.  Relationships, words, conversations, parenting, jobs, school, learning.  Learning.

Or what about raising a dog?  It can be like raising a child sometimes.  And we want well-behaved children and well-behaved pets.  Honestly, it is hard to say that we don’t want some level of perfection from kids, dogs, ourselves, our parents, our neighbors, our pastors, our schools, our bosses, our co-workers, the clerk at the store, the postal service.  Have I left something out?  I mean, we can say that we don’t really want that, and I think it is true.  How boring and Stepford-like to have perfect all of these things.

When the poop hits the fan and goes flying on any of these (church, family, schools, jobs, etc.), when the reality of our blessed humanity feels so blasted real, oy vey.  Tell me then that we wouldn’t like a little perfection.

You see the precarious nature of the concept.  Perfection is not a realistic goal, and yet our culture breeds the need for it in many arenas.  The church is, I’m afraid, a great instigator in this quandary.

In my personal and internal life, it keeps cropping up.  I have few answers.  No answer seems to wrap anything up neatly.  The only reasonable response  is what my friend, Libby, used to utter repeatedly when we would pray together some years back.  “Grace and mercy, Lord.  Thank you for your grace and your mercies,” she prayed.  Grace for me and for you.  Mercy for me and for you.  If I can receive it, I think it follows that I can also give it.

I would like to say that every part of me is cured of a desire for perfection, for pleasing people.  More honestly, I would like to say that I’ve ceased caring what other people think of me, or my children or my dog.  As gross as it is, that is what sits at the bottom of it:  people-pleasing and poor self-worth.  It is a graceless and merciless way to live.  It would be nice to say I’m completely through with that manner of living.

We don’t arrive today.  It is a long road.  We have questions* along the way.  I pray you’ll help me up when I fumble, when I miss it, when I don’t hit the target in the center.  And when you’re not perfect, I will help you remember, as I remind myself, that perfection is not the goal for us.

 

*I spent some time over the weekend with our friend, Rusty Gates, over on Audio Liturgy Podcast.  We spent some time talking about journeying with questions and grace and wonder and imperfection.  

 

 

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