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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Open house

The astronauts all got hung, the hall looked great, and my room was presentable, even though I walked away and left it all undone last night. All day I had extra help - from moms of past and present students to a student teaching intern to some 5th grade girls. I never could have done it alone!

I'm ready for bed, so I'll just share this one thing tonight.

Somebody asked me tonight the difference between meet the teacher night and open house. I would have to say that the difference is apparent in the greeting - shaking hands with strangers versus hugging good friends.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Granny's Quilt

Last night as I was tossing the quilt onto Katie's bed, old memories came flooding back. The quilt is a patchwork pattern called "SunBonnet Sue." Each doll is made from scraps of clothes Granny had left over from dresses she sewed for herself and for her daughters. I have had the quilt for as long as I can remember. It traveled with me through more moves than I have fingers to count.

Granny Box owned a modern sewing machine. It was a portable machine, in a beautiful case. It lived under her bed. I can't remember ever seeing it out of the case. Not one time. Granny also owned an old treadle machine. Most of my memories of her involve that old sewing machine. I would go stay with her sometimes during the summer. Her back was hunched, and her hands gnarled. Yet, she sat for hours at that old machine. The whir and clack of the machine lulled me to sleep many nights as she worked by lamplight in her bedroom.

Granny raised 6 children in hard times. Her husband was disabled, leaving her to provide an income for the family. She and the kids picked cotton to put food on the table. In season, they traveled to California with extended family to pick in the orchards. It was a hard life, much of it living as sharecroppers. With little money for luxuries such as store bought dresses, Granny became an expert seamstress. She made masterpiece artwork quilts for her beds, designed and stitched exquisite dresses for her girls, and practically clothed the boys - all from that treadle sewing machine.

By the time I came along, the years of hard work and the onset of severe arthritis made her hand twisted, gnarled, worn, and wrinkled. I vaguely remember her working as a receptionist in a hospital when I was a tiny girl, a huge step up in life after all those hard years in the fields. Granny's tall, slender frame was stooped and bent. She still rolled her short gray hair in pincurls on Saturday night to look good for church.

Her hard life was apparent in her lifestyle. When she passed away and we sorted through her things we discovered that she had saved all of her bread ties. Bread sacks were carefully washed and folded in drawers, and clothes given to her as birthday gifts - with tags attached - filled her closet. Why wear new clothes if the old ones were not worn completely out?

But back to the sewing machine. One summer, a particularly hot and dry summer, I spent a week or two with her in Piggot, Arkansas. I was totally engrossed in my Barbie dolls, as well as Little House on the Prairie (stop laughing). I wanted to pretend 1800's with my dolls, but they had no suitable clothes. Granny Box took this on as an exciting project. She threw open cedar chests, dug through piles of scraps left from formal gowns she had stitched for dances a lifetime ago, and went to work creating a new wardrobe for Barbie. She showed me how to sew, and we worked together to create a tiny patchwork quilt for my dolls. I picked out laces and ribbon to adorn the elegant gowns for my dolls. When we were finished, I thought I had hit the jackpot.

What I understand now as an adult is that every pump of that treadle sewing machine, every winding by hand of the bobbin, every stitch made with her gnarled hands brought her pain. Yet she never complained, and was excited to be able to demonstrate love. I learned to love sewing that summer, and more than that I learned to appreciate my Granny's talents. This stooped, bent, old woman was an artist at heart.

Parkinson's disease hit Granny hard. I was not able to go stay with her any more. She came and stayed with us, often for long periods of time, but the disease made it hard for her to communicate. She became extraordinarily critical, and unreasonably fearful. She lost most of her mobility, having to shuffle her feet to move around the house. But in all of the stages of the disease, she kept a project going on that old treadle sewing machine. I don't know how she managed to continue sewing, but she did. The machine finally stood silent after Granny collapsed with a stroke. She never went back home, instead eventually passing away in a nursing home.

That machine now sits in my old bedroom at Mom's house. Its drawers are still organized just the way Granny left them. It has not made a sound in many, many years now. It sits silent, at long last resting after years of use. But every time I see it, I remember that last beautiful summer of sewing. That summer that Granny found a way to use her favorite talent to love her granddaughter.

Ditched It All

Tomorrow night is Open House at school. In practical terms, this means that I need to hang hundreds of square feet of black paper in my hall, decorate the hall with astronauts and a variety of student projects, clean my classroom, and create lots of cute, yet impressive items for the students to have out on their desks when parents stop by to visit. This gives parents the notion that we are always doing cute, creative, and amazing things. I needed to spend the evening trying to do at least some of these things for tomorrow.

Instead I am at home, drinking coffee and writing. Katie (9) was on the verge of tears after school complaining about feeling yucky, Grace (11) was having a melt down about going to youth when she still felt bad, and James (13) was silent with exhaustion after coming home from a track meet around 11 last night. I knew that I needed to help with youth, and I needed to go with Shawn to a meeting, and I needed to spend the early evening working at school to prep for open house. All of these were absolutely critical items on my agenda that were completely non negotiable. I opened my mouth to tell my three kids about my stuff, took one look at their pitiful faces, grabbed my stuff, and we walked out the door.

They whined all the way home. We hit the door of the house, and you could visibly see the tension lift from their shoulders. Something about the mundane routine of chores and making supper made everything right in their world. Katie scrambled some eggs, Grace started laundry, James took out the trash, and I cooked some pancakes. By the time we sat down at the table and linked hands to pray, those whiny kids were laughing like crazy.

We had deep, intelligent supper conversation. For example, did you know that if you sing, "banana, banana," just right it sounds great on Carol of the Bells. Then James and Grace did a great rendition of a McDonald's commercial set to Carol of the Bells. "Do you want some fries with that, sir?" Then somehow that led to a discussion about using matches as air freshener in the bathroom, which led to a discussion about whether farts really will catch on fire. We rounded out the evening with more laundry, washing the dishes, and doing homework.

I was surprised by just how much a difference canceling the busyness of our life for one night made in the kids' attitudes. It made me rethink yet again that by scheduling our lives and our kids' lives without any margin for just relaxing and hanging out that we are creating undue stress in our lives. I need to work harder at scheduling in some down time for the family.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I don't have a problem

Sitting in a doctor's office for what seemed like forever yesterday with my daughter Grace, I finally had time to open and read my latest issue of Fitness. I quickly flipped through the usual articles - enjoying a few laughs with Grace. We had a great time making fun of the articles about how to incorporate your super expensive workout gear into your professional wardrobe - aerobic skirts doubling as office wear?!? I skimmed the beauty advice - most of that is way too much work for my low maintenance self. I was interested in the review of the most comfortable high heels until I realized the ones I liked were $300. That's a car payment - for shoes - they're not that cute!

I was the most excited about new exercise wear that incorporates slimming tummy panels - now that I could use. I need all the help I can get to look skinny in front of those atrociously humongous mirrors at the gym. Then I saw the pants were nearly $80. For sweat pants. I am not that seriously into fashion for my workout gear. Or even for my regular clothes. I don't remember the last time I paid more than $20 for any pair of pants.

I know, I know, get to the point, what does this have to do with a problem? Two things really made me stop and think in this month's issue. One was an add for New Balance running shoes. I loved the slogan, "Dear daily grind: save my spot. I'll be back in an hour." I thought that was a perfect encapsulation of why I run. I run to escape the daily grind and all of its stress for just a few minutes a day. That made me daydream about running. So I'm sitting in the doctors office, imagining my last run, daydreaming about running again soon, when I hit the article, "Confessions of a Cardioholic."

Cardioholic? What's a cardioholic? I've heard of women compulsively exercising to lose weight - often in conjunction with another eating disorder such as anorexia. However, this article broadened this definition to include people who cannot skip a work out because of the addiction to the endorphins. This article places estimates that more than 20 percent of people attending a gym regularly have this dependency. It's characterized by putting your workout before family and friends, workouts last 2 hours or longer, feeling a constant obligation to work out, compromise your safety to work out (example running at night alone), exercise even when you are sick, or when injured. Working out becomes a compulsion, an addiction, a way to escape rather than cope with life. Addicts find themselves thinking about their last workout and trying to plan for the next fix, the next high.

Okay, so honesty prevails here, right? I would probably just characterize myself in the very extreme enthusiast category. I love to run, but it does not completely control my life. I do find myself running on an injury, occasionally in unwise situations (after dark at a hotel in Atlanta comes to mind), but I can also enjoy hanging out with my friends, even if I have to skip my workout in order to do so. I do use running as an escape, but not to the point that I avoid coping with situations, it just diminishes the stress related to the situation. I do spend time thinking about running, but I don't know that I would qualify as an addict.

I will say that the addict phase would be easy to slip into. Especially in going to a gym and constantly comparing myself to the other women there. It is easy to see other gym rats, or instructors that have the body that I want and make unhealthy choices to get there. It is challenging to be at peace in my own skin and to exercise for the health benefits, for the strength and energy, and for the sheer enjoyment of the run, without worrying about the number on the scale or the size of my jeans.

Finding balance in life is always challenging, in anything people attempt.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Monday Morning Update 3/7/10

Sometimes I wonder what God sees when he looks at us. I was asking Him that question today as I was limping through my run. Coming back from an injury is so frustratingly slow and painful, but the pain drives me to focus my mind on Christ. It was while I was replaying today's services in my head so that I could tolerate the pain, that God answered that question for me. I was so surprised, and then amazed and humbled by the beauty He revealed.

The services today at The Crossroads were amazing. It was all beautiful, whether I think through Shawn's sermon about grace, or the congregation singing, "Grace like rain, it falls down on me," and rain starting to hit the roof as we sang, or the children's excitement about their worship and lesson. But none of those things came to my mind as I was running today.

At The Crossroads today we took communion. Many new friends were taking communion with us today for the first time. As Shawn talked about the significance of the elements, I stood on stage, emotionally watching our congregation come forward to pick up their bread and juice. The line stretched out and around the chairs and went on and on. But I sensed that there was even more beauty to the moment than I was grasping. But I did not understand until just a few moments ago.

I was listening to Leeland, "Tears of the Saints," as I rounded mile number 2. Most of it was walking, I was just slowly jogging short bursts to try to rebuild my stamina. Then God started answering my question about what He sees when He looks at us. (click the link to give the song a listen, so you can immerse yourself into my head and relive the moment with me.)

As I was limping and listening, God showed me the beauty from the morning. The people filing by the table picking up the bread and the juice, many of them are new to Christianity, or have returned to their faith after years and years away from church. Most of them have experienced unbelievable, agonizing pain in their lives - whether through an addiction, abuse, failed marriages, or a myriad of other disappointments. Many of them were badly burned at some point by a church in their past and attending The Crossroads is their first step toward seeking healing.

As I was limping through a turn on my route, I realized that most of them are limping too. Some of them are just slightly gimpy legged, (like me running), but some of them are using canes, some walkers, and some are in emotional wheelchairs, being pushed forward by their encouraging friends. But all of them are walking forward, many for the first time in many years, all in stages of healing from their wounds and their past. I realized that when God watched our services this morning, He saw people who were once crippled -walk; and people who were once blind -see; and people who were once deaf - hear. God saw people walking forward in their lives, away from the darkness in their past, and into the light of His presence. And He rejoiced. God delights in watching His people seek Him. He loves to help us discover His heart.

When Jesus healed the lame, they got up and danced. It was a very visible outward change. I realized today that many of our people are being healed in ways just as real, but because we cannot see manifestations in the physical realm, we forget to give God the glory that He deserves. This afternoon as I was running, I was reminded that God needed some praise for the healing He is doing in lives at The Crossroads. Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful!