Back Porch Devotions in September

Wing-whir and squeak
Of the resident hummingbird.
Mr. with a band of white at neck and tail –
A collar and tennies. His four-spouted feeder,
He says,
Is three spouts too many.
Scritter and crunch of two squirrels.
Brothers. Frenemies.
Chasing each other for
Possession of one pecan among ten
Thousand, in figure eights around trunk
And limb-split. Siblings obviously.
Dove whoo. Shell pieces dead-fall
Onto the tin porch roof
As the siblings truce to tap open and eat
Pecan meat.
Silent things add their inhalations and
Exhalations to the glory chorus;
Butterflies catch the early sun-slant on orange
Wing and light on a taller zinnia.
Chipmunks hug the ground, never looking up,
Intent on the earth.
Silent, too, are birds in flight, a feather ruffle on landing.
But from their tree-y houses, though lip-less,
They opine with
Consonants and vowels:
Chee-chee
Screet-screet-screet
Kack-kack
Kitter-kitter-kitter
Caaaaw,
Answering one another
Impatiently, mothers with a work day ahead.
Cicadas trill on a sleepier key than they will
This evening. It’s early yet.
~

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Teacher, What Would You Rather Be?

What metaphors do you think of to illustrate a teacher’s job? I recently came to see my teacher-self as a doorkeeper.

A doorkeeper gives entrance, opens doors, to what lies inside. What lies inside is desirable, even splendid, enough that there is a door in front of it. All splendid objects lie behind doors. One does not wander in and handle a relic like produce at an open market. There’s a door. And there’s a keeper.

Students then are knockers. As such they must themselves knock and walk through the door. Whether they know to value what’s inside or not, they have to summon the courage to knock and the resolve to walk in and take up the values of those already inside. The keeper does not do any of this for them. Perhaps the keeper models by her very presence at the door the abiding preciousness of what is inside. But the keeper only opens. And then perhaps takes the knocker’s hand and says, “Look!” 

Maybe a doorkeeper does a little more than this. There is the word ‘overqualified,’ and perhaps an experienced teacher might be called overqualified to be a mere doorkeeper. But who better than a master of the treasures inside could so deftly make a door attractive? Who better than a friend of the owner could convince busy people, young or old, to pause and consider that what’s inside is worth their time? 

Have you ever made a list of desirable attributes in a doorkeeper? I haven’t. If I were hiring a doorkeeper, what adjectives would I look for? Alert. Eager. Sensitive. Unprejudiced. Listening. Glad. Strong. Passionate. Prompt. Expert. Active.  And attributes I would avoid in a doorkeeper? Pushy. Selective. Wheedling. Bribable. Arrogant. Lazy. Nonchalant. Unaware that though he is a keeper of this particular door, he is a knocker himself at many others. If I am applying to be a doorkeeper, this list is an interesting self-analysis. And if I want to be a teacher, a good teacher, then this list is a thought-provoking twist on the usual items on a resumé. *As an English teacher, I cannot help picturing, and laughing at, the bawdy, hungover doorkeeper in Macbeth 🙂 

This morning, I ran across this verse, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Psalm 84: 10.

 I would rather be a doorkeeper. 

Discussion Questions: (I would love to hear your thoughts!)

How, or would, you tweak this metaphor for elementary, middle, high school, college, or adult students? Special needs students?

As phrased above, the doorkeeper gives entrance, that is, the doorkeeper does not block entrance or select who enters. The job is opening, not guarding. Do you agree? Disagree?

Ponder the phrase from above: ‘ . . .and take up the values of those already inside.’ What are some of those universal values? Specific values? Unifying values?

What attributes would you add to the lists of desirable and undesirable doorkeeper qualities?

Explore the idea that every doorkeeper is also a knocker.

How broadly can this metaphor be stretched? Could it apply to anything from children’s Sunday school to workplace meetings to lectures and even to instructional writing?

Is a doorkeeper still necessary in this day of ‘everything at our fingertips’ internet access? If so, what exactly does a doorkeeper do that the knocker can’t do on his or her own?

Is there really a door? If so, what constitutes the door? How does this idea of a door resonate in our current era?

One Month ‘Til Wedding – Tips for My Friends

Abigail Grey Photography

We are in the home stretch toward our second daughter’s August 11 wedding and trying to keep it all in perspective and learning as we go. If you have daughters or sons and can benefit from this little reverie, good.

I am daily remembering to enjoy the process. Because. . .

Planning a wedding is an orchestra of art, economics, theology, relational dynamics, and Pinterest. I decided going in that I would roll with it and enjoy each of these facets individually.

Because I only have two daughters. I only get to do this twice.

And declare as I might that I will be frugal and that the budget is the budget and so on, there is really no getting around the basic seven or eight realms of a wedding.

Thus, I find myself managing all the realms like the CEO of a company, weighing options, one eye on the artistic vision, one eye on the bottom line, moving notecards around the design wall when suddenly out of nowhere I remember my wee daughter is about to become a WIFE for goodness sake. And I stand still for a second. Ah. These are the pains of childbirth Genesis foretells. They last as long as motherhood does.

She will call me on the way to her first big-girl, pre-wedding doctor’s appointment, and I’ll say, ‘Bless your heart, my child.’

As the CEO, wedding planning is like setting up a temporary company. Very important, very urgent, then very over. As one husband said to the giddy women in the aftermath, ‘I think people have moved on.’

If that beloved daughter wanted to get married in less than 8 months, I would tell her the truth: “I’m sorry, dear; it can’t be done.”

If two of my children want to get married within a short period, it can be done, but it’s way off the charts and only those with nerves of steel can manage it. (Sue? Donnette?)

I remind myself of the only point of all this preparation: a ceremony that glorifies the Lord Jesus, that centers on Him and the union of this man and this woman in Him. This simplifies and un-Pinterests the whole thing beautifully and bears writing large on the cover of the wedding planner. Which is a good gift idea for friends with daughters.

A second goal is that everyone in both extended families feels honored and thanked for coming. A wedding is all and only about the people, the families and dear friends and traveling guests and the pillars of local friends without whom the whole event absolutely would not happen.

And on that note, the process is so very humbling. I look at the RSVPs and think, Wow, you’re really going to drive all this way?  You’re really going to spend hours in church shoes, for us? Thank you! Here, have a canapé!

A second child’s wedding will be a little more expensive than the first child’s. This is not out of partiality but out of fatigue. The jet-lag is still fresh on my mind from wedding one, so this time around I know to hire it done. I can’t do it again. I don’t feel guilty. The first child will understand sooner or later.

And in so doing, I will meet people like the incomparable Judy Pitts of Top of the Town who, with a few tweaks and suggestions, turned a floundering mother of the bride into someone who felt like she had a handle on things. And turned a detailed planning meeting into spiritual encouragement. And advised peanut butter sandwiches for the children. A master of her trade.

I have learned, too, that starting at about 3.5 months out, I will need to do something every day. Big or little. Put the hotel info on the wedding web page, or buy Spanx and break them in, every single day must be some degree of forward motion toward The Date.

Because The Date functions as a little BC/AD on the family calendar. It divides time like a cleaver. For several months before The Date, a thousand home-improvement projects, from obscure to stains-on-the-ceiling, are hit and accomplished with vigor, and the Pinterest dreams are grand. And then there comes this critical tipping point at which they are all seived through the practicality sifter. Completion looks doubtful. Then the operative phrase becomes, “Ok, that will have to be after the wedding.” And progressively the project list dwindles to a reasonable goal of sweeping the back porch.

The list of the big 7 or 8 realms mentioned above? I say ‘realms’ because each has its own bubble diagram of lists, decisions, choices: Date. Venue(s). Invitations. RSVP method. Dress. Color Scheme. Wedding Party. Wedding Party Apparel. Director (you canNOT do this yourself, seriously, you think you can, but you can’t). Music and Musicians. Flowers. Photographer. Program. Reception menu. Reception Decor. DJ or Band. Playlist (no bad words, and include some awesome 80s dance tunes). Cakes. Cake Topper (not important to everyone but definitive for me). Hair decisions/Appointments. Hostess gifts. Hotel and lodging for travelers. People’s Needs and Feelings. A Thousand Odds and Ends. This is just a quick sampler. So maybe it’s not 7, or 8, but 78.

And like the five points of Calvinism, these are all interdependent; individual parts cannot be plucked out and discarded. One depends on the other which defines the next. It’s a system of all or nothing.

It is irreducible complexity. And even here in the home stretch, awash in to-do lists, it is totally worth it.
~

 

Freely Rejoicing In Your List – One Woman’s Journey

Home from Walmart
Laden and bagged.
Paper work I had
Asked Andrew to take to the
Church sat forgotten on the
Kitchen table.
Same instant, snap!
I realized I had
Forgotten to buy trash bags
He had asked for.
A wry little moment as forgettable
As the paper work and trash bags
Themselves. But, I thought:
‘Wait, this is deep!
His list was not my list,
And my list
Was not his.’ Couldn’t be.
Extrapolate.
Lists are the just the
Endnotes to the soul’s
Manifesto; they are as distant as
Capillaries from the heart, as
Chores thrice removed from
The great goal.
Revealing, though.
And we each possess our very own.
What a personal God we serve!
I don’t write your list or
Calibrate your
Passion.
Humbling, that. Instead,
Freely, I can
Rejoice in
Your list.
What peace will
Break out then!

‘I Could Never Do Airbnb’

The reservation said six gentlemen from
Hong Kong. Quiet, we expected,
Deferential, polite.
So many hahahahahas on us!

Two cars disgorged five smoking,
Frolicking, selfie-snapping,
Columbian college students ‘touring.’
Except that they never left our house,
But for the need for smokes and the occasional
Bag of chips.
They sang – off key, with abandon and
Feeling.
The boys were edgy and quiet.
The spokeswoman – the only one with any English –
Spanned the culture and language
Gap with thank yous and
‘I’m sorry for the cigarette butts in the fern garden,’
And ‘do you have a screwdriver, a tiny one, to take
Apart a phone for an electronics project?’
If we had a ticker on the front door to tally
How often it opened and closed,
Into the wee hours,
It would
Malfunction from
Overuse.

Columbians live in the front yard.
Unlike Americans.
City action is on the street.
They stand out by the cars and laugh and take
Cell-phone videos while
Climbing the Dogwood and
Share the images to their RapidoGram Stories.
They sing and talk and laugh, and we’re not sure
Why they chose to come here. Little here, our house,
In a quiet neighborhood not used to
Bogota, Columbia, South America
In the front yard and the comings and goings
Of their second car backed in and parked
Nose-out behind the first car.
Snatches of telenovelas colombianas,
Soaps in Spanish melodrama,
Ached through the cigarette smoke,
Outside the bathroom window as I
Showered for church.
It was a regular
Freakshow.

Until the spokeswoman hugged me,
Got her flowery perfume all over me,
And thanked me.  Said she
Felt so welcome here, slept so
Soundly here. And
I am
Dust-humbled and
Glad, so glad.

Kate From Sheboygan

 

I love throwing around the word ‘Sheboygan’ as if I am intimately familiar with the Wisconsin city. I’m not; Sheboygan brings no connotations to my mind whatsoever.

Until a few months ago.

I did not go to Sheboygan. Sheboygan came south in the form of a delightful 25 year old millennial named Kate, who came with her boyfriend Kyle to stay in our Airbnb room on the southern lap of their hit-all-50 bucket list.

Kate and her boyfriend are scientists. Odds were that, as an English teacher who has lived south of the Mason-Dixon her whole life, I would have few connecting points with two scientists from Sheboygan. Wrong!

Let me describe Kate: engaged! She was a reminder of how rich this life is and to hang on to that. Her bucket list includes skydiving and Nashville. She kayaks and hikes and Cricuts and loves children and is the perfect balance to her quiet companion who is more what I had envisioned a Sheboyganite to be like. And yes, their accents were hard core. Mwahkee; Grammuh (your mother’s mother).

She was not afraid to invite us to our own back porch to talk. Most Airbnbers are properly reserved and that’s as it should be. But, oh, the refreshing one who breaks through and says, “Come visit!” That freedom doesn’t just come from youth. It comes from the heart of a person who doesn’t fear judgment because she herself is not judgmental. She takes in life with pleasure as it comes to her.

Thank you, Kate, for reminding me that God has no end of ideas when forming our personalities; that He had a great time making you; and that He blesses this big world with your warmth.

#iheartsheboygan

PS. Kyle, seriously about the wedding invitation. Kate’s one of a kind; don’t let her get away!

Real Women Ski Uphill And Other Michigan Moments

When you cannot sew a quilt, you write a quilt; you sew with words. So I will write a quilt of 2000 miles and Michigan moments.

* Robin’s Egg Blue and Lavender 9 Patch Block. The Au Sable Cross Country Ski Trail in the morning. Ice, water, and trees made a pastel glow and the Lord and I talked as I skied. The first wipe out of the day, I heard my body say to its component members, “Oh, we’re doing this again, are we?”

* Crimson Bear’s Paw Block. We started the fourth mile of the trail and I concluded that I have 3 miles in me at a time. The huge paw print in the snow had to be a hangry bear. By God’s grace, trails do end and we regained the car, heaving, and snacked on apples that were the best apples we’ve ever had.

*Meyer Lemon and Olive Green Pinwheel Block. What color is youth? A group from Earlham College spread an enormous cooler full of picnic in front of the fireplace in the Stone Turtle Lodge and snapped, scrolled, laughed, and ate. Remind me to tell Will Sieg about the brilliant girl in the so-cool headband who spread peanut butter and Nutella on a flour tortilla!

*Granite and Pitch Rail Fence Block. Wet, pot-holed roads in hard-working towns between the lovely lakes and woods.

*Silver Silk and Pearl Batik Half-Square Triangle Block. Rolling Hills Trail in the sparkling cold afternoon. Emily Dickinson wrote of that ‘certain slant of light’ on winter afternoons. Yes. Yes, indeed. Spliced with tree trunks, the slant of light lit the snow and inspired us to crouch and go down the hills with poles tucked back like Olympians.

*Solid White Block, ‘062588’ embroidered in white thread in Bodoni 72 Smallcaps Font.

*Desert Camo, Denim, Sandpaper, and Pleather 9 Patch Block. What our car looks like inside and out.

*Muslin and Orange Calico Flying Geese Block. Goodale Bakery in Grayling, MI. ‘Pasties’ are beef stew in pastry pockets that warm the gizzards. Those and a 50 cent bag of popcorn got us through the afternoon. It’s good I don’t live here. The only way to take on Old Man Winter is to stay inside and eat.

*Sunflower Barn Art Block. Sally at Spike’s Keg O’Nails Restaurant. I called Donalyn ‘incomparable,’ but Sally compares. Genuine warmth and interest overflowed from Sally as she extolled her hometown and gave helpful advice. We laughed at her honest comment that cross-country skiing was not her cup of tea because, “I mean, I’m walking and walking and walking and not getting anywhere!” All said in that North Mitten accent.

*Sherbert and Wine Log Cabin Block in Amish Solids. Oh, the 9 Oaks Inn. What we owe you! Our nook in the cold. Gas heat and hot water at crucially needed times. And to Bryan – stepping in for the motel’s owners who were sitting pretty in Bradenton, Florida – our thanks. Bryan anticipated a desk job, dealing with working men who wouldn’t need much from him beyond a towel and an ash tray. How could he foresee that the septic tank would back up and the lights would go out and the generator would be frozen and crotchety all in one night? Our hearts bled for Bryan as we heard him out there in the bitter cold with his band-aided fingers whanging some part of the motel generators with a 2-foot crescent wrench, using choice words, and talking on the phone to Bradenton. Little did he know that Andrew was praying against his success because the generators were one thin pane of glass away from our lair and you know they are loud. The fact that Michigan Power and Light got the electricity on fairly quickly takes nothing away from Bryan’s heroics. As we left, I gave him a candle and love from Alabama. (His band-aided fingers are another story altogether.)

*Traditional Fan Block, Indigo Blue fanbase, Spokes of varied white hues – eggshell, bone, vanilla, smoke – on a Background of Daffodil yellow batik. Detroit. Breakfast with Jay and Lydia and the view out their back windows; Redeemer Midtown Presbyterian Church and their call to be the love of Christ to Detroit; sunshine in February on detailed downtown architecture; a Lebanese lunch at Al Ameer where the meat is better than candy; people of every variety; and three little girls playing in their front yard on a blighted street. The width of these experiences compelled us to think about what we are called to do and be in this world. One thing is sure: we cannot coast through this life. Don’t you love a life that is bigger than this world?

                                               

      

                                       

*And then the random crazy block of moments like us stove-up and Andrew referring to cross-country skiing as ‘you know what.’
Or when Michiganders referred to ‘up north.’ Any more north than this and, surely, you have crossed the pole and are headed back south?!
Or the directions including take a ‘Michigan left.’ No joke. That is a thing.
Or the interesting plastic pan in our motel room that was clearly an important amenity and was a mystery to us. Sled? Serving tray? Ahhh, snowy boot holder! Who knew?

Or walking on water! We had never walked on a frozen lake before.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow! We are humbled with gratitude for this trip and this glorious and fallen and beloved world.