Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

tempNew England, like much of the country, is deep in the clutches of winter.

I woke at four Friday morning to find the furnace had stopped working sometime during the night. The thermostat in the living room- the warmest room in my apartment- read a frosty 45 degrees (Fahrenheit.) The temperature outside was a mere 1. After several attempts, I was able to get the furnace started and when I left for work it was still chugging away. Crisis averted.

Later, I told my daughter Abby about the furnace. She said it reminded her of times we lost power when she was a child.

I remembered one of those times. We had a power failure one snowy February evening. While the children huddled under blankets in the living room, I braved the snow to heat canned soup over a propane burner on the front stoop. We supped by candle light and then Abby and Elizabeth entertained us by reading “Hamlet” aloud, each creating a different voice for each character. We snuggled together laughed until the lights came on. It is one of my favorite memories.

Another year, when the children were much younger, we lost power early in the first day of a huge ice storm. Abby and Gabriel had fevers, so I bundled them into bed and told them to stay there. With Elizabeth in tow, I emptied the refrigerator and buried the food in the snow on our deck, then turned the faucets to a slow trickle to keep the pipes from freezing. But as the hours passed, the house became dark and cold as a tomb. When my friend Sue called to see how we were faring, I told her we were without electricity. She quickly arranged for us to stay with her parents, who hadn’t been affected by the power failure. I joyfully herded the kids into the car, and skidded to their nearby home, where they greeted us with warm smiles and warmer hugs. Our communication was limited- they spoke mostly French. We spoke only English. But hospitality crosses all cultural barriers. We were given the whole lower level of their home- living room with two fold-out couches, TV, kitchenette, bath and bedroom. We remained there for five days, until the power to our townhouse was restored. It took several hours before the townhouse was warm enough to bring the kids home, and the ice coating the power lines and trees didn’t thaw for a week. But the warmth of the Lacroix family burns in my heart still and I will never forget their generosity.

During our most recent snow storm,  I reluctantly bundled up to take the trash to the dumpster across my apartment house parking lot. It was 6 degrees and the wind swirled snow in every direction- certainly not a night for a winter stroll. The storm raged like a banshee as I trudged through the snow, and I hunched my shoulders and bowed my head against the wind.

As I walked, I noticed how dry and granular the snow was. Under the streetlights it sparkled and shone and the earth seemed suddenly covered in diamonds. I stood enchanted by the dumpster forgetting about the wind and the cold.  “How often we miss out on beauty like this because we are blinded by our discomfort,” I thought, and I took a longer and slower route back to the warmth of my apartment.

jan 2014It’s funny how the worst of circumstances can provoke the best responses. After last night’s storm, there is brilliant sunshine that sparkles against alabaster roof tops. In much the same way, many cold nights filled with icy winds and frigid darkness, have brought memories that melt my heart and fill me with the warm embers of yesterday.
Tonight promises temperatures well below zero, and while I hope my furnace holds up under the strain, if it dies again, I’m sure we will find a way to stay warm. And who knows- maybe a whole new set of memories will be born.

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Storms of Summer

godspellWhen I was in college, I made a trip home to help my parents celebrate their wedding anniversary.  To mark the occasion, the whole family had tickets to see “Godspell” at a local dinner theater.  As the ten of us gathered around a large table, a stranger who was seated nearby struck up a conversation with my father, and noted the unusually large size of our group.  My father explained that all eight of the kids were his children, and that he and my mother were celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary. The man stood, raised his glass and roared, “Twenty-five years and eight kids!  God bless ya!”

It was one of those unforgettable evenings when everything was right in our little world.  My parents were beaming, the food was delicious and the performance was magnificent.  Even my youngest siblings behaved.

I thought about that evening this morning as I readied myself for the day.  I often listen to my IPod while I put on my makeup. The IPod was my mother’s and although it’s been months since she died, I haven’t gotten around to updating the music.  Today, I put in the earbuds and scrolled through music library, stopping at “Godspell.”  It had been years since I’ve listened to the songs from the musical, but hearing the melody was like running into a familiar old friend.

We plow the fields and scatter the good seed o’er the land

But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand.

He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain

The seed time and the harvest, and soft refreshing rain.

All Good gifts around us are sent from Heaven above

So thank the Lord, yes, thank the Lord for all His love…”

“Thank the Lord for all His love.”  I guess I hadn’t done that in a while.  So often my prayers are full of requests- wisdom, guidance, solutions to problems.  I forget sometimes that a large part of prayer is thanking.

It’s been a rough summer, fraught with numberous challenges- physical, financial and emotional.  As I’ve done for the past thirty-five years, I’ve prayed my way through the storms, asking God for solutions.  And as always, we’ve come through the other side intact, but I feel battered and bruised.  Tears lurk just behind my eyes, and although I stay busy and engaged, my heart yearns to run to a place where I can find solace.  And summer-my time for regeneration, for laughter in the sun, for dancing in the waves and celebrating life- has let me down.

I spent this week on vacation, and as I often do, spent time on the beach.  From my beach3faded canvas chair, I sat alone and  watched the waves swell and crash, turning from gray to green to frothy white.  The seascape never remains the same. The barren landscape, carved by the relentless sea, never remains the same.  I watched as an abandoned sandcastle crumble when hit by the pounding surf, and a lump caught in my throat.  My sandcastle.  Gone in an instant because of some unexpected wave.

“Why can’t life just stay still?  Why do moments of joy so quickly dissolve into faded photographs and hazy memories?”   My cries were drowned by the calling of a gull and the crashing of the sea, and I wondered if my questions would forever go unanswered.

But, as always, the answers came.  Life must change.  I know what would happen if the sea suddenly ceased to rise and fall.  Stagnant waters would become diseased. Plants and animals would become sick and die.  The movement of the seas, the changing of the landscape, and the tides of our lives must continue.

Slowly, I have come bsuitedto realize that summer did not let me down. Summer changed me.  Those sand castles I had built were not ever meant to stay.  And the storms of this summer?  Like the movement of the sea, they were to cleanse me, to move me, to keep me alive.

So today, a crisp September morning, I can say again that all gifts from God are good gifts, and the storms of summer are no exception.

“So thank the Lord, yes, thank the Lord…for all His love.”

Snow Day

Today is a snow day.  The world outside my window is like a snow globe shaken so furiously that the flakes swim chaotically in all directions.  Plows struggle in a futile attempt to keep the roads clear.  Radio and television anchors read long lists of closures and children snuggle under their covers, languishing in the knowledge that school is cancelled.  Snow days.  I used to love them.

When I was a kid, we lived at the top of Dye House Hill, not far from the center of town.  Snow days were announced by five short blasts of the fire horn precisely at 7AM.  It was a joyful sound, signaling freedom from winter classrooms, and announcing to parents that they were in for a day of wet boots and snowsuits.

No matter how much I wanted to go back to sleep on a snow day, I could never do it. I was always too excited to pull on boots and snow pants, and be the first to make footprints in the deep white drifts outside the front door.  I would scoop a mitten full of fresh snow into my mouth, and pulling a rusty Flying Saucer behind me, head for the sloping driveway at Columbia Hall. 

For a young child, soaring down a hill of fresh snow is akin to flying.  There was magic in speeding downhill, nothing but white rushing toward me, splashes of ice freezing my lips and turning my cheeks crimson.  At the bottom of the hill I would roll onto my back where I would lie breathless, letting the flakes float from the sky to my face until I rose to climb the hill and prepare for another run.  Finally, when fatigue and chill overtook me, I ‘d trudge home again, where I would struggle to pull snow-filled boots from my frozen feet and hang my mittens to drip on the steaming cast iron radiators. My mother would put my cold hands under her arms to warm them, wrapping me in her soft arms and kissing my damp hair.  From the safety of my mother’s kitchen, I would watch as the storm gathered strength and covered the streets and houses until the world outside became strangely unfamiliar.  When the sun sank, the alabaster drifts turned to blue and I would shudder, glad for the glow created by my mother’s homemade bread, simmering soup and musical laughter.   And always, the next day, when at last the storm was over, there would be sun so brilliant it was blinding.

Today is a snow day.  The last several weeks were filled with dark, turbulent skies that threatened to toss my siblings and me over and over, like the wind before a blizzard.  The winds blew, and in facing the skies, our eyes streamed hot tears, our footing slipped and our chests ached from trying to breathe through the sobs.  We clung to each other, desperate to stand against the winds, but the winds came, and with the winds, came the snow.  It covered the pavement, covered the dried remains of grass in the front yard, and covered the familiar paths and roadways that led to our normal lives.  Nothing is the same.  Nothing is as it was. And tonight, as the sun slips below the horizon, the azure shadows threaten to steal what warmth is left in my heart.

But I am my mother’s child.  I push away the melancholy and remind myself that it even though it is covered with snow, I know the path home.  I know to follow the glow left behind by my mother, to simmer homemade soup on my own stove and to fill our home with laughter.  I will wrap my loved ones in my arms, and kiss their heads.  I will make our home safe and warm.  And tomorrow, when at last the storm is over, there will be sun so brilliant it is blinding.

Sometimes You Are My Yoda

“Sometimes you are my Yoda.”

This came in an email from my daughter Abby.  We were discussing disappointment and in true Momma G fashion, I reminded her that we all have disappointment.  It is what we do with that disappointment that matters.

Everyone knows that Yoda is a character from the Star Wars movies.  He is known for his legendary wisdom and mastery of The Force.  Although I would like to be, I’m not a Jedi Master, but like Yoda, I prefer to tease out what is already in the hearts of the people I mentor.

Some people say, “When God closes a door, He opens a window,” but I don’t agree with that statement.  Sometimes things just don’t work out the way we wish.  I have a strong faith in a God who is real and personal, but I do not picture him a giant puppeteer who pulls our marionette strings to make us hop and dance in the direction He pleases.  I don’t see Him running before me, pushing aside boulders and fallen trees so the path before me is clear of obstacles, and I don’t believe He reverses the law of physics so I won’t get hurt when I trip on the top stair.

I often picture life like swimming in the sea. There are clear days with calm winds, when ocean swells lift you to the sky to kiss the sun, and then gently lay you back to float in the cool until another wave lifts you again.  But there are also days when black seas churn with anger and relentlessly pummel you again and again. After every wave you struggle to regain your footing and before you are totally upright, another torrent is unleashed, sending you to your knees once again. Time after time you fight against the assaults and time after time, you are pushed to your knees.

It is not by accident that we are pushed to our knees, for it is on our knees that we acknowledge our God and declare our subservience to His will.  This is a hard concept for Americans to understand, and even harder to embrace.  But by this simple act- falling to one’s knees – we are able to admit that we don’t know everything, we aren’t all powerful, and we all need help. 

Getting pushed to our knees sometimes hurts.  We get scrapes and cuts from rocks and shells that lie at the bottom of the sea.  It is humbling to struggle to our feet again, our stiff joints creaking in protest.  It is embarrassing, when we look around and see that others have watched us fall.

But here’s the thing.  With every failure we are given the opportunity to succeed. We may not get the prize we seek, but we get the chance to accept defeat with grace.  Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, Abraham Lincoln- these are all people who fell to their knees and rose again.  We remember them not just for their accomplishments alone, but for the people they became, despite or even because of adversity. They are gems- diamonds created by the pressures of life.

When I think of people who are diamonds such as these, I think of my friends Sue and Steve.  They have endured their share of life’s storms- a daughter born more  than three months premature, a son with leukemia, siblings with cancer- but I have never in my life heard them ask “Why me?”  Instead, they face challenges full-on, charging bravely forward, waving a flag of fortitude and brandishing a smile of courage and hope.  They reach out to others, offering comfort and support to those who may have similar challenges.  They listen with open hearts to those who need to talk, and offer salve to those who ache from battle fatigue.  Instead of allowing the wars they fight to make them tough and hard, they open their arms and expose their hearts.  Despite their own problems, they have stood with me during some of my darkest hours. They are heroes without the fanfare and I will love them forever.

So, when Abby emailed me with her disappointment, I did what Yoda would do.  I reminded her that it is okay that she has been knocked to her knees. I reminded her of who she is and what she believes.  I reminded her that she needs to dig deep to find that inner resource that God has already placed deep within her.  I reminded her that she will figure it all out.  And then I reminded her that she already knows all this.

Now, if you’ll excuse me,  I have to go polish my lightsaber.

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