Nails

My mom would have celebrated her 90th birthday this past August. On that day, I was thinking of all the little things she used to say to me. Not big textbook-worthy things, but just tiny, get-to-the-point comments that carried value. There were six kids at one point in the house, so she didn’t have time to waste words. A good friend and I were texting right after I had been reflecting on this. I asked a question, needing some counsel. Out of the blue, she wrote: Be True to Thyself. This acquaintance had never met my mom, but that phrase was always spoken quite often when I was in conflict over something.—just a little nudge from heaven to say…See, Chris? I am still around.

Later, I ran to get ice at the gas station near my home. As I walked in, I heard: buy a rose. I thought….here? But sure enough, there was a lovely display of them. I chose one, and I noticed down the entire plastic sleeve that it was in, were words of advice…starting with: Be not afraid. Be bold. Love thy neighbor as thyself. Treat others the way you would want to be treated. Get a good night’s sleep…

Motherly advice that just happened to be with the flower I plucked out of a million? Sure, why not? I brought my ice and single rose to the counter. A young man helped me, and I noticed his nails were polished black like mine. I said,

“I love that color,” and he smiled when I showed him we matched.

“My fiancé did this,” he said.

He seriously looked twelve and not ready to walk down the aisle, but as I get older, everyone appears younger and younger.

I laughed and asked,

“Did you fall asleep?”

“No, she gets anxiety so bad, and I read that if you can get a person to focus on something, it helps alleviate the symptoms. So I gave her my hands to help her get through it.”

I will confess that when I commented on his nails, I couldn’t believe I had. The words had tumbled out before I could stop them. Because of changing trends and times, I don’t always understand why things are the way they are, but he had just undone some of my ‘old’ way of looking at something.

And then I remembered another piece of motherly advice that was said repeatedly: Meet people where they are at.

Had I not complimented this young person on his nails, I would have missed the opportunity to tell him that he is a very good man and that his soon to be wife was fortunate for how much he understood her.

A few days later, I attempted to self-check with an unruly machine at the grocery store. It miscalculated my total and insisted that my organic bananas were almonds. I had to push the dreaded ‘help me now’ button, and a worker came over to assist. He quickly punched all the right keys to free me from produce jail. My eyes were drawn to his hands. Once again, black nail polish.

I felt her familiar presence come close once again, prompting me not to let this moment pass me by.

“Look at us. We have the same taste in nail color.”

He smiled at me.

“I was bullied so badly in school for wearing this and for other reasons. I dropped out.”

“Really? I am sorry to hear that.”

“I am smart, and no one understood me. I asked to move into an independent study. I basically did all the work by myself, but then I left and quickly got my GED. People don’t like others who they can’t figure out.”

How sad is this world we live in?

“Are you happy now?”

“Yes. I work here, but I am pursuing what I really want to do with my life.”

“Good for you to overcome such rough circumstances. You should be so proud of yourself.”

I could tell when he put his head down, he wasn’t accustomed to people giving him praise, but he smiled and thanked me.

We didn’t get a chance to talk further because he had to help another person and a malfunctioning machine. Whether he wants it or not, he has job security. Once again, I received another level of understanding and compassion because I commented on his appearance when I otherwise wouldn’t have. Ashamedly, I would have wanted to just inwardly feel a bit of distaste and not engage. But, when you are in the thick of spiritual growth, and you have asked to be shown things from a heavenly perspective, they start to appear to bring you up higher.

I know many people would say…your mom is gone now. And I say, no, she isn’t. There’s freedom in acknowledging that. It gives me peace and death..it has no sting. In a way that is hard to explain sometimes, but I understand her better now. She wasn’t perfect by any means, but then again, who is? She struggled with past issues that she never entirely freed herself from.

But, despite that, she has given me the insight to look past the obvious, and continues to subtly point me to the One who went to the cross and took on a different set of nails.

(She was also the one who used to call me lump lumps, and I hated it. Would annoyingly sing Here She Comes, Miss America when I was barely out of bed, and would never take NO for an answer!)

(On her 60th birthday, she didn’t realize we had flipped her candle to a 9..)

Still Learning

Her gaze was unyielding as she looked at me and said,

“You can do this. You have it in you.”

She squeezed my hand and smiled.

“How many children do you have?”

“A four year old and a baby,” I replied.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake! That would be simple. I have six children! And we have done just fine. You will too.”

Even though I smiled and nodded, I think she spotted the uncertainty in my eyes.

“You really can do this. Trust that you can do anything.”

With that, she handed me cash for her items she had purchased at my garage sale and left. It was as if she had been sent as a confirmation to all the other messages I had received. For weeks leading up to our meeting, every time I turned the dial on the radio or changed the channel on the television I was confronted with the subject but had tried to dismiss it.

The question that hung over my head was: Did I have what it would take to home school?

There were those who would question the socialization of my daughters as if they were living life in a cave sequestered away from “the real world.” And, by what right did I have to educate them when I lacked a teaching degree but had successfully completed high school along with a B.A. in Psychology? Would the kids resent me later for not sending them to school?  Was I damaging them for life?

Despite these terrifying thoughts, this woman’s words penetrated my heart that I could take on the task of home education and successfully raise two strong, intelligent women. Her encouragement brought about a clear cut decision so much so that I began working that summer with my preschooler on workbooks just to test the waters.

It proved to be that it was the right direction to go, and the following year when she was to board a school bus, she was at home sounding out consonants and coming to understand vowels. One of her favorite subjects was reading out loud to me as she walked around the room with her book. I had heard that for some kids, learning came easier for them when not chained to a desk. So as she fluttered about the room, I helped her get a grip on simple sentences and story lines.  At times, I had to draw things on paper to keep her attention, and I am the first to admit that I lack the skill to draw, however, despite this, she discovered ideas about American history.  As we progressed, I bought curriculum packages that had captivating photography and hands on learning to enhance the experience.

Because of a four year age gap between the two girls, I started kindergarten all over again as the older one moved into third grade. This began what I called my “ping pong ball” years where I would bounce between the two to answer questions to clear up brain fog.  While just finishing up in one room I would hear these phrases called out,

“Mom! I don’t get this!”

“I think I am done with this!”

“Mom, what is this?!”

And so my days were consumed with explanations and at times reading my teaching manuals to be sure I was giving out accurate information.  I always had the inner critic telling me that I wasn’t equipped to do it, that I was missing something, and that someone else could do the job better than I could.

In between the studies, we regularly attended group activities that included field trips and specialty classes.  At one point, I was helping plan day trips, writing a newsletter and teaching gym classes to various ages. While one was in ice skating, the other was in dance. Sometimes, we had to do “car school” as we ran from one event to the next. For those who think isolation is inherent to teaching kids outside of school, think again. There were days I longed for quiet time.

So the years rolled on and my first daughter graduated. It was at this point that I realized I only had four years left. It felt like a lifetime in front of us until it wasn’t.

This past week, I sent in the final progress reports to the private school that my youngest child has been apart of. All of her online classes had been viewed and all the book work completed. It was a mixture of sheer joy but also a tinge of sadness like saying goodbye to a friend for good.

It seems unreal to say she is done. I am done. We are finished.

Add to this unconventional way of living the fact that she requested not to have a celebration at home but wanted to go to Hawaii to see the ocean for the first time in her life.

While waiting for take off, I kept wondering where the time had gone and how did I find myself on a plane bound for paradise? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we were learning to color and tell time? I glanced across the aisle at the two who seemed much at ease with leaving behind the old for a new adventure. Youth can somehow do that a little easier than those who have put a few years on.

I looked at my bottle of water and recalled the science lessons on evaporation and how liquids become solids. How we planted seeds in the garden and sprinkled them daily with the hose. How excited they both were to watch the progress of a plant sprout and spread out into a big sunflower in the garden.  Just like them.  How they have grown so much while I thought I was paying attention.

As we took flight, I glanced out my window that took me back to our days of geography and learning about cities and various terrain. Using colored pencils to shade in maps that would help solidify learning for those of us who aren’t so knowledgeable on what country exits on what part of the globe.

All of these things have been on my mind as I don’t know how to fill in the gap of home schooling that has been a part of my house for nearly eighteen years.  The realization has come that just because I was led to complete a short term mission in life doesn’t make it mine forever.

That is the key.  We get caught up in the idea that what we have today will be here tomorrow.   There is a grieving that makes us automatically feel empty and unsure about what to do next when the ‘for sure thing’ no longer exists.  This is the space where we have to make a decision to either see it as a negative or a positive.  I could say,

It has ended,” and spend my time crying in a corner.  Or I can say,

“This is just the beginning of something good coming up next.”  

We all got out of bed at five a.m. to drive to a beach the other day.  Not my normal routine, but when in Hawaii, you do things you usually wouldn’t.  As I stood on the shore and watched the sunrise, I understood.  Some would say that the night had ended, and some would say that the day had begun. Simultaneously, both events were happening and one couldn’t happen without the other.   It’s the natural order of how God has created life to be.  To fight against it mentally really is unnecessary.  We cannot change the ebb and flow of certain situations, but we can chose to see ourselves as instruments to be used  to impart love to our families, our friends and to humanity.  Just because something has come to a halt doesn’t mean that we are washed up or unnecessary.  We are agents waiting with open hearts ready to take on our next assignment for the greater good.  We are meant to expand and develop more understanding as time passes in order to be complete and whole.

“When is high tide?” I asked my daughter as we stood on a beach.

“I don’t know.”

“When is low tide?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Me either.”

We looked at each other puzzled.

“How can we not know this?” I said grabbing my cellphone to look it up. All these years of schooling and neither one of us could recall the information.

That says to me that just because the school bell has rung one final time doesn’t mean that we aren’t still learning.

 

sunshine

 

 

A Mother’s Pledge

We met when she was thirty-six. I didn’t know it, but she had five children in her care. By the time we became acquainted, the first four kids were thirteen, twelve, eleven and ten while the fifth one was headed for the age of seven. Unaware of the fact that she cooked, cleaned, washed laundry, cared for the sick when a pandemic swept through the house, made school lunches, and stitched up holes in clothes, I was just another one to round it all out by being the sixth.

She thought her pregnancy years were behind her, but I showed up to let her know she was wrong. According to one of my sisters, after she got home from the doctor and she had learned of her state of affairs, she wasn’t quite herself. She removed her coat, stood and stared out the picture window overlooking the street and absent mindlessly began to remove her blouse button by button. Her idea was to change into more casual clothes but she forgot she was not in the privacy of her bedroom. She was stopped before she got too far and brought back to her senses. She laughed at herself, but it was quite apparent that she was in some form of shock.

It must have been rough to be up at night with a newborn only to have the alarm sound at five a.m. to get breakfast ready so that everyone could be out the door on time for school. Once the house was quiet, much of her time was spent cleaning and making beds. Before she knew it, they were all back home.

As the years went by, life didn’t get any less difficult as everyone had after school sports, activities and jobs. Supper became like a restaurant shift where some had to eat early and others had to eat late. When I was four, she was in the height of carting people from various destinations before everyone had their license to drive or owned their own car.

The one thing she never wavered on was her appearance. No matter the stress, she always wanted to be out in public looking her best with hair combed and clothes neat. She didn’t want the world to see a disheveled woman who looked like she didn’t have it all together.

I always went along in the station wagon while she drove around town. While she was dropping one off, she usually was picking up another. I tried to stick close to her side as she always seemed in a rush during this process, and I didn’t want to get left behind in the chaos.

“Chrissy, we have to go,” she said as she walked through the living room. This meant I was to put away my toys and prepare to leave.  Because of our hectic life, she generally spoke in short sentences to get her point across without explanation.

“Time to get up.”  “Clean your room.”  “Go to your room.” “Go help your dad.”  “Go to sleep.”

I followed her into her bedroom as usual while she went to her dresser. She looked at her reflection in the mirror and began fixing her hair with her hands quickly. I could tell by her movements she was in a hurry. She grabbed a can and sprayed in circles all around her head to be sure all strands would stay in place.  This was the era of big hair and complicated styles requiring many applications of high powered aerosol. She gave herself one quick look and then turned to see me standing waiting for her.

“What smells like lemons?” she asked me.

I didn’t understand, and I didn’t answer. She sniffed the air to try and detect where the odor was coming from.  I saw her eyebrows come together.

“Oh, no!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe it!”  Her mouth was wide open.

She spun around and glanced at the product she had just used.

“Furniture polish! I just sprayed myself with lemon furniture polish!  I thought it was hairspray!”

We raced out the door with my mother smelling like an end table.

When a woman becomes a mom, there is an invisible document that is signed within the sight of God where an oath is taken to let bits and pieces of oneself go while caring for the family.  It stretches us to our limits at times but in that process we begin to see how wide and deep our love can go. There are moments of such great frustration followed immediately by dandelion bouquets and sloppy hugs in which all is forgiven.

Our world is so fast paced you might not always recognize those who are working in the trenches, and often times, it is subtle. But, the next time you see a mom out in the store patiently dealing with a screaming toddler, stop for a minute and realize how blessed you are that you have just come into contact with someone who has taken a mother’s pledge.

 

mom

(The other thing…it was never too early to begin your first real novel.  Her favorite hobby is reading)

The Show Must Go On

By the way she slammed the car door and flopped into the backseat, I knew she wasn’t happy.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t want to wear this,” she said showing me a heavily sequined one piece black costume. “It scratches my skin and it’s ugly.”

In the rear view mirror, I could see the red marks on her neck.

“Our costumes haven’t come in yet and they are saying that we might not have them in time for the show, so they gave us these from a bin.  They were leftovers from other shows.”

The skating school where she attended put on an annual performance so that the students could show off their tricks and newly learned maneuvers for their families.

The recital included costumes, themed numbers, photographs for the program and hours of preparation. I had turned in my payment for her participation before December to ensure her outfit would arrive on time.  It was now March and the deadline was coming up quickly.

“If I have to wear this, I don’t want to be in the show.”

I sighed and did what I only knew to do. I closed my eyes and prayed in the parking lot. I didn’t care who saw me or what others would think of me. If this was important to my daughter, then it was urgent to me.

I didn’t recite a long drawn out request but stated the facts that we needed the costume as soon as possible. While praying with my eyes shut, I saw a cardboard box that was sealed on the top. It was a vivid image that came and went as soon as I opened my eyes.

I put the worn out costume away when we got home, and during the week when I encountered it, I would recall my plea to heaven and remind myself that I had asked for this to be made right.  My daughter, on the other hand, was not so sure about it being resolved.  She suddenly would get quiet and sullen as if imagining having to wear the uncomfortable material for the show.  I understood her disappointment and tried to reassure her that it would all work out.

The next time she went in for practice, we reluctantly took the unwanted outfit with us as she was told to do. I had called the school during the week to check on the order status.  The instructor informed me that the company that was to make and send the costumes claimed they had lost the order.

“They took our money and now are telling us that they probably won’t be ready in time for the recital.”

I chose not to tell my daughter this unhappy news.  I hung on to the fact that I had prayed for what we wanted to happen and shut off the idea of it not happening.

That night when she got into the car her irritation was evident.

“I am not going to be in the show if I have to wear this.”  I started the car, pulled out into the street and wondered,

 Why was there no resolution to this?

It wasn’t looking good, so that same week when she went in for another practice, I decided to stop in and speak with the school owner.

“Any news on the costumes?” I asked.

She smiled slightly.

“We only got one box this afternoon, and the company told us that this will be the only shipment they will be sending out in time for pictures and the show.”  There were a lot of kids in the school, so this was not the greatest of news.

She led me to her office where I saw a taped cardboard box.  It looked strangely familiar. She opened it and handed me a beautiful sparkling navy blue skating outfit.  While holding the item in my hands, I was overwhelmed not only that we had received it but that the box was the exact one I had seen for that brief moment while praying in the car.

“Your daughter’s class will be the only one who will be wearing the right costumes.  The rest will have to wear the older ones we have on hand.”

“I have to show her this,” I said.  I could hardly contain my excitement.

Looking through the observation window, I saw her out on the ice warming up.  I waved to get her attention while holding up the dress.  By the smile she gave me, she understood.

It’s these moments that I reflect on when faced with situations that seem to have no end in sight.  A request made is never gone unheeded by heaven, and the love that God has for us is beyond what we could ever imagine. Even the divine is very much aware that the show must go on.

(The actual costume)

dress