Category Archives: family

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.

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.

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.

Don’t Worry, Bee Happy

I no longer need to worry that my son may be allergic to bee stings.  For decades my husband has told us that he himself is allergic to bee stings, though we thankfully have never seen proof of that. He also has maintained that we need to watch for each child’s first sting to see if they too are allergic.

My daughters have been stung and did not show any sign of allergic reaction.  My son, now thirteen, has never had an encounter with a bee, or so I thought until recently.

We were in the swimming pool the other night and a bee was coasting on the water.  I asked my son to help skim it out and put it in the garden.  Don’t kill it and don’t get stung, I told him.  Then I reminded him that we still didn’t know if he was allergic to bee stings.

My brave young man did as he was told and when he returned to the pool he calmly told me, “You know, I’m not allergic to bees.”

“Well, you might be.” I responded.  “You’ve never been stung, so we don’t know.”

“I do know,” he insisted. “and I have been stung.  I just never told you.”  An amused smile came to his newly squared off, teen-age face.

Of course I bombarded him with mom questions: When had it happened?  Had it hurt? Where was I and why didn’t I know about the event?  He answered with the following story.

In Kindergarten, my son’s friend Caleb brought a bag full of dead bees he’d collected to school. For reasons only five year old boys can tell, those bees were a big hit with the playground set. Caleb sold them for twenty-five cents each.  The boys couldn’t get enough of them.  Caleb made three dollars! He gave two to my son for free, because they were best friends.  None of the boys knew that bees can sting even after they die.  So of course most of them, including my son, got stung.  They suffered in silence, though, because even as five year old boys, they knew they should not have been involved in dead bee sales.

His story made me laugh until tears came to my eyes.  I could picture all the tiny boys eagerly vying for the bees, quarters gripped in pudgy hands. (Had they not bought their milk that day?) I envisioned Caleb’s sincere gesture of friendship, bestowing not one, but two free bees carefully into my son’s hands.  I could imagine the group of them stoically agreeing not to let the teacher know they’d all gotten hurt at recess.

I was laughing, yet I felt a twinge of horror at the same time.  Even at the age of five my son had a part of his life I didn’t know about.  He’d kept this secret from me for eight years.  Now, embarking on a trip through adolescence, I can only imagine how many more secrets will be kept from me and how much more significant their consequences may be.

Though my first reaction is to worry, I’ll have to trust that my son has a firm foundation and knows right from wrong.  I’ll have to have faith in the person he is growing into.  I’ll pray for him daily, and I will look forward to the day when we look back on his adolescence the way we looked back on his kindergarten bee story. Then  he will tell me about all the other things I don’t need to worry about any more.

Hide and Seek

“I want to play Hide and Seek!”  her melodic baby voice declares.  Her brown eyes sparkle with anticipation.  Her body stands poised, ready to run off at my word. The part of me that wants to answer, “Again?” is quickly quashed, and she runs off giggling as I close my eyes and start to count.

My three-year-old granddaughter, Lacey,  has discovered the game, Hide and Seek.  Like other favorite activities, she asks to play it repeatedly. Her favorite part of the game is being found.  Her eyes widen; her smile broadens. She is thrilled to hear, “I found you!”

Lacey is not particularly good at hiding, so I often pretend I don’t see her at first.  If I do not find her quickly enough, though, she helps me by calling out to me. Sometimes she will even walk up to her seeker, grinning in anticipation of hearing “I found you!”

As she gets older, I am sure my granddaughter will get better at hiding.  She’ll learn to blend in better. She will endure waiting in a solitary hiding spot, and her game strategy will improve. It will become more difficult to find her.  Yet I’m sure she will still want to hear “I found you!”

Sadly, this won’t only be true of playing Hide and Seek.  As she matures, she will hide parts of herself that she fears are not good enough.  She will put up barriers and push people away to protect herself from hurt.  She will become more inhibited and share less of herself.  Yet she will still long to hear, “I found you!”

I know this because it is true for me as well as for countless others. We all want to be found despite obstacles that stand in the way.   Often, we build barriers and defenses to hide behind, even though what we really want is to love and be loved.  This dichotomy is a part of human nature, and it is a theme all around us.

This theme is obvious in the dating realm, which is full of hiders and seekers.  Some play hard to get.  They create obstacles to a steady romance to see how hard the other will work for their love.  Others feign disinterest. They act unavailable or count a certain number of days before calling back. Some hide their true feelings to allow time to discern how genuine another’s feelings are based on how persistent and true the search.  

As art reflects life, so many stories told in movies, books and songs reflect the theme of hide and seek.  Many movies have a hero who must slay dragons, win a race, or chase off an old boyfriend to win the heroine’s heart. Similarly, many novels follow a protagonist who must prove his love until the final climax when his pursued opens her eyes and realizes that his love is true and she can trust him with the feelings that she has been guarding.

Perhaps this theme originated with the salvation story-a perfect Christ who seeks the hearts of the lost human race.  The sinners who hide in their own imperfections until they recognize that their Savior is their one true love, the One they can be vulnerable in front of.

To mirror Christ’s love, the unconditional love of parents (and grandparents!) displays the theme of loving despite obstacles, hide and seek.  No one knows a child’s imperfections and difficulties better than a parent, and no one loves him more fiercely.  That doesn’t stop a child from thinking he can hide from or avoid his parent.  Yet in a healthy family, he is always found.

Lacey, being human, may be predisposed in her longing to hear “I found you!”  She shares the human condition that wants to be sought, to know that she is loved no matter what she does to thwart it.  As in her preschool game of Hide and Seek, I’m sure she will continue to be thrilled when she is found.

So Lacey, no matter how well you think you’ve hidden, I promise that I will always find you.

Mistaken Identity

Jake

Have you seen this story in the U.S. news recently?  It’s been on CNN, MSNBC and in local Charlotte papers.  It’s the type of report you may glance at and think, “That’s terrible!” or “Oh well, they’ve got to do what they’ve got to do to stay safe.”  But this time it’s different for me. That boy on the right is my nephew, Jake.

Jake is my sister’s child.  My sister, who is Caucasian like me, married a man who is of East Indian descent.  His parents immigrated to the United States before he was born.  My sister and her husband have three children, all half-Caucasian, half-Indian.  None of this has ever been important in my family.

Jake just turned eighteen in April.  In high school, he worked hard in classes that didn’t always hold great meaning for him.  He’s an easy-going kid and at times, shy.  His passion is for his music.  He is a talented drummer in an up and coming band.  It may surprise you to hear that Jake is conservative, he is a Christian, and he is a Republican.  He has also shown enthusiasm for one other thing:  Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy.

As a new eighteen year old, Jake is excited to be allowed to vote this year.  He has been a staunch supporter for Donald Trump.  He has worn “Trump for President” shirts to school and debated with others as to why Trump is the right candidate to become president.  Jake even defended Trump when peers called him racist.  It has been Jake’s opinion that Trump would like to better the United States immigration system. You probably can’t find a stronger Trump supporter than this boy.

So the news that Trump was holding a rally in Jake’s own hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina was very exciting. This young, sometimes unmotivated, boy took the initiative to obtain his ticket and arrive early enough at the convention center to wait at the front of the line in the hot summer sun.  He was very pleased to get a front row seat.  He could not wait to see his hero, Donald Trump.

Before theJake2 rally began, however, security approached Jake.  We know who you are, they told him. They said he was an agitator who had protested at previous Trump rallies. Remember, this was Jake’s first ever political rally.  The security officer, escorted Jake out of the convention center, along with the woman in the picture, whom neither Jake nor anyone else in our family knows.  Jake’s attempts to identify himself, or to ask whom they thought he was, were ignored.  He was told that he would never be admitted to another Trump rally.

Ironically, Jake missed a speech by Trump in which Trump expressed that he wanted America to be great for Hispanics, African-Americans and all people.

In the long run, I wonder what Jake will have learned from this incident.  I hope it will somehow make him stronger, more world-wise,  yet not hurt him or cause him to become jaded. In this event, he’s seen that heroes can be flawed.  He may have learned that ideologies can look different up close than from far away.  He also observed first hand that what someone says about you doesn’t become true just because they’ve voiced it.

I know Jake has felt a variety of emotions over the past few days since this has happened to him.  He is confused, insulted and disillusioned.  If nothing else, he would like an apology from the Trump organization for the way that he was treated.

I hope my nephew will continue to be passionate and enthusiastic about issues he considers important in the future.  I  know this ordeal has shown me that my usually quiet nephew is quite articulate and poised in a time of trouble.  I am very proud of him.