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“My disclaimer.” That’s what I called it. For years it hung in our front hall, in a place of prominence, where anyone who entered our home would see it. It hung over a long wooden shelf with hooks – that my father had made for us – the place where my husband and I would toss our keys or the mail, and the kids would hang their coats and backpacks.
I stitched it – when our oldest, Stephanie, was only two and our second, Mark, was just a baby – from a cross-stitch kit, as a creative diversion. But mostly, I stitched it because I loved the words. They read:
Some houses try to hide the fact that children shelter there.
Ours boasts of it quite openly; the signs are everywhere.
For smears are on the windows, little smudges on the doors.
I should apologize, I guess, for toys strewn on the floor.
But I sat down with the children and we played and laughed and read.
And if the doorbell doesn’t shine, their eyes will shine instead.
For when at times I’m forced to choose the one job or the other,
I want to be a homemaker. But first, I’ll be a mother.
All under the heading:
It served as an excellent reminder for me during those “growing-up-years” of what I wanted my priorities to be. I had friends and neighbours who were much better housekeepers, and at times I’d find myself succumbing to the peer pressure of their immaculate standards. But I was never able to figure out how to keep a spotless home without completely stressing out my family, so I’d keep those feelings at bay by reading my disclaimer.
I’ve read those words so often I doubt I’ll ever forget them.
But there is a time for everything. And two years ago, after we repainted our front hall, I knew my disclaimer’s time had come. It had served its purpose. My children were no longer small – in fact they were teenagers – and to imply that I’d only recently “sat down” with them and “played and laughed and read,” would be not just inaccurate but dishonest.
So I packed the stitchery away thinking that perhaps one of my daughters might want it some day, and I began to think about what should take its place on the wall in the hall above the shelf.
That space remained empty for more than a year. Inspiration is not easily found or replaced, and I knew I wanted something that would be just as affecting for my family’s next stage of life. But what would fit a family home that now regularly experiences more arrivals and departures than Grand Central Station?
Last summer, I found it. Covered in dust, high up on a wall in a small bookstore, I read the words of promise and blessing engraved on this wooden plaque:
“Journey” it says. And then, this verse from Psalm 121:8, “The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
It’s a grey day, and my mood is slightly grey as well. Our family has been hosting friends from France for the past week, and they fly home tonight. We will miss all the hustle and busyness of having five extra bodies in the house, and friends to chat with around every corner. Life will no doubt feel very quiet as we readjust to the normal routine once more.
Speaking of adjustments to normal life – the newspapers have been filled these past few days with stories of Conrad Black’s release from prison – and so I’ve found him – once again – in my thoughts and prayers. It will no doubt be interesting to follow news of his journey in the weeks ahead as he readjusts to freedom. So for today, I thought I’d share my own recollections of the day his life and mine intersected, in a post from this blog’s archives.
A book I read some years ago called “Blessings” by Mary Craig left a deep impact on me. In it, Craig writes of suffering, and that “Our tragedy is not that we suffer, but that we waste suffering. We waste the opportunity of growing into compassion.”
From all I’ve read about and by Mr. Black throughout the period of his incarceration, he wasted not a minute.
… feel torn in a thousand different directions? That’s how I felt today. I tell myself that it all just goes with my age and stage of life. But there are days – like today – when this stage can feel a bit overwhelming.
A business to manage. Volunteer responsibilities to fulfill. An adult child to worry about. A not-quite-yet adult child to negotiate with. A younger child to care for. Aging elders who – while still blessedly independent for the most part – occasionally need help.
My mother-in-law falls into that latter category. At 93, she’s still going strong. Really strong. Physically, she’s got the energy of a teenager most days. But she had surgery yesterday, and she can’t be alone right now. So my husband spent the day and night with her yesterday. I cooked a crockpot dinner overnight so my family would have dinner tonight (and I would have a meal to take to my mom-in-law), got the kids off to school this morning, then made the 75-minute drive to my mother-in-law’s this morning in order that my husband could drive back to our city to spend the day at work. (Being a writer, my office is my laptop, so my work is somewhat more portable.) I stayed with her throughout the day until hubby returned to spend the night, so that I could come home to pick our teen up from band practice at the church, throw another meal in the crockpot to cook overnight, see the kids off to school in the morning and, well, start the process all over again.
But by the time I got home, I was tired. Having been out of email, telephone and face-to-face contact all day, I met with a backlog of people needing me to do things for them. And I admit – the last thing I wanted was to be needed. I wound up taking my tiredness out on more than one of those people.
Frustrated – with both the neediness of others and my own impatience at their neediness – I melted onto the love seat, bereft.
And then I remembered the word, “desolation.”
A friend of mine has spent nine years of studies with the Jesuits. He’s a lovely, gentle spirit and he recently shared one of the secrets, I believe, of that lovely gentleness.
Each day, he sets time aside to reflect back on the day, to ask himself where he felt God’s presence and where he experienced God’s absence. The Jesuits refer to it as “consolation” and “desolation,” and they explain it this way: “We are really only talking about our orientation, and the bottom line is this: which direction is our life taking us—toward God [consolation] or away from him [desolation]?”
And I remembered that one of the keys to moving out of desolation and into consolation is as simple as talking to God, telling Him how I feel, and asking Him for help.
I’m going to go do that right now.
“Untutored, we tend to think that prayer is what good people do when they are doing their best. It is not.
Inexperienced, we suppose that there must be an “insider” language that must be acquired before God takes us seriously in prayer. There is not.
Prayer is elemental, not advanced, language. It is the means by which our language becomes honest, true and personal in response to God. It is the means by which we get everything in our lives out in the open before God.”
- Eugene H. Peterson
Once upon a time there was a man named Dave. He was a good man. He was married to a woman named Ann. Like her husband, she was also good. Together, they raised two beautiful girls. They were the kind of couple that put family first (after only God). And so their girls grew up secure in the knowledge that they were loved, that God was good, and that home was a nice place to be.
Ann and Dave owned a lovely little trailer in a beautiful place called Muskoka. When they weren’t able to use their trailer themselves, they decided to make it available to other families. To spread the joy around a bit, so to speak.
One of those families had three little children and one income. But the dad worked hard at his job and the mom worked hard at home and the kids did what kids do, so being able to take a vacation together at Ann and Dave’s trailer felt like a wonderful gift. For it was a place where the kids could safely run free. And the days would be filled with picking wildflowers, building sand castles, catching frogs, and reading good books. In the evenings there would be campfires and star gazing, puzzles and games, singing songs and sharing hugs.
Ann always made sure the little family felt pampered: she would scrub the trailer before they came and leave it well stocked with an assortment of magazines for the adults to read and games for the children to play, lovely notes and baskets of goodies on the kitchen table to welcome them.
The first year the little family went there, their oldest daughter broke a lamp that had been a wedding gift to Ann and Dave. The family felt terribly. But Ann and Dave were gracious and kind. And they let the family go back to their trailer again the next summer. And the next. And the next after that. And every fall, they invited the little family to use the trailer in order to experience the beauty that is Muskoka in the autumn.
And so as the children grew, they grew with memories of happy, family times spent relaxing in God’s beautiful creation. And they grew with the knowledge that those memories were possible because kind strangers had willingly shared out of the abundance that God had given them. Eventually, the little family was able to buy their own trailer in Muskoka.
By then, Ann and the mom had long since become friends. They only met face-to-face on two occasions. But as the years passed, they emailed and spoke occasionally on the telephone, and at Christmas they exchanged cards. They prayed for each other’s families. And they rejoiced at the news of all the good things that happened in one another’s lives.
But then one day, Ann sent a different sort of email. She and Dave had been on vacation far away with one of their now-grown daughters and her two children. They had had a wonderful time. But on the night before they were to return home, Dave suddenly took sick. He got so sick, Ann took him to the hospital.
“Within a short time at the hospital, the doctor called me in and said Dave had suffered a massive heart attack and was ‘gone,’” Ann wrote. “The doctor told me Dave didn’t suffer and was in no discomfort.” There were hundreds of people at the visitation, and hundreds more at the funeral. “A wonderful tribute to Dave,” Ann said.
When I read that email (for I was that “mom” and mine was the “little family”) I admit I cried: for Ann, for her two daughters and sons-in-law and grandchildren. They will miss Dave dearly. Life will be very different for all of them without him.
And then it struck me: I was mourning for a man I’ve never met. But through choosing to be kind to a family he’d never met – over and over again – Dave had a significant influence on our lives. So I’ll always be grateful for his life. He used what influence he had to let his life shine.
“God has called us to shine … Let no one say that he cannot shine because he has not so much influence as some others may have. What God wants you to do is to use the influence you have.” – Dwight L. Moody (1837 – 1899)