Category Archives: Uncategorized

CONTEXT: Becoming Who You Are

Desk image for online  When I was in sixth grade, the primary social media tool was a stenographer’s pad with spiral wire at the top that we called a “Slan” book.  I don’t know if I was misunderstanding that and it was actually “Slam,” as in “slam shut,” or if, perhaps, “slan” was actually short for “slander,” which I now realize actually describes a lot of what was written in the books. ;-D Each page had one question at the top, with the innocuous “What is your name?” on the first page, and numbers down the left side.  Each person who signed it kept the same line number throughout the book. As one flipped through the pages, the questions became more and more personal, ultimately seeking the revelation of the “deepest thoughts” about the most important issues to us 11- and 12-year-olds at the time: our own appearances and the opposite sex.  We added questions all the time, as social situations changed, each at the top of its own page, and continually passed them around, getting our classmates, friends, and enemies, to comment. (Adding a Comment isn’t new ;-D)  It was a big coup to get a BOY to sign your book, but often the boy just did it to write the most shocking things he could. (The owner was then properly mortified. :-D)

Even then, my own life context included being a writer. To the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I wrote, “Write and illustrate books.”

In junior high, I won a writing contest that included a cash prize. In high school, my poems were published in a “literary magazine.”  (In college I wrote course papers, and little else.) After graduating with bachelor’s degrees in history and in comprehensive social studies education, I became a teacher. Writing lesson plans soon morphed into writing curriculum.  I liked writing lesson plans, and I LOVED writing curriculum. Soon it was used by other teachers in my school, then adopted at the district level. When I chose a field for my master’s degree, it was educational leadership: curriculum and supervision.

In succeeding years, I taught every grade from fifth through college, and continued to write curriculum. I conducted and published research in education. Some of my non-fiction articles were also published in magazines. I went back to school and earned a doctorate in teaching and learning. That process included a dissertation that was published.  In the past few years, I started taking turns writing a column for the local newspaper. I started a business helping people write dissertations and books. In the past few months, I started several blogs. I even get to illustrate, in a sense, because I help my doctoral scholar clients design the charts and graphs they use to display their data. I think of myself as a writer–well, sort of.

Sometimes I feel like I’m still waiting to “write and illustrate my own books when I grow up,” because NONE of the seven or eight books I’ve written, including the two that I illustrated at a publisher’s request, has actually been published. The publisher that committed to purchase and publish two of them backed out, so nope, not one in print.

But as I wrote this post today, I found that at this point, I needed to take the narrative in a completely different direction from the one I had planned. I actually had to delete a paragraph and go back!  I realized that in the context truest to my deepest values, “Grammie” may have replaced both “Writer” and “Author”  as the most meaningful literary title I have.  Who knew???  I remembered that I did write and illustrate one more complete book, and printed it myself.  It is in a ring binder that sits on the bed shelf of my oldest granddaughter, and it was my very personal gift to her.  It is entitled, Two Kinds of Mommies, and I wrote it several years ago to explain her birth and adoption process to her in a way that would help her young mind understand and reinforce what her parents had always been so open about.  I wanted to help her tender heart be warmed and feel the deepest sense of belonging in her/our family, because we all prayed for her, and in a completely illogical and totally inexplicable chain of circumstances on two continents and several states, God placed her–only and exactly her–in our arms and hearts in His perfect time. Her experience of being adopted into our family is a picture of how all of us who believe get adopted into God’s family.  I guess I have accomplished the “when I grow up” goal after all!

What do you think makes a person a “writer” or an “author”–writing, or having what you’ve written published, or something else?  When and how did YOU know when you had become what YOU are now?

CONTEXT: Blue in the Eye of the Beholder

Carriage House from South (2) 9-5-15

Behind our 1892 red brick house and back yard, we have a two story, three-bay building I have usually called the carriage house, and sometimes called the barn. There weren’t any stalls in it when we bought it, and it had a wide, red brick driveway under the concrete one. The bricks extend from the street to all the way across the front of the three big doors, then on out under the fence and under the vegetable garden. A long, strong metal rail runs across the front where large doors once hung and slid. The wide doorways on the front–now filled in with overhead garage doors hung slightly off-line from each other, and a set of tall, original, hinged, double doors facing the alley on the back, indicated to me that horse-drawn vehicles came and went on all that brick in the 1890s, rather than farm animals, on this corner in the city.

The outside of the carriage house has always been a well-weathered gray–both the exposed wood and the remnants of paint left on them. I liked how it looked. But decade after decade of weathering takes a toll on wood, and we finally decided it had to be painted. It’s the custom in our neighborhood to paint the wooden outbuildings red to match the big old brick houses; but it was easy to see that our carriage house had never been red. So I brought home paint swatches until I matched the remnants of the original paint, and bought that dark, slate gray for the carriage house. The color was called “Silent Night.”  I liked the color and its name.

The painters finished the job yesterday.  As I watched their progress, first scraping down to bare wood, then brushing on the tinted light gray primer, then painting on the Silent Night, I was soon alarmed to notice that all the sides of the building were not the same color.  I double checked the paint cans, then I went back to the paint store with a just-taken photo, and pointed out that while the west-facing wall virtually always in full shadow was exactly the color I had chosen–the deep slate gray, the east and south sides appeared to be a color that could only be described as blue–and quite an assertive blue!  The paint man wasn’t a bit surprised.  He said that grays ALWAYS tend toward either blue or green in bright sunlight.  Obviously Silent Night tends toward blue!

One  neighbor who only sees the south and east sides from her house told me she liked the color of the light gray primer better than the dark blue paint. Another on the east and south side told me she did not like that blue on the barn–her garage was red, like everyone else’s. Me?  I love the Silent Night. 🙂 The color is perfect for that building in that context:  It’s the color it’s always been.  And I’m guessing that in all the years since 1892 in which there was much paint on that building, the four sides of our carriage house have always appeared to be completely different colors, depending on the direction they faced, whether it was sunny or not, and if there was shade from that overhanging maple tree on the west side.

I think there’s a good chance that I appear to be different when viewed from different sides, too.  It doesn’t mean that I am, it just means that observers have different vantage points: Some see primer, some see gray in the shade, and in the sunshine, some see bright blue. I’m not necessarily changing–their contexts are.  My job isn’t to work at appearing to be the same on all sides all the time, or convincing others that I am, in spite of appearances.  My job is to be true to the integrity of who I am.  I need to be just as content if that’s a nice, rich gray that sort of melts in to the surroundings sometimes, as I would be if it were a just-like-everyone-else red, or an intense bright blue that shouts, “I’m different, and I’m here!” Silent Night. Yep. I can live with that. What do you think?

CONTEXT: Waiting

Life roles provide contexts about which we often have little input at all, and they don’t occur on the schedules we would choose.  Sometimes we have to wait, and we only get to choose how we will respond.

One of the great joys of my life is being a grandmother, and one of the great things about being a grandmother is that it is a value-added role.  First a wife, then a mother, then a grandmother–each added on to the other, but waiting was involved at each step.

Having each baby required at least nine months of waiting, followed by a few hours of frantic activity; and when our kids started having babies, we eagerly waited for that phone call indicating we needed to finish packing the car and head for another state. Once, we got from Illinois to Michigan in time to spend several hours in the family waiting room waiting for the announcement that the baby had been born.  For another, I had made plane reservations to be in California for two weeks to be present for the arrival; but my time there came and went, and we were still waiting for that baby.  I had to fly home and let the next family member in the relay arrive. For still another grandchild’s birth, we drove from Illinois to Georgia the day before the scheduled big moment to stay with the older kids, but that baby had arrived, in the car, in the hospital parking lot, about five minutes before we got there!  We don’t always accurately guess how long we’re going to wait.

When I taught college classes, I had to wait until exams, to see if I my teaching had been effective.  When I taught piano, I had to wait ’til the next week’s lesson to see if progress had been made.  Right now, I’m waiting to hear from a godly literary agent who is taking a couple months to decide, based on a proposal and chapters I sent her, if she would like to represent me and try to sell my books. This feels like backwards waiting: The anticipation is tempered with relief that every day without an answer means she hasn’t yet said “No” yet! 😀

But none of that was or is really significant waiting, in the great scheme of life. I follow a young mother on Facebook whose little boy is fighting advanced cancer, undergoing unbelievably painful and exhausting treatments.  She is praying for his healing, and waiting, and thousands are joining her. That is some very serious waiting!

This summer my husband and I had the opportunity to have seven of our young grandchildren visit our home, in fluctuating groups, for several weeks (hence, a delay in blog posts!). One sibling group of four was to stay with us without their parents for a few days. The first night after they were left with Grammie and Grandpa, one had a physical and emotional meltdown, wanting Mommy.  I could only explain that their mother would return for them in a mere three days, but logic didn’t help, and it wasn’t a time for discipline. Our grandchild was devastated with loss, and at that moment had no willingness to wait at all. All I could do was hurt with that precious child, and pray, and wait for the pain to ease. The only way to learn to wait is to wait.

The second day I prayed all day that the scene wouldn’t be repeated that night, and that was the day I read Jennifer Rothschild’s story lesson in my Bible study workbook.  Jennifer, a gifted singer, composer, pianist, and Bible teacher, lost her sight at 15, and has been praying and waiting for 30 years that it will be restored.  That evening, before bedtime, I gathered the children and told them all about Jennifer waiting for 30 years, to see again.  I asked if they knew anyone who had waited a long time.  The oldest quickly volunteered that Hannah waited for baby Samuel for a long time, then gave him back to God.  We also recalled Sarah and Abraham waiting decades for Isaac.  Then I reminded them that the reason God gave us those records was not just so we could memorize the stories, but so we could use them in our own lives.  So we compared those women’s years of waiting to waiting only two more days for their mother to return. Suddenly it seemed manageable, with God’s help, even to the one who was missing Mommy so much. We prayed together, and they all went right to sleep.

That grandchild couldn’t experientially comprehend Hannah’s years of waiting for Samuel, Jennifer waiting 30 years for sight, or Sarah waiting more than twice that long for Isaac; but within the NOW context of waiting for Mommy, it became clear that sometimes God allows us to wait so that He can show us that He can get us through it, and He will answer our prayers, in His time. Hannah didn’t even know if her waiting would end with what she wanted, and Jennifer is still waiting!  Our grandchildren’s mom definitely planned to be back in time for lunch in two days. In the meantime, those urban children got to play in the creek, ride behind Grandpa’s tractor, catch frogs, collect rocks, and eat goodies only Grammies can get away with providing. Put in its true context, the wait became not only manageable, but special.

That experience expanded my understandings within my own context, too.  Waiting is part of the Plan.  Waiting can be a faith-builder.  Others are impacted, directly or indirectly, by how I choose to wait.  God’s Word gives me models and promises that can demonstrate the purposes of waiting, and I can grow stronger from remembering their choices as well as making my own.

CONTEXT: More than Trees

I love it that God has a plan for my life, and only reveals one day at a time, in the correct sequence. In yesterday’s post, I tried to articulate the loss of a sense of place that has resulted from the destruction of so many massive, old, beautiful trees in our yard, neighborhood, and city.  Last night in a women’s Bible study, video teacher Jennifer Rothschild taught a class from her study entitled Missing Pieces: Real Hope when Life Doesn’t Make Sense.  She talked about having “holes” in our “faith blankets”: circumstances so hard that we may question or doubt the goodness of God. Jennifer, a gifted songwriter and singer, as well as Bible scholar and teacher, lost her sight when she was 15. That was a BIG opportunity to find a hole in her faith blanket, but she chose to use her gifts to glorify God anyway, and is still doing that, 30 years later.

I was reminded last night that I have friends who have lost their husbands, homes, marriages, sobriety, dreams of a partner or children, and parts of their bodies in order to survive cancer. Yesterday afternoon I thought I needed to give myself permission to grieve the loss of a significant part of my visual context, represented by the fallen trees.  Last night I was reminded that the grieving for any material thing needs to be intentionally experienced in the context of my spiritual worldview. Trees are beneficial in many ways, and for an extremely visual person like I am, my surroundings and ambient light impact my productivity and enjoyment of my space.  But I needed a good reminder that THIS world is not my permanent home, God both gives and takes away for our ultimate good, and I need to be getting on with life–and grieving for the maple trees– intentionally prioritizing eternal values. Thank you, Jennifer Rothschild!

CONTEXT: Collateral Damage

The brown mass next to the heaved sidewalk slab in the photo is the underside of the root ball of a massive maple tree.  It had stood in front of our house for more than 120 years.  The tree fell east, away from where I took the photo, and still lies across parts of our yard and two neighbors’. The storm that felled it hit two weeks ago last night, but only today did the city address that big tree trunk, and then only to cut it into logs, not remove it.  It’s taking weeks just to deal with the immediate damage.

Neighbors still start our conversations with animated descriptions of damage, and are sometimes almost in a “Can you top this?” mode when we describe our losses. We’re very much in the present: “There’s still a branch across my porch.”  “I’ve ordered new shingles for my roof.”  “I still haven’t found my lawn furniture.”  After covering all those bases, we sometimes confide, almost guiltily, that we notice some strange things in our own thoughts and behaviors.  To some degree, at some point, most of us have experienced shock.  We have a visceral reaction each time we see the tree that shaded our home, our kids, and our grandkids, lying in the street. We do illogical things like trying to move branches that obviously will require machinery to even budge.  We study the cavernous holes the root balls left when they were wrenched from the ground, as if staring could reverse the occurrence.  We are surprised that day after day, more loosened twigs and branches tumble onto the yards, like guests arriving very late for the party.

Then we tentatively begin to speculate on the changes that the tree losses have brought. in our perceptions of our surroundings.  No lush canopy provides shade or protection in places that have always enjoyed both.  If the breeze is brisk, I’m afraid to tend my gardens under the big trees that are left.  It there is any breeze at all, I don’t let my grandchildren play in their shade. Will I be able to rock and read on my front porch again?  I don’t know. The 1000+ workers who came in to help restore power and move debris cannot fix everything.

Of the original 12 maple trees in the strips of tree lawn between our sidewalks and the streets on our corner, three remain.  The trees were so much a part of the inside ambiance of our home that I have only wood blinds on the bay window in our south and west-facing bedrooms upstairs and the picture window in our living room, because the spectacular views were straight into the maple branches. Losing the trees did not just affect how the outside looks, or the eventual market value when we sell someday. The very light in which we live is different, the views from our windows are different. Now we will need to close those blinds for privacy.

The storms of life often leave evident, immediate, painful damage.  We use trite phrases like, “Pick up the pieces and move on.”  It’s as if it’s a demonstration of some sort of character, strength, and courage to do that as quickly as possible.  But collateral damage, physical, emotional, and even spiritual, is just as real, and just as painful, and lasts a whole lot longer than the shock of the traumatic event does.  After a windstorm or a personal storm, I want to allow myself time to grieve the changes and not feel weak or guilty for doing it.  A part of the process needs to be hope, and the hope needs to put out some tentative tendrils, like the morning glory vine that keeps emerging from my flower bed of zinnias–all little plants that came through the big storm quite well.  I need to be looking for the place I’ll thrive, even if the protective and comfortable shade to which I’m accustomed is no longer there. I need to begin planning for the good that’s going to happen in sunshine.

I have laid out a place for a huge shade garden under the dogwood that is sheltered between our house and our neighbor’s.  My husband bought me my own mattock to dig the trench for the brick liner, and I bought bags of red mulch for the ground cover. Those hostas and hydrangeas  with the brown sunburned spots and crispy edges on their leaves from losing their shade can thrive just as well under a dogwood as they did under a maple, and digging in the dirt to re-set them in a different perennial shade garden will do me good.  A lot of good.

CONTEXT: After July 13

IMG_4894I live in a Midwestern neighborhood of big, one-of-a-kind red brick homes built in the 1890s, with lawns framed by city sidewalks and tree lawns between the sidewalks and the curbs. Apparently, maple trees were planted every 15′-20′ when the houses were built, because we all have magnificent, towering maple trees that give us deep-to-dappled shade on our yards and homes. I live on a corner, so we have rows of those trees on both sides of our lot. Those trees are some of my favorite things about where I live.

On July 13, 2015, at 6:20PM, a storm swept through my hometown with typhoon-force winds. I can now stand in the street corner of my front yard and count five of those majestic maples that are down. The one in front of our house fell almost due east and filled Oak Street from our house to our neighbor’s two doors up. Across 14th Street to the west, our neighbor’s tree fell due south, completely blocking Oak and reaching all the way across the front yard to the very doorstep of the house on the south side. If I look north, I see a tree snapped like a match stick, with an ugly spike piercing the sky, and the gigantic trunk with all its branches and leaves bisecting my neighbor’s 2-1/2-car garage.  The east and west walls blew outward. Her car is still in it.  A little farther, another went down from the roots, fell east, took out part of her balcony, and lies across her yard. A bit farther yet, another is uprooted and smothers her front yard and front porch with branches and leaves.

So much damage was done in the city that more than 1000 workers have come from hundreds of miles away, and crews will require weeks to clean up the mess; but after the trunks and twigs are gone, our neighborhood will never look like it did before July 13. Neither we nor our children will live to see the new trees we plant become 123-year-old giants like the ones that fell. The green tunnels over the streets are gone. My shade gardens are no longer in the shade. The hosta leaves are already burning to a crisp beige, the green leaves of the columbine have turned to the color of blood, and the hydrangeas have drooped. Our visual context has irreversibly changed. Normal will forever look different from the way it was–the way we wanted it to look, and the way arranged our lives and environments around. And we are grieving the loss.

Context

Who are you?  Who am I?  I think we all appear to be different people in different contexts, and the difference is often not only the perception, but the reality. We project an image of who we are, and others perceive the image from their own contexts. Some of the perceptions will be solid and real, some will be a little rusty compared to how they once were, and some will just be shadows of the reality. We make choices about how we will present ourselves, what we will say or write, and how we respond or react to the elements in the context we enter, whether people, objects, or the environment in general.  We disregard or ignore differences in context at our own risk:  they enrich our understanding.

When communicating who we are is limited to words on a page or screen, many dimensions are eliminated. The words become more important.  Their purpose is to communicate, and there is power in the communication. Words can be chosen to inform, challenge, encourage, or deceive. My hope is that the communication on this web site will be reciprocal, thoughtful, intentional, kind, and edifying. Let’s bring each other into our own contexts using well-chosen words.