All posts by halfcupful

Sea Glass

I discovered sea glass, quite by chance, this past Thanksgiving.  My family was spending the holiday at our favorite beach during the tail end of a rather large storm.  When the wind and rain let up we ventured out to explore the beach. The storm had taken much of the sand, even changing the shape of the landscape, but in exchange the sea had given up more than its usual amount of stones.

My children and I excitedly explored this novel setting. Before long my children were bringing me smoothed out pieces of glass they’d found in the pebbles.  I’d heard of sea glass, but this was the first I’d ever seen.  We picked through the stones for hours, until it became too dark to see.  We left with a handful of colorful sea glass, and like that, I was hooked.

I read up a bit on the topic of sea glass.  It is glass from bottles and dishes that has broken and ended up in the sea.  The sea churns the glass for decades, smoothing its surface with grinding sand.  There is also a chemical reaction that happens whereby the sea glass gets a frosted finish.  To differentiate sea glass from a polished rock, hold it up in the sunlight.  If the light shines through purely, evenly, without blemish, that is sea glass.

Since then we’ve traveled to several more California beaches.  My very patient husband has occupied himself while I have spent hours at each, searching for colorful treasures. Each time, the search has lasted for hours and the reward has been a small handful of glass, polished and frosted by the turbulent sea.

During those hours spent picking through stones and debris on the beach, I’ve had time to ponder.  I have come to realize that I am a lot like sea glass. Just as broken glass gets its desirable smoothed surface by being tossed in the sea, grinding against sand and stones, so I am being refined by the experiences of my life.  My sharp edges are becoming smoothed out by the turbulent times I’ve weathered. I too am most beautiful when I allow the Light to shine through me.

When hard times come it is human nature to complain, resist and ask why.  Yet trials are necessary to develop strength, wisdom, empathy and faith.  Without testing, how would I know how strong I am?  Without tears, I would not know how to console others. Without impossible situations, I would not know just how much I can trust my Lord. Undesirable circumstances are required to bring about desired qualities.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” ~James 1:2-3

So, the next time you are at the beach look for a rocky area.  Bend down and look through the pebbles for a smooth, translucent piece of sea glass. Then remember that you too are like sea glass.  The experiences you are walking through are reshaping and smoothing you out. And you are most beautiful when you allow the Light to shine through you.

Midyear Reading Review

I had so much fun writing a previous book review post, Summer Reading, that I think I’ll write a similar one at the onset of the new year.  Perhaps this will become a semi-annual tradition.

Since summer ended, I’ve had a bit of a struggle finding both books that excite me and time to read them.  In review, however, it does not seem quite as sparse as it felt. Here are some of my most notable reads:

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.  I’d heard good things about this book for quite some time, so I finally had to read it for myself.  It is the story of a boy named Santiago who goes in search of his “personal legend,” learning about himself along the way.  There are many words of wisdom embedded into the tale (one of which led to my post, Beyond Sameness.) However, it seemed to me that way too much effort was put into adding deep meaning to the simple story.  I enjoyed it on a light level and then donated my copy to the little lending library at my favorite hotel at the beach.

The Cry of the Peacock by V.R. Christensen.  I’d never heard anything about this book or author before. Frankly, I chose it from a discount e-book site because I liked the picture of the peacock on the cover and I love the sound of peacocks crying.  It was also free.

The story is about two sisters in Victorian times who have fallen on hard times.  One gets the chance to redeem herself and the noble family her father worked for if she will just marry the oldest son. The plot is very Jane Austin, with the characters all fumbling around to find their correct niches, not to mention spouses.  It is a relaxing read and a good escape when stressed.  Maybe sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.

Incidentally, in a preface, the author mentions a companion book, Of Moths and Butterflies, written prior to this one.  She says it shows a heroine who makes different choices than Abby in The Cry of the Peacock.  It sounded familiar to me and when I checked my Kindle, I realized I had downloaded it from the same discount site. I had chosen this one because of the beautiful blue butterfly on the cover.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  This reflective book was written while the author spent her summer alone in an isolated cottage at the beach.  Her writing somehow takes on a cadence that feels like the gentle rolling of waves.  She writes about the different phases of development as a woman, choosing a symbolic shell for each stage.  It’s a great read for a slow summer day when you have time for pondering womanhood and human nature.  Her philosophizing lost me for a while in the middle of the book, but caught me back up in the next chapter.  I will need to buy a copy for my bookshelf as this was unfortunately a digital loan from my library.

The Lake House by Kate Morton.  This is a mystery about a baby that goes missing after World War I, on an enchanting estate in Cornwall.  The case goes unsolved and is revisited by a modern-day (2003)  detective on leave from her job as a police officer.  I found it engaging and enjoyed following the threads of plot as the new and the old weaved themselves together.

This is my second book by this author.  She definitely seems to have a formula to her writing.  One of her characters is a writer and even alludes to formula and writing process. However, the complex plot and delicious setting make it a page-turner.  At times there is a comfortable predictability, and sometimes that prediction leads to a dead-end.  I also appreciated Morton’s impeccable vocabulary.

Up next on my reading list:

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (a reread from childhood!)

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure

America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray

The Lineage of Grace by Francine Rivers (a reread)

The Lady in the Van by Allen Bennett

These should keep me busy for a while.  Please leave a response if you read any of my recommendations, or if you have any books to recommend.

The Spirit of Christmas

It’s that time of year when the magical spirit of Christmas is supposed to make everyone merry, loving and peaceful.  When I was young, the lights, the presents and the family traditions worked their magic and made me believe.  Now that I’m an adult, it’s different. Christmas can easily become a list of responsibilities and crowds of stressed out people.

Recently, my family was planning ahead for how we would celebrate Christmas this year. When would dinner be?  Who would be there?  What time was the Christmas Eve service? As we looked at the calendar, we noticed that the holiday falls on a Sunday this year.  Our usual service is early in the morning.  I stopped myself just before stating, “Oh no!  Church on Christmas will ruin the morning!”

I fear that I have become so jaded that I perform the rote trappings of Christmas without experiencing or spreading the Joy that the day celebrates. Having to decorate, provide the family’s presents and plan the menu become the focus of this time originally set aside for remembrance of the sacred event of Christ’s entry into our world.

I’m not the only one who may be struggling to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. This year I know so many hurting people-the couple at church whose beautiful, twenty-three year old daughter is spending this December in a coma because a drunk driver hit her tiny vehicle, the coworker whose husband is battling cancer while she is beside herself trying to coordinate his health care services, many families who trying to provide the basics, much less the extras, to their children after a job layoff, and Ronnie, my student who is homeless this school year.  It will take more than lights and decorations and Christmas carols to cheer these people.

Ironically, it is these situations that draw me back to the true meaning of Christmas. These remind me that Christ loved us enough to leave His realm and humbly enter ours as a helpless baby.  He spent His life creating a way for people to relate to a once remote God. Now we may appeal directly to God, and the intangible Spirit causes tangible experiences in our lives.

Ronnie, my student who has been homeless this year, will soon be taken off my list of hurting people. Her story exemplifies one of the greatest gifts of Christmas-our invitation to approach the God of the universe with our requests.  It gives an example of the intangible Spirit tangibly working.

At the beginning of this school year, the school staff was told that Ronnie’s family had become homeless.  The family of six had lived for a while in their car, and now they were in a hotel room.  We did whatever little things we could to help her settle into the school year.

By the end of the month, my husband received a phone call from Ronnie’s dad.  They know each other from years earlier.  This call was a desperate plea for just one hundred dollars. That was all the dad needed to meet his rent at the hotel.  However, his resources were depleted, and if he didn’t pay by 1:00 that afternoon, the family would be evicted.  My husband made a quick call to me to make sure we had the money and then a trip to the atm. The rent was paid with barely an hour to spare.  (A side note: We had the money because I’d been squirreling a bit away and was looking for the right way to give it to this family.  One hundred dollars was the exact amount I’d saved up.)

I was happy we had this small amount of money to spare, but I was left with an empathetic feeling of frustration for Ronnie’s family.  They had been so close to having the amount they needed, and yet they were so far from being secure.  Even with continued gifts from my family and other school staff, coming up short was a cycle that would happen every month as the family’s need was greater than their income.  It was a vicious, unsolvable cycle.

I could not shake this feeling of frustration at the impossible situation this family was in. So, I did what I always do when problems seem impossible; I prayed.  I found myself praying often for this family.  As I did, I found my request becoming specific and focused.  I didn’t want them to survive just day to day.  I wanted their impossible situation to be resolved.  I began to ask specifically that their income would increase and that their expensive housing cost would become lower.  I prayed that their income would become larger than their expenses, all the time feeling more frustrated at the seeming impossibility.

For a few months, it seemed my prayers were going unheard.  Nothing changed.  Then in November, Ronnie reported that her father had gotten a job.  I thanked God for answering half of my prayer, but continued to ask for less expensive housing.

The latter request was just answered a few weeks ago when both Ronnie and her father reported that the family had found an apartment that would cost far less than the hotel.  They are now moving in, and I am left once again reassured by the power of prayer and the working of God’s Spirit.

It’s true I no longer feel the child-like wonder of the Christmas season.  It has been replaced instead by something more lasting and real. And this Spirit is with me year-round.

Hi Friend

I took my granddaughter, Lacey, to the park to see her “friends.”  At age three, “friends” are whomever is there.  “Hi!” and a smile were all it took to get them running to the slide, chattering like lifelong friends.

My heart was warmed by their gleeful shrieks and reassuring cries of “I’m coming!”  They took turns, negotiated the rules of their games and included everyone.  When one fell they picked him up. They were active and busy, stopping only to say goodbye when a dear friend was told it was time to leave.

These babies were quite in contrast with the media news I’ve been bombarded with for the past several months. Seeing the children on the playground reminded me that people are born to love.  Hate, judgement and prejudice are things that are taught later on.

As of late, I am watching the news less and taking Lacey to see her friends more.

…The above was written a week ago. Though it wasn’t finished,  today I’ll just add to it.

This morning’s experience was similar to the one I had at the park with Lacey.   I walked the beach, stopped at the estuary and watched the birds feed in the early morning. There were many breeds of bird sharing the small haven and the fish that were teeming in the water.  I saw great blue herons, mallard ducks, cormorants, egrets,  osprey, killdeer, and sand pipers, just to name a few.

What struck me was the harmony in which the various birds coexist.  The many types of birds fed, each in their own way,  within the tiny boundaries of their community. The ducks ate from the top of the water.  Cormorants dove under. The tiny sandpipers pecked at the shoreline.  A heron waded in to see what he could find.  They were all quite busy and seemed to navigate around each other with ease.

I’ll admit there was one small tousle. The heron and a cormorant both spied the same fish. Each went for it before realizing the other was also.  To my surprise,  the cormorant pecked at the heron, three times his size, and the heron backed away.  Within seconds, however, all was forgiven and the rhythm of the bird community was restored.

I was once again connected with that innate desire to live in peace and harmony.  Like the birds, I want to navigate around others with companionable ease.  Like my granddaughter, I want to greet whomever is placed in my path with “hi” and a smile.

Beyond Sameness

“…and when each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.” ~Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut, in the monotony of an everyday routine.  Most of us have to spend the bulk of our waking hours working at a job that pays our bills or keeps our households coordinated.  Often our work has not fulfilled the dreams we started out with. The need to survive replaces the drive to accomplish earlier aspirations.

I’ve heard it said that poverty is marked by a lack of choices, by sameness.  I find this true for both financial poverty and for poverty of spirit. The same routines and the same options day in and day out can lead to a life of rote actions. Walking through the same motions over and over may cause a heart to grow callous.

We need to intentionally soften our hearts and allow them to feel joy for small goodnesses and beauty that pierce through the ordinary.  Most of us will not win the lottery, invent something or become famous.  Even if we did, we might find that those things alone do not guarantee a rich and vibrant life.

Our escape from sameness does not need to come from any grand, miraculous happening.  It comes from a mind that finds the extraordinary within the ordinary.  It’s in eyes that see the picturesque in the mundane.  It’s in a heart that finds gratitude for small gifts.

So in the midst of the daily grind, take note of the things that make you smile or stir your heart.  Savor those moments.  Dwell on the goodness that can be found rather than the desires that cannot.  Enrich your life with small pleasures and reach beyond sameness.

Tapitas para Soñar

My instructional assistant at work recently introduced me to “Tapitas para Soñar.” ( I believe that translates:  Lids for Dreams.)  She  is originally from Colombia, so it only makes sense that her highschoolers’ service project would be Colombia based.  She and her sons recently gave every classroom on my campus a basket in which to collect tapitas, lids from containers of water, soda, juice or milk. When they go “home” for the holidays, she and the boys will bring the lids to a collection site in Colombia.

tapitas

 

“Tapitas para Soñar” uses these usually discarded pieces of plastic to raise money for children in Colombia who have cancer.  The organization makes crafts, such as tote bags and wind chimes, from these lids. They also raise money by recycling the excess.  They are hoping to open a facility similar to a Ronald McDonald House, where families of sick children can stay while their children receive treatment.

I love the idea of turning garbage into something that will help fund medical assistance for sick children. In my city, I don’t think these lids even recycle. On campus, they litter the ground everywhere. Although at first I didn’t think I’d have that many lids to contribute, I’ve been surprised by how quickly my little basket has filled.

Collecting tapitas has helped more than just the intended Colombian children. A secondary benefit of this project has been that our campus has been a little cleaner. Now that these lids have a purpose and a place to go, they no longer litter the grounds.  They’ve become a desired commodity.

In an age filled with violence and despair, I have found joy in the stewardship and compassion of this project, Tapitas par Soñar.

Struggle

The students in my eighth grade Language Arts Fundamentals class had a particularly difficult day today. They had to write a paragraph long response to an article we’d read, citing two pieces of evidence to support their first statement, and they had to do it independently.  We had practiced together for many days.  These academically at-risk students know all the steps to this process, but without constant reassurance and guidance, they do not trust themselves to correctly complete such a task.  My co-teacher and I had made a pact to let them struggle through it.  It was painful.

One boy in particular, Sean, seemed not to have a clue at the beginning of our 90 minute, two block session.  It was as if he had just entered our classroom for the first time. He had writing on his paper-lots of it, but none of it answered the prompt he’d been given.  My only recourse, given the pact I had entered, was to coach him along by restating small pieces of the directions for him to figure out and fix.  It was an excruciatingly slow process, and as I mentioned, it was painful.

Sean, being a good-natured boy, complied with my directions to keep writing and revising.  To his credit, he did not give up.  Near the end of the hour and a half long session, he had an adequate paragraph that met the minimum requirements of the prompt. Only after he’d finished did I hear his first complaint:  he was tired.  He looked exhausted, yet his face beamed with the joy of accomplishment.  I told him we had exercised his brain today, and I congratulated him for learning. He glowed.

It took a few minutes for me to realize where I’d recently seen such a look. It was just last night.  My son had an unusually rigorous soccer practice.  His coaches ran the team through difficult maneuvers and tiring drills.  The group ran at least five laps throughout the session, compared to the usual one or two.  The boys sweated profusely in the over 100 degree heat.  I thought for sure I’d hear nothing but complaining on the way home. Instead, my son was ecstatic that he’d completed the practice and grateful to be a part of this new team that works him so hard and helps him to become a better soccer player.  I was stunned and thrilled. My son was tired, hungry and elated.

Both boys had toiled without complaint though the task was rough. They both refused to give up, having some innate sense that the struggle would pay off.  They both allowed themselves to be pushed, uncomfortably, to a new and better place.

This afternoon, as I ponder the quality these boys have in common, I know there is a lesson in there for me.  I like my comfort.  I enjoy doing what I’m good at and effortlessly accomplishing my day’s work.  When things get difficult, I look for ways to ease my distress.  I do not welcome struggle.

Yet I am reminded of the verses in James 1:2-3: “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

Endurance.  Accomplishment. Advancement. These are the results of struggle, striving and sweat. How easily I forget that my adversities are times of growth.  How quickly I shy away from the uncomfortable feelings that accompany difficult endeavors.

These two middle school boys don’t know it, but they have been role models for me, by exerting tireless effort without complaining, by welcoming struggle and looking forward to the rewards it will bring. I hope that the next time adversity arises, I will also struggle vigorously, looking towards the improvements in me that will follow.