Monday, September 17, 2012

THE LITTLE THINGS

     Sometime it's just the little things, isn't it? Like sipping a hot cup of tea on a morning tinged with fall's impending arrival. Getting a big smile from the neighborhood kids whose profits just rose at their lemonade stand. The rumbling motor from the contented purring kitty in my lap.

     Then there's all the little things that happen throughout the day. The hold-the-door-for-the-next-person culture at Wawa.The brave annuals in the flowerbeds that continue to grace us with their color and cheer.  The laughter with the teens at pizza lunch yesterday. The email from a dearly loved friend just to say she's praying for me.

    And of course there's little things that can make my heart swell close to bursting or fill my soul with a very contented sigh.The smile my daughter turns to give me before she heads through the doors of high school in the morning. A text and picture from my husband just to share something he's enjoying while on the road - a wish you were here in one frame. Dinner with "old" friends who have shared college and careers and singleness and marriage and children and marriage of children and aging parents and who wouldn't mind all ending up in the same old folks home ourselves one day.  : )

    I remember one of our pastors starting a sermon one time by saying, "Don't sweat the small stuff. Point Two. It's all small stuff." We all chuckled but of course I immediately thought of things that I wasn't sure qualified as small stuff. The bills to be paid. The health concerns of family and friends. The fears and the worries that seem larger than life all around us. His point of course was that God has it all under control so we don't need to sweat it. A concept we spend a lifetime fully learning.

     It seems lately that God's been trying to remind me of the little things that are in actuality quite big. The things that we might have learned as a child or as an adult. Things that hold all the little pieces of our days together. The bottom line in a world that seems to grow shakier and darker and anything but something to not sweat over. I'm a pretty positive, optimistic person and I prefer to see the glass as half full. But on days when it's obvious the world my children must navigate today is far different from my teen and young adult years, when I cannot comprehend the pain some children bring with them to school and church, when the headlines would convince us that things could very easily get worse before they get better, I am increasingly grateful for the enduring truths my Heavenly Father has been whispering in my ear again and again.

     "Fear not."

     "I am with you."

     "I love you."

     "I will never leave you." 

     If you grew up in Sunday School, you probably sang a little song that goes like this:

             "Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.
                 Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so."

     It is the little things, isn't it?

     This song from Tenth Avenue North swirled out from the radio this morning to pour grace and comfort over my heart. I hope it does the same for you - whatever your small stuff to not sweat is. It's pretty much full of little things, that aren't quite so little after all.

                                         
 http://youtu.be/J95rAr0gOFU

     

    

Saturday, September 8, 2012

FRIDAY NIGHT FAITH

      Last night the high school football crowd was out despite the heat and humidity that were making us question both the calendar and our choice of attending. I do love the excitement of Friday night home games and when in just a few short weeks we'll be bundled up in layers with green and white spirit scarves wrapped around our necks, we will probably long for some of the heat we faced last night.
    But the weather didn't keep the home crowd from doing their respective things. The proud parents and faithful community supporters of the Rams were in place cheering on their favorite players and team. The marching band made its season debut and fortunately for them, they pared down to school T's and track pants while awaiting the arrival of new uniforms. While we no longer have a child in the band, we are both fans of and friends with this year's director and it was great to hear their renditions of Steely Dan from the field and those familiar fight songs from the stands. This director has a great educational philosophy of both high expectations of excellence and positively enjoying, relating to and caring about his students with honesty and integrity which resulted in great music and some very happy, confident kids. Let's just suffice it to say that the combination hasn't always been complete in the past and both students and parents are excited and relieved to find all those pieces of the puzzle in place this year. That phrase "the teacher makes the difference" couldn't be more true! Thanks Mr. B! You're the best!
     Have you ever sat at a football game and watched the bands of students rove? Yes, they came to a football game and yes, many will probably leave knowing the final score or at least whether we won or lost.  (And yes, I'm sad to report that we did lose in overtime when what we thought was the winning touchdown was revoked by the referees). But for many they know much more about who is now going out with who (or is that whom?), what two girls were in fashion crisis when they discovered they were wearing identical tops, and what guys have finally shot up and filled out enough to catch the attention of that group of girls who all apparently shop at the same store in the mall and wouldn't even look twice at said short, scrawny boys last year. And don't leave out which guy had his arm casually draped over which girl's shoulders, which senior girls are apparently already jockeying for Homecoming Queen position, which teachers have already been branded as the ones who try to crack jokes that really aren't funny or have already given entirely too much homework ("don't they know we have lives??"), and which girl's flirty little flip of the hair might lead to an eventual relationship status change on Facebook! : ) Teens are great and at some of their most socially interesting at a Friday night football game.
    For me, it was a good opportunity not only to catch up with other former or still faithfully enduring band parents, but also my drama kids who have now moved on to high school. How fun for me to have them scream my name and run to give me a hug! How wonderful to know they survived their first week as freshmen and that no one tried to send their trusting, gullible selves to the non-existent 4th floor. How rewarding to see both their excitement about new high school adventures and opportunities as well as their joy in the memories of our 'family' of thespians where it is safe to come knowing you will always be loved for just who you are. I also got to hang out with a couple of this year's returning, 8th grade drama kids and was pleasantly surprised to discover that some of last year's quietest students are in reality scoops of funny, talkative girls sprinkled with 'top of the heap' confidence. I was reminded once again of how important the task is of believing in kids and taking time to listen to them and am so thankful for the opportunities God continues to give me to make a difference in the lives of some really wonderful kids.
     Following the traditional after the game team huddle, a group of players gathered in a student led circle and knelt on the field to pray. We've had guys who do this every year and this year's group seems to have an especially large number. Their recognition of Who gives them the ability to play always makes me catch my breath and smile. It's a public school with plenty of kids who are all about the glory and the accolades and I love that these guys have committed to expressing their faith humbly in a public forum. I love that we're in a district that hasn't felt the need to squash this. I love that we have kids in classrooms and sports and drama and music and the countless other activities that capture teens' passions and heartbeats who are looking to Jesus to give them strength to face the tough world they must navigate day by day and to trust in and share His love with their friends and classmates and teammates.  
    
    And wouldn't you know that this morning I would read the following verses from Ephesians:

    "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know his love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
     Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

     Amen.
     
    

Tuesday, September 4, 2012



      SCHOOL DAYS, SCHOOL DAYS  . . .

          It's funny how your memory works, isn't it? I can walk into a room and have no idea what I went into it to find, but I can still remember my first day of school, oh, so many years ago. There are wonderful little pieces of those school days that just pop into my thoughts and often they are clear as a bell.

     Now, what was I writing about?

     Just kidding . . .  I think! : )

     Our house was literally 3 houses away from our elementary school so I walked to school. Every day. Actually I walked to school every year all the way through grade 12. I didn't ride a school bus until I was a teacher taking my own class on field trips! And no, I didn't walk uphill both ways, in the snow, barefoot . . . but of course, I did pull that line out anytime our kids were complaining about walking instead of going somewhere in the car. Isn't that in the parenting contract somewhere? : )

    I can remember what my first school bag looked like. It was red plaid with little black straps that latched the flap shut. I didn't carry a lunch box (and was rather envious of all the cool ones my friends had) because those of us who lived close to the school actually walked home for lunch everyday. Now there's a foreign concept! Imagine. I actually walked home, sat at the table with my Mom eating my freshly made sandwich off of a plate, not out of a baggie, and drinking my milk out of a glass instead of a little milk carton. I filled my Mom in on all the big happenings in school that day then skipped back down the sidewalk so I'd have time to join my friends out on the playground for lunch recess.

    I remember on the first day of first grade our teacher put everyone's name on the board and then she called each of us up one at a time to find it. We either circled our name or erased it . . .  hmmm . . . erasing it certainly feels like she was more excited to send us on our way at the end of the year than welcoming us, doesn't it? Yeah . . . I wanted the other first grade teacher who was known for being kind and warm and wonderful. But I survived. I can see my first grade teacher taking a ruler and dipping out paste onto a little square of paper for each of us to take back to our desk for that day's cut and paste project. I was one of those follow the rules kids so I never tasted it . . . but it did for some crazy reason look like it might be good to eat!

    I remember that one of our classmates headed home during morning recess. She was a girl with extremely long dark hair and I can't remember if she'd had enough first grade for one day and cut out or if she thought that's what it was time to do. It was the big buzz of the morning for sure when we returned to our desks and one was empty! She did come back later that day and no one else ever attempted first grade mid day truancy as we had now been instructed to stay for the whole day, every day!

    I remember how big the rest of that school seemed. Thank goodness it was a sprawl of one floor hallways instead of stacks of two or more stories. Going out into the hallway for assemblies in the Gym-a-Caf-a-Torium (or the Multi Purpose Room as it was so aptly named) and having to walk into a room filled with kids who were all bigger than we were was rather terrifying in the beginning. We'd sit on folding chairs if it was a big deal of an assembly or Indian style on the floor if it was not all that important. Picture Day was scary too because not only did we have to put great effort into keeping our special clothes clean and neat but we had to go on stage for the pictures. We lined up in the hall but then we were herded up the dimly lit, backstage stairs to await our fate with the photographer. My six year old self hadn't grown accustomed to the wonderful world of backstage spaces yet and I just remember wondering why we had to be in what must be the creepiest place in the school - I obviously hadn't seen the Boiler Room yet!!

    Those were the days when the boys would throw worms on the girls to show they liked them. We would wear red rubber boots that we pulled on over our shoes if it was rainy or snowy enough and then stash them away in our little wooden coat rack space. We would bring in a quarter in a little envelope with our name on it for our milk money for snack that week. There was a Merry Go Round on the playground - not a carousel with horses, but a wooden apparatus with metal bars strategically placed around it. You could go safe and sit inside the metal circle while others pushed it around as fast as they could, or you could be more daring and sit on the outside edge, holding on for your life. I don't remember ever throwing up, but I think other kids did. The most daring kids would try and get off or on while it was in motion - I had great admiration for them! And there weren't any wood chips to cushion our fall, just dirt and grass like at home. Of course the monkey bars were still on the blacktop playground so the nurse must have seen plenty of skinned knees and hands.

    The windows could open at the very bottom and the very top. The teacher had this tall metal rod that she used to open the top windows. I remember the first time we first graders experienced a thunderstorm at school. I can see the sky outside those big windows getting dark and the trees in the neighbors yard starting to blow in the wind. Of course in later years as big fourth, fifth or sixth graders, classroom helpers would be called into service in such a time as this, to help close the windows and pull the shades. First graders simply sat quaking in their little chairs, silently praying they wouldn't pee their pants when the lightning and thunder started up! Being the stern teacher that she was, I'm sure we were admonished to not cry, but of course, I'm sure several did. I don't think I was one of them . . . I would have been more afraid of being in trouble than of the actual storm!

     When those bad boys in the class had to get their knuckles wrapped with a ruler (how could that same ruler that dipped out our wonderful paste be used for such a task?) I would thank my lucky stars that I was offense free. However . . . .I do remember thinking one time that it would be delightful to put a different name on the back of my cut and paste paper and see if the teacher could figure out who it was!! (Such a scandal!) I was on a kick for a little bit that year where I wanted my name to be "May" and I truly remember so wanting to hatch that little scheme. My desk at that time was right by the teacher's however, and I just couldn't seem to work up the courage to try it, lest while I was engrossed in penning those three false letters she would silently appear behind me and haul me over to the round table where we handed in our milk money and got our ration of paste from the dual purpose ruler . . . .

    We would be called for our little reading groups and carry our chairs to make a circle with the other boys and girls who were getting to know Tip and Mitten and Jack and Janet. I don't remember whether I came to school knowing how to read some or if it all unfolded in that Tip and Mitten circle, but I can still feel the shiny newness of that little paperback reader in my hand and the delight I found in stories, in reading silently and aloud.

    And while this memory is not a first grade one, I simply have to include it . . .  jump ahead a few years to fifth or sixth grade Reading class. We'd been instructed to put our free reading books away and open our basal readers to that day's story. Well. I was engrossed in "My Friend Flicka" and simply had to find out what was going to happen. So I stashed "Flicka" behind "Stories from Around the World" and continued clandestinely along. And in a large class of about 30 students, all would have been well . . . until I hit the climax of the story . . . when Flicka is lying in a creek bed . . . possibly breathing her final horsie breaths . . . and while my classmates were reading a sunny and happy tale from a distant land, I was completely grief stricken with tears rolling down my cheeks. Suddenly my teacher's hand was resting on my shoulder, having discovered that one of his "good" students had gone over to the dark side of delinquent methods. And with focus on the story rather than the reality of my plight, I pulled my eyes away from Flicka to Mr. Reading Teacher and sobbed, "Flicka's DYING!"

     And I still find it nearly impossible to pull myself away from a great read today.