Time’s A-wastin’; What Can I Do?

“Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much can be done if we are always doing.” — Thomas Jefferson

“Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them.” — Dion Boucicault

These two quotes represent opposing views of time. Which speaks more to you?

As we prepare to set our clocks forward tonight, I find myself slightly miffed at the prospect of losing an hour. While my practical side understands that, by some slight of hand, the hour will fortuitously appear back in the bank next fall, right now it feels like thievery.

Perhaps this is because time has been my nemesis lately. I seem to be preoccupied with finding some, particularly this mythical “free” time I hear so much about.

According to the internet, time is money, time is of the essence (of what, I’m not exactly certain), time [supposedly] heals all wounds, it and tide wait for no man, it flies, it runs out, it marches on, and it drags. The time can be right, ripe, near, or at hand. We can make it, spend it, keep it, mark it, lose it, save it, and kill it.

I hear time can stand still, as it did for “almost a day” for Joshua in the Bible (Josh 10:8,12,13) or even go backward like the 40 minutes that backed up for King Hezekiah (2 Kings 20: 9-11). However, being neither a leader nor a king, I’m rather certain that option is not available to the likes of me.

About the only thing we can’t do with time, I suppose, is understand where it goes.

calendar_daysSince taking on a “part-time” job a few months ago (has it been seven months already? My, how time—oh, nevermind). Anyway, since then, I’ve developed an enhanced appreciation for the stuff. It’s true that we appreciate something more when it’s no longer ours. At the end of the day I become frustrated that I accomplished so little of what I used to . . . in what I call my “free time.”

I’m in awe of America’s forefathers and all they accomplished in the time they were given. George Washington ran a country and a plantation, and still found time to write more than 17,000 letters (which have been preserved in a handy 52-volume set, in case you ever find YOUR free time). Newspaper man and Philadelphia postmaster, Ben Franklin served as the U.S. ambassador to France and “dabbled” in science and inventing. Aside from entertaining the ladies, his more reputable interests included demography (study of populations), the wave theory of light, meteorology, refrigeration, electricity, oceanography and ocean currents; he played the violin, harp, and guitar, he was an avid chess player, he established one of the first firefighting companies, invented the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, and travelled back and forth to FRANCE, for Pete’s sake. Still, he found time to write Poor Richard’s Almanac for more than 25 years and produce the first monthly magazine in America.

All I want to do is write a weekly blog.

Mind you, our forefathers didn’t have the internet or television to slow them down. Or electricity. And they travelled by boat and horseback (only one of which, come to think if it, seems conducive to writing).  In a strange sense, technology seems to have made us less productive.

In analyzing this perceived waste of my free time, I’m realizing that my frustration is not how with little I receive, but whether my pursuits during that time are worthy of having it in the first place. Some days this is what drives me; other days it’s what drives me nuts. Then it dawned on me. . .

It’s ALL free.

Time is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Not a second of our lives is promised or deserved, let alone the hours, days, weeks and years we seem to accumulate so effortlessly. Some of us operate so far into the future we fail to see the minutes sitting right in our laps today.

timeI want every minute to count.

The first words I utter each morning—well, after “Are you kidding me? I just got to sleep!” and after whatever I mumble to my husband, which can vary depending on how long ago “just” was—so let’s say the first coherent comment I make each day is “Heavenly Father, thank you for one more day on this earth.”

Lately I’ve started balancing that thought by asking at the end of my day, “God, did I use it prudently?” He wisely doesn’t answer. Or perhaps I close my ears because I really don’t want to hear. Either way, I know the answer.

Time isn’t my nemesis. I am.

——————

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.—Ephesians 5:15-16

New Year, New Map, Better Compass?

The year has dawned like a magnificent sunrise over an expansive ocean,
with a freshness like clean linen, the newness of a tightly folded flower bud,
and the secrecy of a locked treasure chest. I’m giddy over the endless
possibilities of what lies ahead. – The Portrait Writer, 1 Jan. 2017

I just read my New Year’s blog from a year ago, and I have to smile. In a nutshell, my 2017 turned out absolutely nothing like I expected it would.

A year ago, I had two ghost-written books under my belt and had started a novel. I was writing short stories for two magazines, as well as 2-3 biographies every month for a company that produces church anthologies. I belonged to two writing groups and was pondering joining a third, and I registered for two writing conferences as soon as the opening bell sounded, certain that this year I’d have a book proposal to shop around. My life was ALL writing, and ALL figured out.

Somewhere between then and now I turned a corner and suddenly nothing looked familiar.  I lost the novel in a hard-drive crash. (No, it wasn’t backed up, thanks for asking.) I had to give up creating short stories to take a job that I both love and resent. Writing group meetings began to clash with other obligations, and even my blog fell to the wayside. At both writing conferences I felt like a fraud because I had very little to offer in any conversation. By July, I’d given up any hope of balancing work, family, and writing.

This is not a sad tale.

You see, in the same New Year’s article, I wrote, “I pray this year my focus is not on how I can better myself, but on how I can make life better for others. Forgive those who hurt me, reignite waning friendships, write encouragement for others. What does that mean, exactly? I have no idea, but I’m sure I’ll learn.”

Boy, did I learn.

Now that I’m on the looking-back end of this year, I can see that although the path I walked led away from my dreams (for now), it contained a few experiences I hadn’t anticipated. Some good, some awful, all necessary. I learned a lot in 2017, primarily, that ALL writing and ALL figured out is not how I’m supposed to live.

The highlights of my year include two rekindled long-ago friendships. First, Chuck and his wife Sam, from my Yuma, Arizona days (circa 1992) sent me a card out of the blue. Turns out they live just a few miles from where I’d planned to attend a book launch in May, so I tacked on an extra day to visit them. Within minutes of my knocking on their door, we picked up where we left off, re-living the days of our Marine Corps glory and swapping stories I’ll never put into print.

Then, through the wonders of Facebook, I found Vicky, my Boot Camp bunk mate from 1979 and my roommate and partner-in-crime for the first year of my Marine Corps career. As fortune would have it, she lives just miles from the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers’ Conference site, so I tacked a day or so to the end of that trip as well. My friend meter is pegged, and I couldn’t be happier.

willas_site

Willa’s new home. Only the squirrel knows where…

Other highlights include seeing my youngest graduate high school and start college, taking a train across country with my husband, and spending a week in a mountain villa with the Fitzsimmons clan. We met in Steamboat Springs, Colorado to spread the ashes of Grandma Willa and Grandpa Jerry in an area that will remain unnamed because it maybe wasn’t legal to do so. That week was a time I hope to remember for ages. I enjoyed getting to know my husband’s family and sharing more than a brief visit after decades of whirlwind trips to Sacramento. It’s something we’d never done before, and I hope will do many times in years to come. It made me realize anew how important family is, and regret that it’s been many years since I’ve seen my own siblings in New England (and the ones in New Mexico and North Carolina).

jerry_hockey

So proud of this young man. And feeling so short these days…

In 2017, we were also able to travel twice to Pittsburgh to see our oldest, and we learned much about him we didn’t know—all good, of course. We even went to a midnight hockey game in the middle of nowhere to watch our goal tender in action.  Apparently, in Pittsburgh, hockey is so popular one often has to wait until midnight for rink time. That’s one of those occasions I’m glad to experience—once.

Finally, thanks to my new job and its excruciating learning curve, I’ve acquired TONS of new skills in areas I never would have expected to venture, particularly in Photoshop, InDesign, and (ugh) time management. I know that in God’s economy nothing is wasted, so I’ve learned these skills for a purpose that will be revealed at the right moment.

All this leads me to a familiar scenario. I am again looking at the year ahead with hope and excitement, understanding that I needed to take a break last year to assess my priorities. God, family, friends, writing. In that order.  Now I’m looking at ways I may be contributing more to our church this year—ways that both terrify and intrigue me because they employ even more skills I’ve yet to acquire. On the family front, we’re in the preliminary stages of planning a trip to New England in the summer, where I hope to interview siblings for my Mom’s story. I’m also planning to do more with friends this year. For starters, Althesina, I’m coming to see you in August, and Vicky, we’re gonna make that hike.

Finally, I believe I’m ready to start adding small writing assignments back onto my plate, starting with this blog. If I can keep blogging through January, I’ll add the novel to the juggling act. I’m also eyeballing ONE writer’s conference in June, but will make no commitment until I know I’m supposed to attend.

For now, I’ll just take joy in the fact that anything is possible on this first day of the new year.

——————————–

I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. —Jeremiah 10:23

Dust-covered Dreams and a Whackin’ Stick

 

How long had she been gone? Hard to say.

Exhausted from her recent adventure, the woman approached the dark building with yearning and trepidation. And hope. When the heavy oak door wouldn’t open, she lowered her shoulder and shoved. It groaned and creaked in protest, but relented. Sort of. Its base grated like a plow against the thick layers of dirt and grime on the floor inside until it could advance no further.

She raised her walking stick to whacked away the curtain of cobwebs that stretched across the opening. Not knowing what to expect inside, she took a deep breath and exhaled before stepping into the dark void. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she strained an ear for any signs of life.

There! In the distance: a faint beeping, like a tired heartbeat, and a droning hum . . . a machine on its last days.

Letting her cobweb stick lead the way, she stepped cautiously across the room to a huge wooden table piled high with yellowed documents and open books of ancient knowledge. The scene triggered a distant memory. She’d spent many days at this very table, pouring blissfully through poetry and lore. Those had been creative days, and she had made not a few contributions of her own to the literary realm.

She set her hand on the small humming machine and sighed, drinking in the thrill of the call. Pondering the expanse of all that has yet to be imagined.

I must. I simply cannot let this go on.

Now resolute, she took a seat on a gray (cough, cough, wait for the dust to settle—no, green velvet) cushion, and caressed the machine.

“What will I say to them?” Her voice came out in a whisper, and the answer came from within her heart.

“It doesn’t matter, dear one. Say something. Move forward. That will be enough.”

She sighed again and blew gently across the box, sending a swirling cloud of dust upward, and then lifted the lid. A small light flickered. The heartbeat strengthened. Warm memories crept from the shadows and edged closer, crowding in a circle around her.

Encouraged, she began to rummage through the contents, her trembling hands fumbling across once-familiar treasures.

Then it appeared. She squinted to read the date at the top.

“August 18, 2017.” She gasped. “That’s like eons in blog years!”

A sobering thought stopped her cold.

ancient_Portraitwriter2“What if they’ve forgotten me?” She swiped a sleeve across her tear-brimming eyes. “What if I’ve let them down?”

Her heart smiled. “Well, that’s just a chance you’ll have to take. Somehow, I think they’ll be very understanding.”

She nodded, still doubting, and pressed the “new blank page” button.

“Should I tell them everything, or just start typing as if nothing happened?”

“Just start. The important details will emerge over time. The main goal for now is to reconnect and let them know you’re still here.”

Nodding again, she took a deep breath and began typing. As her fingers tapped the keys, the cobwebs around her fell away, and the darkness ebbed. Sunlight filled the room and joy took its rightful place in her heart.

Hello, my sweet friends . . . I’m back. I have so much to tell you!

________________

Therefore this is what the Lord says: “If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman . . .”  —Jeremiah 15:19

 

 

 

Holey Bucket List! When Dreamers Meet Reality

Ah, the infamous bucket list. I’ve never met anyone who’s actually written one down, yet if you ask, just about anyone can rattle off their top five or six items. I believe we intentionally keep our lists untethered. It’s a brilliant system, really. Frees us from commitment and leaves room for updates as our world view and our sense of the ideal experience evolves. When I was a harried young mother, all I wanted was a good night’s sleep and to stay (sans children, of course) in a European castle. I’ve long-since given up on either of those ever occurring. Sleep, to me, is still a mythical suggestion, and most real castles are not the opulent fairytale fortresses of my childhood imagination. They’re cold, damp, and echo-noisy. I truly doubt people sleep in castles, except perhaps the residents of Windsor.

Lately, I’m becoming more aware of The List, whether because we’re free to travel now with the boys grown and chasing their own dreams, or because I worry about the ticking clock, and getting too old to enjoy travel. I think it’s most likely because I’ve become aware of a tiny hole in the bucket, and of the possibilities that have been leaking out. For example, in January, I had to mentally cross off “Drive through the Giant Sequoia tunnel tree” because the dang thing fell over. And this summer I learned that landslides have buried parts of California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway, a drive I’ve never had a chance to experience. They will be repaired, but the new route might not be the same.

trainsigns

Aren’t these posters perfect? The adventure of my dreams!

So, when my hubby suggested taking a train to meet his family in Colorado, I just knew it had always been on my list, and I eagerly accepted. I couldn’t imagine anything more romantic than falling to sleep to the clickety-clack of wheel and rail; quiet dinners for two, whispering to each other as a debonair waiter uncorks the wine; or watching mile after mile of scenic countryside fly past me as I wrote volumes of nature-inspired prose.

Silly, silly girl.

It started off well enough. We stepped aboard the Capitol Limited, a massive steel monster headed from D.C. to Chicago. The porter showed us to a tiny sleeping cabin, helped us stow our bags and sent us off to a fantastic dinner. We ate “family style,” which is train talk for “We don’t have a lot of room, so sit here with your new family.” Not the intimate time for two we’d expected, but okay. We chatted with a young father and his 10-year-old son over dinner while the train wended its way up through the mountains, into Harper’s Ferry and the setting sun.

We returned to our cabin to find the porter pulling out the wee prison-mattress. He turned with a smile and said, “Try to get some rest.”

Not, “Good night,” or “Sleep well.” It’s as if he knew.

My idyllic “clickety-clack” turned out to be more of a “screech, clank, clank, JOLT,” filled with stops and starts, lurches and shakes, and metal-on-metal groaning. All. Through. The. Night.

Good thing I’m not a sleeper.

I hadn’t anticipated how much traveling we’d be doing at night. One bonus to sleeplessness was that I could text my oldest as the train pulled into Pittsburgh around midnight and tell him I was waiving in his general direction. He was up, and we e-chatted as the train chugged through town. I must say, Pittsburgh at night, with its myriad bridges adorned with iridescent lighting, is a sight I’d never expected but am glad to have witnessed. I’d put it on my bucket list if I hadn’t already seen it.

the_steps

Okay, guys…what is this?

We pulled into Chicago for a layover, a story I’ll save for later, except to say I hadn’t put “Stand at the top of Willis (formerly Sears) Tower” on my list. Fortunately for me, hubby had. What a view! Chicago’s Union Station (they’re ALL called Union Station, by the way) brought an unexpected thrill for him when we stumbled across this apparent-bucket-list-item for all men. A simple stairwell, it seemed to me, but to him, you’d think we’d climbed Mt Everest.

Back on the train, this time the California Zephyr into Denver, we again had little time to take in the view before darkness fell. What scenery I did see surprised me, although it shouldn’t have. Early on I recalled the phrase, “down by the tracks” and understood its implications. Once I accepted that we wouldn’t be seeing glorious vistas start to finish, I was able to re-frame my expectations and enjoy the splashes of Americana flying past: junkyards, fancy new windmills, rickety old trailer homes, backyard trampolines, dense foliage, phenomenal murals and graffiti, farm animals, cornfields, and U.S. flags hanging from every possible brace. Glimpses of the hundreds of beautiful stories going on every day across the country. I couldn’t write, because of the jarring train and my sleep-deprived fog, but I enjoyed the glimpses.

Dining remained interesting, despite a menu that never changed. We met new “family” at every meal and swapped tales that our old families have long-since tired of. I found something to love about every guest and every attendant, and more than just their value as future novel characters. Of course, my debonair waiter with the corkscrew turned out to be a series of wise-cracking, overworked servers with orders to keep us moving along. I thought I’d lost my mind when extremely thick-accented Guillermo kept asking if I wanted “basketballs” with my meal. I never realized how much that sounds like “vegetables.” (Go ahead, say it. You know you want to: “You want basketballs with that?”)

trainview

Typical scenic view from a moving train.

The same legs on our return trip took place during the day, enabling us to see much more graffiti and farmland. Still awake, when we passed through Indianola, Nebraska in the wee hours, I used the GPS to tell me exactly where Uncle John and Aunt Peggy’s house was and watched it fly by. It gave me a strange sense of connection—picking out this little home in the darkness, knowing its sleeping inhabitants. (I knew better than to send a text this time).

Romantic? Hardly. Quiet time for two? Not a chance. Writing time? Not a word. But don’t cross Train trip across country off your list too quickly. We had a blast. While our unmet expectations could have ruined the journey, once we reeled in the fairy tale and took the world as it zipped past, we were quite glad we did it.

Will we do it again? I hope so. I’ve heard the train trip across the Rocky Mountains is quite lovely. Doesn’t it sound romantic, flitting through the snow like birds? Enjoying the clear blue skies and crisp mountain air, snuggled in our parkas while Guillermo lights the flambé?

Ah yes, add that to the list.

———–

And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. — Exodus 13:21

Secret to Creativity? Shut It Down

Somehow, without meaning to, I took an entire month off.

Nobody was more shocked than yours truly. I can’t remember the last time I did absolutely nothing, if ever, for more than a weekend. I’m usually that guest at the family gathering who keeps stealing away to write, or the one who cancels at the last minute because of an unmet deadline. I take my laptop on retreats.

“Writing IS my relaxation,” I tell the raised eyebrows.

Just over a month ago, I was building writing projects into an upcoming two-week adventure with my husband. I looked forward to the train rides across country to Denver and back, falling asleep to the rhythmic click-clack as the rails ticked by; sitting on a quiet deck at the rental in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, my writer’s brain inspired by the cool breeze and lovely view of Mt Werner; and then a week in the city, sight-seeing by day and journaling each night.

Ah, plans.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although I enjoyed every minute (my next three or four blog entries will catch you up there), I did not work a single minute during that time.

Flash back to the weeks before we left. I’d taken on a deadline-driven part-time job that requires a bit of a learning curve, I had accepted three different short-story assignments (fortunately with August deadlines), and nearly took a fourth that would have been due mid-vacation. I’d also been rushing through some editing projects and wrapping up two book productions, all while our family saw the youngest through high school graduation, an Eagle Scout ceremony, and preparation and delivery to his 7-week camp counseling job deep in Virginia’s woodlands.

Frankly, my brain fried. I began forgetting words, simple words like “mailbox” and “bread,” and resorted to pointing and saying, “that thing.” I’d stop mid-sentence in conversations, wondering where in the heck I’d been heading with whatever ramblings were escaping my mouth. I reached the point where just writing my name felt creative. I worried about my mind, and my work, concerned that I wasn’t giving my customers OR my family the best of me, and with today’s hindsight, I can validate that worry. But I pushed forward, because that’s what I’ve always done.

People count on me; I must keep working.

I felt particularly overwhelmed by snippets of story and blog ideas that tried to surface, an experience that used to thrill me but had begun to scare me, because nothing really made sense or led to a real concept. Knowing I had no time to address them, and no mental strength to remember or even log them in my idea file, I simply let them go. I felt like a mom at the playground, ignoring her kid yelling “watch me!” from the top of the slide.

Just hang in there until vacation time. Then you’ll be freed to think.

But that’s not what happened.

The moment I stepped aboard that train, I stowed my laptop under the seat, where it stayed. I toted it through the streets of Chicago and onto the connecting train, where I stowed it again. It sat idle in the Colorado mountains, in the Denver hotel, and again on the train home.

red rocks

Just a tease. I have so much more to tell you about! 

I tried to feel guilty, I really did. I at least jotted down a few fleeting ideas. But in truth, I enjoyed not concentrating. We hiked a bit, slept a bit, read a LOT, took in some of God’s most amazing scenery, and greatly enjoyed the company of family. (I feel compelled here to allude to our Beers Across the Midwest adventure, but only as a suggestion of blogs to come, and without the words “a lot” because the truth is never quite as interesting as the suggestion…)

In short, I rested.

Self-imposed deadlines passed, yet the world kept turning; words went unwritten, yet my mind filled with beautiful, coherent phrases; tasks I’d considered of massive importance shrank to mere suggestion size. I swept them away with a wave of my hand.

mount evans

More teasing. 14,000 feet up, I couldn’t imagine anything more creative than what The Creator has already given us.

And do you know what? My mind healed. Not completely, but enough so that I noticed my words coming back and that story ideas made more sense. I ventured out of my awkward introvert persona enough to have real conversations with people. Conversations with a beginning, middle AND end.

Back at home, I extended my non-thinking binge until we returned from a weekend trip to pick up Woodland Counselor Boy and deliver him to Middle of Nowhere College, just east of camp. I kept reading lovely words and letting my brain rest.

Sweet Victory!

I woke up this morning ready to go again. My mind is clear, active (in a productive way) and excited about being creative again. This is what a real rest can do.

When did I buy into the idea that pushing forward and staying busy would make me more productive? Obtaining rest between obligations is a concept that goes back to, well, the Bible, in Genesis 2:2, where even God rested. Sure, I try to honor the Sabbath by not working, but I realize now it was more a freedom from doing—my mind never actually took a break. Lesson learned. Getting rest is not about taking your work somewhere else; a true VACATION is a departure from activity. Its Latin root word is vacare, meaning unoccupied, and it’s in the same family as “vacate,” or “empty.”

We were meant to shut down on occasion. Think about it. Fields are more fertile after a fallow period. Athletes perform better after a few days off. Why shouldn’t our brains need the same?

Do you want your mind to be more productive? Give it a rest.

———-

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. –Mark 6:31

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday America! A grateful look down ancient paths

Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace, but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!  — Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775

——

Today we celebrate the Colonies’ July 2, 1776 decision to separate from British rule (the date July 4 was added at the printer’s), and the August 2, 1776 signing (the day most signatures were attached) of the Declaration of Independence.

declarationI recently read an account of that August 2nd signing by Rhode Island delegate, William Ellery, who wrote, “I was determined to see how they all looked as they signed what might be their death warrant. I placed myself beside the secretary Charles Thomson and eyed each closely as he affixed his name to the document. Undaunted resolution was displayed in every countenance.”

Here we are, nearly 250 years later, a nation still blessed by the sacrifices of those brave men. Interestingly, we still argue about many of the same ideals that our forefathers fought over. For instance, Thomas Jefferson wanted a nation where all men could govern themselves with state rule, but Alexander Hamilton believed a strong central government was necessary to keep the people in check.

Wow. The more things change, the more they stay the same, don’t they?

However, rather than launch on a history lesson of how our nation formed, let me tell you about some people I’ve been privileged to meet along my path who inspired me and helped me appreciate what it means to live in a country where the people’s rights and liberties are still valued.

First, I think of a panel discussion I attended in the early 90s, of Prisoner of War survivors from Hoa Lo Prison in Vietnam, later dubbed Hanoi Hilton by those kept there. Two members of the panel impressed me significantly: Navy Commanders James Stockdale, A4 Skyhawk pilot, and George Coker, A6 Intruder co-pilot. They talked about their years of torture and how they fought to keep themselves sane through their most horrific ordeal with mutual encouragement and reminders of home. Cmdr Stockdale told a story about having to stand at attention while Vietnamese soldiers stomped on and burned the American flag. Rather than break him, the event actually strengthened him, he said, as it reminded him that in America, people could burn the flag if they wanted to, and suffer only ridicule by those who could never conceive of such an act. However, if a Vietnamese citizen tried to do the same to his own flag, he’d be killed instantly. I think of that when I hear people put down our flag, and my heart swells with pride and gratitude for those who fought (and still fight) for our right to burn it freely. Which is why I never would.

I remember on this day, an interview I conducted with a woman who escaped Communist Romania on a one-week visa to Hungary, and from Hungary to Austria and Holland in a bus luggage hold. She spent 16 months in a refugee camp before earning passage to America. She left behind a world where farmers died of starvation because all crops were turned over to the government “for the people,” a world where parents turned in children and children turned in parents for speaking against the government, and where people were ostracized for claiming to believe in God. She told me the greatest freedom she’d found in America was the freedom to say aloud that she is a Christian.

Also on this day, I recall the words of a missionary friend of mine who spent many years in Honduras, where nearly 63 percent of the people live in extreme poverty, and where, for most people, toilets, medical care and clean drinking water are mythical concepts. She said to me one day that she often cries when she walks into grocery stores in the United States, for the sheer volume of merchandise available to us, that we can even choose what type of mustard to spread on our food.

antietamI love this country and all its strengths and weaknesses. I love its diverse cultures and breathtaking terrain. I love us. We’re nuts, but we’re the good kind of nuts. My favorite glimpse of us occurred on September 12, 2001, when I drove down Interstate 95 on my way to work, flanked by flags that flew from nearly every vehicle and overpass, and then from the home fronts on the back roads. We are strong, we are more united than we might think we are, and we are blessed with every opportunity and freedom available to man. But mostly, we are blessed by 250 years of sacrifice and dedicated altruism by those who have fought to keep those opportunities available, and we have the honor of preserving for future generations the joy of living in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

And that’s what I celebrate today.

What about you?

———————-

“…‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,” says the Lord. This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6:14-16

Sounds of an Empty Nest

I promised myself I wouldn’t cry.

I lied.

Even my husband doesn’t know . . . well, I suppose he does now. Every morning when I leave my bedroom, music greets me and pulls me down the hall and into my son’s room. There, I stare at the radio, its soft alarm light blinking at nobody, singing to an empty room.

On the bed lies the black bow tie I rushed all over town to find for him to wear at high school graduation (please, not a clip-on, Mom). Now it’s been left behind with his dress belt in a heap atop the ceremony program, reminding me he didn’t even stay home for ONE night after graduation day.

A now-familiar lump builds in my throat and I find myself sobbing. Again.

Am I actually crying over an empty nest? How can that be, when I looked forward to this so eagerly after 32 years of having sons in the home? Why all these tears when I’m so genuinely proud of this young man and the path he’s chosen? He’s ready. I thought I was as well.

Yet, I can’t put my finger on this mysterious pain. Sure, I’ll miss him. I miss his older brother, who’s been on his own for many years. But that’s not it. We’re supposed to miss them.

Perhaps part of my confusion stems from the volume of personal items he left behind, taking only what he needs for his summer counselling job at scout camp. The numerous pairs of size-14 shoes take up a lot of space and make the room seem lived-in.

A haphazard collection of books and coins lies scattered around the room, and there are clothes in the laundry basket. The entire picture seems to whisper, “I’ll be back,” as if the door will open any moment and he will nudge me aside with a sheepish apology for forgetting to turn off the alarm setting. He knows I can’t work this technology stuff.

There was a day when I could do anything. Bring storybook characters to life, locate missing socks, rescue crumpled homework from the bottom of the backpack, bring home the right flavor PopTarts. He’d look at me with such joy, making me feel like a superhero. My primary job was to be there when he needed me.

When he needed me.

I keep going back to that silk bow tie, which I pick up and caress idly. With a fresh wave of tears, I finally identify my pain. It started with this tie, the day before graduation. I recall my frantic scramble to one sold-out store after another, mumbling to myself.

He might have mentioned this more than a day before the ceremony. He has a perfectly good clip-on at home. If there aren’t any to be found, he can borrow one of his father’s long ties.

All of these musings were true, and if I’d suggested any of them he would have nodded and found his own tie, because he’s easy-going that way. To be honest, he really didn’t ask for the tie. He just hinted that he preferred to tie his own. Clip-ons are for cheaters.

But in my heart, I had a mission. He needed me one more time.

. . . which is how I ended up at the tuxedo rental store buying, not just a bow tie, but a silk one. An act of desperate love that has already been forgotten. A silk token lying in a pile of cast offs.

It’s both a joyous and a painful realization. His father and I have trained him up the way he should go, and now we’re reaping the consequences. He’s got this.

He doesn’t need me.

In fact, all I can really do for him now is pray, send the occasional care package, and turn off the alarm every morning. Of course, that third item wouldn’t be necessary if someone were to switch off his program settings.

Heaven help the person who does that.

——————-

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. – 1 Corinthians 13:11