Monday, November 28, 2011

Happy, Happy Things for Today. . .

For lack of recent photos to post,
let's go back to my High Desert Home
where it snows in the winter!
Don't know if you can see the bottom
night-time picture (if you click on it you can),
but I loved going out in the snow at night!

In the spirit of my grandson JayJay, I'm thanking God for His good gifts:

1. Whatever is happening, God is always so very, very good!

2. It was wonderful to be with my family for Thanksgiving. I have the four most beautiful, talented children (who all cook some mighty fine food!), the two best sons-in-law imaginable, and the four most adorable, fun grandkids on the planet!

3. Christmas music. Yay. It fills the house with a joyful spirit. I can’t take a whole lot of Josh Groban, but I really love his rendition of Ave Maria (love the children’s choir! but, oh, this link doesn't do justice to the beautiful, rich rendition on my CD). I play the song over two or three times in a row when it comes on. My favorite Christmas CD ever? A really long list of songs hand-picked by Melissa and compiled as a gift for Aaron one year—it’s the best!

4. Simple food. My main dish tonight is pureed lemony-garlicky sweet potatoes and celeriac. (Yum. It’s really good!) I know this is really more of a side dish, and I don’t even know what else I’ll eat, but I’ll fill in the nutritional gaps that are left at the end of the day. I’m pretty good about that. By the way, a checker at the university book store told me today that sweet potatoes are really great for helping the brain focus and attend. Well, then. If that’s true, I should be doing prodigiously well in the “focus” department because I consume a lot of sweet potatoes.

5. 18-year-old fellow students who are just so great to this middle-aged woman. One girl actually changed her course schedule to be in my Spanish class again next term (we sit by each other every day and work on lessons together). This morning, I ran into a young man who was in a class with me last year, and he seemed so happy to see me. We talked for a long time, “caught up” on each others' lives, and said we hoped we’d have a class together again this year. It’s just sweet how nice some of these kids can be.

6. God’s goodness in helping me to “let go” of some of the stress and pressure of maintaining unrealistic standards for myself. It feels a bit like a miracle.

7. Peace and joy in spite of very real challenges in my personal life. Another gift from God; another little miracle.

8. The fact that I have a house (for now) that really feels like home to me.

9. Three truly good sisters. One here who keeps track of me and makes me feel connected to both her and others (I feel cared about, and that’s nice when you live alone). One on the coast who is a kindred spirit and an awesome person. And one up the highway who let me stay at her house over Thanksgiving. It was so much fun to be with her and her husband! And also for a really great brother who texted me on Thanksgiving. And now that I’m rolling through the list of mi familia, I have to mention my wonderful mother who is just always there, always listening, always praying, always loving. I am blessed.

10. The term is almost over. I have one paper to turn in, two finals to take this week, and two finals to take next week. I’ve got a lot of work and studying to do, but the end is in sight (one more term down!), and then my time will be my own and I can work on my top-secret Christmas present for my kids.

Hope your days are happy, happy! God is good. I hope you are celebrating His gifts this Advent season.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Slow Down, Grandma Susy". . .

Roman, the unhurried one, last Saturday.

“Grandma Susy, you need to slow down.”

Huh? I was in the kitchen, chatting with Roman as he drew and spelled words on paper at the kitchen table. He sounded each word aloud, slowly writing the letters as he decoded them from the sounds he was making. Roman’s spelling was charming, revealing how he heard commonly spoken words, where “have a cat” became “ava cat.” And he was decidedly unhurried and unpressured in what he was doing.

But me? I had decided to put away some dishes and tidy the kitchen while I chatted with Roman, and as I bustled about, Roman stopped, looked at me, and matter-of-factly spoke those words: “Grandma Susy, you need to slow down.”

It took me aback. I didn’t seem to me that I was moving all that quickly, but when I contrasted my demeanor with Roman’s, I realized that I was. And for what? I thought about my recent life, and I realized that I had begun to think always ahead, always forward, always to what needed to be done and how far behind I was beginning to feel. Lately, I’ve felt a great deal of pressure regarding all that I need, or want, to balance in my life—spiritual life, school, family, home, church, maintaining physical health, etc.

But instead of settling in and focusing on each thing, keeping its importance in perspective, I had moved into a very mild and uncharacteristic form of driven-ness. Not driven-ness in the sense of pressing toward some lofty goal but driven-ness in the sense of simply trying to survive it all, to press to get it all done. Driven-ness to survive? Haha. That seems such a lowly aim (so weak, so inept), but for me—for one who thrives on slowness, or for one whose kryptonite is time-pressure—it really became about this.

So, lately, I have found myself becoming rather tightly wound. Where I have always been able to manage stress well—given enough time to keep broad margins, given that there was always something I could cut from my schedule and had no qualms about doing so, and mostly by much prayer and focus on scripture—I suddenly found myself in a position where there is more to do than I can manage comfortably.

It doesn’t help that when I am a bit swamped, I find myself dawdling away time. Wasting time. Maybe this is an unconscious attempt to avoid that awful feeling of too-much-pressure, but ignoring the too-much-to-do list only increases pressure. Who knows why I do what I do?! It's simply true that the recent equation of my life has not added up to peace and calm! :-)

I must say that I have a very low tolerance for busyness and time-pressure. So, while it might seem to someone else that I am really dealing with very little, to me this is challenging, and, for the first time that I can remember, I have found myself in a state of chronic low-level stress (with some surges of high-stress thrown in). All of the self-talk that I’ve always been so good at (telling myself what the Bible says and what really matters), along with prayer, has not availed much. And why? Does prayer fail? Does God not hear? Of course He does! But maybe I simply need to reorient my life, my aims, and my thinking to align with His thoughts and aims for me.

Slow down? When I don’t seem to have enough time to take care of the business of living a balanced, healthy life? Yes, slow down.

So, what to do? How shall I “slow down” as Roman so naturally, easily, and cheerfully exhorted me last Saturday?

That’s what I’m working on now. Letting go of perfect. (Do I really need to maintain my A+ GPA? Perfectionism is not excellence, it is pride. It is self-absorption, which is the opposite of love.) And learning not to dawdle away time, while at the same time not pressing forward, but moving forward, unhurried, with calm discipline. And learning to settle in to get God’s mind for my life. He does not mean for me to be rushed, to feel tightly wound or stressed, or to be distracted.

God says to the wind and the waves, “Peace, be still.” Jesus didn’t hurry.

For years, in my high desert home, I kept a quote on my fridge by Evelyn Underhill, and I lived by it: “On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgement and effort to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur.”

Lately, I’ve been the amateur. But Roman? No, children don’t hurry. They deal calmly with only the task at hand. Children have not learned to take on the cares of the world. They trust that their parents have their back and that they can carry on with their business. They just do it, and they do it with joy. Joy.

The Bible says to be like a child.

I have so much to learn, and the Lord has given me this opportunity to learn it.

Lord, You do have my back! Help me to let go of the self-absorption of worldly perfectionism and aims. Help me to carry on simply, calmly, steadily, consistently, and joyfully. Help me to learn about peace and stillness in the midst of the wind and the waves. Renew my mind so that I will recognize those waves as small things, and direct my steps so that they are aligned with Yours.

Thank You for speaking to me through my grandson, and make me, again, like a child.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Just a Few Things for an Autumn Saturday. . .


It’s autumn, and the trees are just beautiful all over town and the university. I’m the one on campus stopped dead in my tracks, blocking the dense flow of pedestrian traffic as I stand staring up at the trees in wonder. The striking, vibrant color that literally surrounds me is at its showy best against that backdrop of strong blue sky that we've had so often lately, especially in angled early morning or late-afternoon light, and so I stand and stare and soak it in because I know this season, like all seasons, year after year, is but for a moment.

Most striking, I think, are those rare days when volatile, blackened, threatening skies mix with sunlight of an almost eery quality so that the whole outdoors appears to be cast in a neon glow. That’s when autumn colors become otherworldly, and it’s even better when windy bluster swirls the leaves so that they skitter along the path and dance into the sky. So many days I’ve wished I had my camera with me and have vowed to return with it the next day. And yet I never have, and now the most colorful trees are sparsely leafed. The photos above do not come close to exhibiting the reds and oranges and unreal autumn colors I see in other parts of town. But, still, I find them lovely.

 "An image is an impression of the Truth,
which God has allowed us to glimpse with our sightless eyes."
~Andrei Tarkovsky

My son has long been an admirer of Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky. He often sends me quotes from Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time, and I always love these quotes, and I love that Aaron thinks to send them to me. Months ago, Aaron told me about a book containing Polaroid photos taken by Tarkovsky. He even sent me a link so that I could see some of the photos, but I forgot about it until I saw the same link on Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks blog recently. And now I have the book in hand, and I think it is stunning. The photos look like paintings. Their subject matter is what is most interesting to me and Tarkovsky shoots my favorite kind of light. The photos are sprinkled with quotes and thoughts by Tarkovsky on the meaning of art and life and spirituality. I will definitely read his book, Sculpting in Time.

Poor picture--but love that boy!
Jayden signed my guestbook.

I don't think he can spell anything beyond his name, and he certainly doesn't know how to use a typewriter, but what does that matter? Typing is fun! And incoherent messages produced by little ones I love are as sweet as any others.

Three of my grandkids (and their parents) visited last Saturday. It was soooo much fun to see everyone! We read stories (the boys were gripped by the suspense of The Bears of Hemlock Mountain). We made smoothies (because that’s something we always do when we get together).

And we turned on the kids used-to-be bedtime lullaby CD. I swear this is the best CD ever for bedtime. When Roman was tiny, if he fussed in the car, Michelle would turn on this CD, and in literally seconds, Roman would be silent, and within a minute or so, he would be asleep. It was like a miracle sleeping potion. When I’d babysit the kids when they were younger, toddler Jayden would come to me when he was sleepy, point to the rocking chair, and say, “Veiss, Susy? Veiss.” This meant that he wanted me to rock him to sleep while I either played "Eidelweiss" from the CD or sang it to him myself while we rocked. So, when I put this CD on the player last Saturday, the boys actually got excited (and even a bit sentimental), told me to sit in the rocking chair, and climbed into my lap. For song after song, they laid their heads against me as we rocked and talked quietly. Jayden almost fell asleep.

And some things never change. . .

The other night I was in the living room, focused on whatever it was I was reading, when I took a break and went to the dark kitchen to make myself a cup of tea. Apparently, I had already thought of making tea earlier and had forgotten. Because I found this (yes I’m still at it, and, now, not only am I turning on the wrong burner, but now I am also forgetting that I turned on any burner at all!). . . Yikes.

It's a pretty day here with pretty light and leaves floating around in the breeze. I hope it's lovely where you are!