No Earthly Good

Tulips

“It’s a dump” says All Mr. Business evaluating the hotel we have checked into. After 2 weeks on the road, taking in multi-star sheets and whirlpools, the room we are peering into makes us all a little queasy. And I wonder why. No foul smells. The sheets are fresh, the sink basin clean. At this stop we wanted a place as close to our chosen location as possible, and no impressive hotel sits just here. Hunting down the finest grand places for the price seems to have harmed the character of our 10 year old son, and mine for that matter. How much charm and hospitality can a person take before it warps us into no earthly good? I don’t like the idea of choosing the worst accommodations for the purpose of my child’s soul, sometimes the prices are exactly the same…. so what to do?

We have never lived in five star accommodations. The house we now live in we built ourselves – unfinished, no granite, no fireplace, nor trim round floors, doors and windows – none yet anyway. Still, we live in a neighborhood that would be considered upper in every way. This is the home our youngest children have always lived in. My husband and I, however, have lived in old college apartments, in a travel trailer almost 2 years, as children, in simple places with no frills – one bathroom to share. Regardless, when we stay in a hotel able to “up” the other options in town with its upgrades and beauty, our acceptance of simple and clean seems to have disappeared. Almost as though having the best shrinks the portion of the heart that holds contentment.

The road trip has afforded some extended conversations.  Adored Husband and I have been discussing what Jesus meant when he said it’s harder for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. I told him I thought Solomon might say it like this…. “I have seen one thing on this earth, no two. A man makes foolhardy financial decisions early in life, and as the years fly by too fast to correct these problems, the man dies before the mistakes can be rectified. Another man makes wise financial choices from the beginning, and because of reaping what he has sown (significant financial gain) he thinks himself far wiser than the average, becomes prideful and because pride creates arrogance and relational distance – he self destructs bit by bit till both men end of life arrive at the same place…. at a state of regret.”

No Mother wants her child to make foolish financial decisions, foolish decision of any kind… or for her child to see himself as desperately in need. Nor does a mother want her child to make such a collection of poor decisions that over time causes him to reap hard times later in life. And yet, if life is about growth toward Jesus, maybe she would.

The natural inclination is to give our kids everything we never had – and more. To shelter them from things that hurt us, and from what others have that they may not have – make sure that they feel cared for by giving and giving and giving. Even the Bible acknowledges that God, like any good parent, likes to give good gifts to his children. Nothing wrong with that. Then if giving is OK, yet because of being human, our kids come to expect… become entitled, how do they grow to become comfortable with people and their surroundings that have much less than themselves? How do we help them relax in a situation that is clearly lacking in every way? In my estimation, in order to be the hands and feet of Jesus, we all must be able to relax enough in various environments and with a variety of people to love people well.  You may be envisioning a judgmental child mocking someone’s old car… that may fit.  I am thinking, however, of pictures I have seen of poverty so sever – often in third world countries – that basic cleanliness is lacking, fumes from the filth are painful to experience.  And everything in-between.

Poverty in Ethiopia

I know that I am most accepting when I remember where I once was, where God brought me from, and what He has given me that I have not deserved.  These ideas have grown my love for others.  The question then is, what is it that develops gratitude toward God for His grace and mercy towards us? For myself, this has been best learned inside the hopeless, messy, painful parts of my life. Oh dear, my kids have to experience a disaster in order to graciously love others? That is not a happy thought.

Henry Cloud – Amelia’s revised version – says that if your child has not acted like a self-absorbed brat by age 21 or so, he will be a real mess later in life. And why would this be? Because for a child to separate from adoring forever providing parents – to set off on ones own with no guarantees of winning in life – requires more than just a decision to accept misery for the sake of growing up. God is fully aware of this, and so has built in a “push away” at the very age a child must do the particular task needed to grow …. the age the developmental task needs mastering that will move him from dependance on some level, to autonomy. I could go on and on about the inability of a child to achieve these tasks if Mom and Dad are not safe enough to push away from.  However, we are focusing here on the over-doting parent.  Even if Mom and Dad allow for autonomy, if they protect and provide beyond reason, will their child ever experience the pain of making a mistake that hurts him? How will the child come to really need Jesus? In order for there to be a need to be rescued by Jesus, there must be some painful pit to fall into that would hurt without the Lord not providing padding for the landing. Faith is not hypothetical, it’s actual. When there is an actual mess needing rescued from – and Jesus is called on – when He hears and answers prayers not even deserved, dependance and trust in Him grows, and the sense of superiority and self grandiosity shrinks quite nicely. If a parent can’t bear to see their child experience consequences, ignoring the child’s necessary developmental tasks, padding the child’s pain of life, the parent may be unintentionally creating an adult with narcissistic tendencies, completely lacking in empathy, and thinking themselves superior.

This is a dangerous topic to write on as there are parents who are already way too hands off, who won’t respond to their babies cries as they perceive crying as manipulative. Parents who won’t rock their babies to sleep. Parents who don’t have any capacity to hear the sadness in their child’s heart. Parents who give themselves permission to “let him figure it out” when they absolutely should be intervening in and involved in their child’s life. This blog is not for those parents. It is for the parents who can’t stand it that their child doesn’t have all the opportunities others around them have, and puts their family in financial jeopardy by giving the child unnecessary extras. It is for those who neglect their marriages to keep their children in select sports. It is for those who buy 80.00 jeans for their child when their own clothes are decades old and look like garbage. It is for those who are still bailing our their children’s financial messes well into their 20’s and 30’s. The way to know if this blog is for you is to ask yourself one honest question. Do I tend to be self protective in relation to my kids in ways such as my listening ear, my energies, in terms of having difficulty seeing the ways I’ve been wrong and hurt my kids? Do I find myself pushing them away as I’m too busy for them – or do I tend to be somewhat immeshed? Do I do my child’s chores too often, take their lunches they neglected to make back to school again and again, forget my schedule to become observed in my child’s late homework? If the answer is that you tend to be immeshed, this blog is for you.

Other trips we will take. The granite bathroom countertops will at times be grand marble, other times pre-formed, stained formica. We are trying to intentionally expose the kids to a wide range of real life. Trying to listen, trying to teach. Working to pray…. and pray and pray. But most of all, we now realize that a deep trust in Christ which develops true empathy, grace and mercy towards others is developed as we pay attention to the developmental tasks the child should be moving through, and working to manage our own task of letting go.

554169_10152224854529307_1865464944_nAmelia

Collectables

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OK, it’s lame, but I collected key chains when I was a kid. I really had no need for a key chain. I owned nothing worth locking up. But I did have a need to be all grown up, and for some reason had the idea that if one were to be anybody at all, one would have a collection of some sort. I noticed most everybody collected, and made a great big deal out of the collection by placing it on display. Spoons on a special wall mounted holder, dolls, music boxes, pine cones, tea cups, snow globes, caps, fossils, buttermilk cartons, even antique barb wire. So thinking I needed a collection myself, I set out to collect key chains. My most treasured key chain was from Hawaii. It was shaped like a flip flop, out of the same materiel, and blue:) Not sure who gave it to me, but I really treasured the thing. I must have showed it to a dozen people. As new keychains were added with the years, and as one ring then another rusted shut, I began to wonder what I’d do with 8 or 10 nearly unusable key chains – so decided to toss them.

I thought I’d outgrown collections. Then I married and set up house. The bug bit again. This time, a grown up version of the same. Tea Sets. Yesterday I was getting ready for a party and was pulling pieces out of my hutch. I got to thinking about collections – I’d started the tea set collection but at set number two realized I did not wish to have dozens of pots and cups and sugar bowls that all provided the same service. I instead decided to collect beautiful people, and treasures that reminded me of them. As I looked at the contents of the hutch, it struck me I’d done just what I set out to do.

There, handsome as ever were and Mr. and Mrs. Spring Chick in top hat and tails for him and all loveliness for her. Tiny painted ceramics that a friend hand made to set atop tower of goodies for our wedding reception almost 24 years ago. I collected Cheri when we were children. Our parents met before they were married, college days. Somehow our lives weaved in and out, some years loosing touch, other years living in the same community. She and I were college girls in the same town at the same time, hanging out, talking wee hours into the night about who knows what. Years later, each in different parts of the country, we found a way into each others lives again. Now a week doesn’t feel like a week if we haven’t, over the phone, prayed together, had a good laugh, shared something raw, or real or creative. I view Cheri as my educated friend and my friend of the arts. When she is not painting or writing, she is forever reading on a topic new to me. I love to hunt for new ways of understanding life and people, and so back and forth we share what we learn, and challenge each other toward the practice of stretching old ways of doing and thinking, emotional and spiritual palates sisters, I think:)

Just beyond Spring Chicks sit some lovely peach glass. The way light refracts on the cuts, a gleam that warms me, is like the beautiful lady who gave the set to me. I collected Naomi one summer when I was 18 and she probably in her late forties. She was a pastors wife, mother of four, her oldest already finished with high school, her youngest three or four. She lived across the street from where I was staying. That summer I spent on Long Island with my cousins Cindy and Charlie who had to catch the train to work each day. On long hot afternoons Naomi would come by, little shadow just beyond her Momma, asking if I’d like to go walking. I’m not sure what an 18 year old and 40 something Mom of four could find to talk about, but in any case we become adored friends. Age and life season mattered not a scrap with us.  Naomi had family on the west coast, so when I hugged her goodbye before heading out for the bus station home, she told me she’d stay in touch. And she did. Many times I’d get the call Naomi was on her way out for family time and hoped we could meet. Each visit, we’d find a few minutes to take a walk. Our talks were just as before. No time was wasted to pretense. When her teenagers were struggling, her husband was moved to yet another church, her Dad in the process of dying, yet still so hard on her mother. Naomi worked to see the good side of people while telling the truth about her situation. She embodied what it meant to experience and tell the truth of life, at the same time make good choices about her feelings. Hurting, loving, forgiving and good to the bone. She listened through my ramblings. What would I planned to take in school, how much I hurt from this, or was ecstatic about that. She and I shared honestly and loved deeply. One day another call. Naomi and her husband had been traveling home a late night from a wedding. It had been raining. Beyond the details – she died along the road. Though Naomi is gone, she is still in my collection. Collectable friends I keep forever.

Blue and white china spreads across a better part of the hutch. A 14 piece set I happened upon at a church rummage sale years ago. Bought it from a sad woman who had just been divorced. The china was a wedding gift from her ex. He didn’t want her anymore, he wanted somebody new – so the dishes had to go. Heavy in my hand, and beneath sheen are drawings of home spun belonging. Beautiful blue on white homes and farms blur between faces, one then another and another I have known – each discarded for someone new. Years, sometimes 20 or more, tossed aside for the rush. Old love is so much work. Who wants it? The chase, the catch, the passion. A drug induced high – not a sketch of house for two, snow covered roof, edges rough, colors fading and oh so random the way real love looks.

Relationships deep and lasting require self honesty, vulnerability with the other – drudging side by side through the slights, disrespect, the hurts and selfishness. Through the wounds of you and the scars of me, hurting the other sometimes with no intention. Working, working still more. The humbling task of counseling, wearing thin tired prayer knees, whatever it takes for trust to form again into comfortable, longing love. No shame for the soul whose spouse has decided to go. Who can stop an intoxicated fix when laziness for the care of the other as been expanding for decades.

Blue and white memories of dinners around table, savory steam from bubbling gravy, warm rolls, salad tossed, little eyes looking on. Will dinner tonight find Dad loving Mom? Mom smirking at Dad? Cold as ice this time, will it be? Might we breathe easy, eat hardily and laugh? Or will food lodge – hard to swallow and hurt? Blue and White Currier and Ives reminds me there are aching little hearts at stake.

I collected a Man I want to keep. A man I want to get to know for the new man he is today. I don’t know today’s husband. But I want to. I want to fall in love with him all over again. Who needs a chase. Everyday’s a mystery when marriage comes to us in this way. Forever love calms and paints all things blue and white when ground under feet shifts about – shoving aside what we have known. Love hunts for all things salvageable related to he and me. I sweat to work on growth for me as powerfully as I want he and me to be whole and sound. To work and work and work is my gift to the man I collected 24 years ago, and my gift to our love children. The passing of time we’ve taken on together. Giant warm hand still holding cold hand half it’s size. This simple treasure worth far more than a momentary fix. I like blue and white hoarding space in my hutch the way love sprawls out beyond ourselves.

One piece of crystal sits in my hutch. The candy dish was a wedding gift from a friend who never made it. I collected Lavon much the way I’d collected Cheri…. Mom and Dad had known her and her ex before college… lifelong friends. She was Mom and Dad’s age. Her son, I really adored. Auto accident and he was gone when he was 16 and I just 8. Lavon survived but marred by the passing of her son.  She had firm opinions on the best and proper way for everything. When Adored Fiancee and I wanted to have an early morning wedding in a field of wildflowers, she was the one who told us we’d have to have an afternoon wedding in a church. I listened to her. She was only days away from meeting Jesus, cancer had helped itself to her and was gaining. Not the warm and fuzzy kind of friend, but a loyal one, and always welcoming. She had been through more than most people I know, and had managed to know her dignity, and the dignity of others. She taught me to hold my head high, or to try anyhow, no matter what. She’s another piece of my collection I’m storing where moth and rust can not decay.

Made in the Czech Republic, the white on white tea set to me is the prettiest I’ve ever seen. Aunt Ruth sent me money as a birthday gift one year to “buy something for you this time, not the kids”. I had hunted for months for just the right tea set, driving up and down the corridor, seeing many lovely sets but nothing I couldn’t live without. One day during a lunch break, peering through the hospital gift shop window, needing a distraction to get my mind off the sordid horrors of what was waiting for me in the ER, I was overtaken by tea set white, grand in every way, and all this time just down the hall and up the escalator, perched in window and waiting for me to take home.

Aunt Ruth was thoughtful. I stop and scoop mail out of box at end of day, sight of hand written address moves about in my chest – though she’s been gone a long time now, still the first thought is that it’s from her. She was one who kept in touch, by letter, gift, phone call, even email. Aunt Ruth is one of my collection I miss as much now as I did when she first passed, and it’s been many years. It’s one thing to be a little girl and have a thoughtful Aunt stay in touch. It’s quite another to have that aunt become a confidant and friend, one woman to another. She had the best kind of humor. Working the dailiness of life into hilarity. As ways of communicating changed, she changed with them. Back and forth we’d email simple nothings of our day, dull details flavored with a random witty crack to warm up grind of life. It seems so fitting that the most elegant of all china in my hutch came from her. The kind of elegance I admire. Solid and simple, yet grand. That was Aunt Ruth.

The other tea set I have is a beauty. It’s all flowers and butterflies. The colors eclectic, patterns mixing and matching each other. Such a bubbly set. It was given me one Christmas by my sister Becky. She’s the gift giving sister in the family. If I had decided to collect 20 tea sets, she would have made sure to help me in the endeavor. Christmas boxes mailed from across the country, filled with thoughtful gifts for the family. Any time I go for a visit, she sends me away with clothes and quilt makings, books and candles. I remember, chin in hands, elbows hard into brown shag carpet, resting there as I watched her at work turning yarn into hats for everyone she decided needed one that childhood winter. Butterflies on cup and pot reminds me of the way my sister sees things. She tells me often things are meant to be used, not hidden away for preservation. She also is forever reminding me to slow down and just take life in. Now I’m not sure she manages slow down herself very well, as her nickname as a kid was “Road Runner”, so I can take the advise from her as one who understands having a million interesting projects and friends and thoughts and not enough time to take them all in, rather than from a naturally routine-ish plodder who hasn’t a clue. Butterflies on cup, one of many reminders of my impressive collection of beautiful people. Salt and Pepper Shaker hunted down at a thrift store by All Mr. Business. White crochet bowls by one of the neighbors tuned treasured friend. A set of yellow painted birds from a precious friend I collected in the nursery at church long ago.  Hand carved Russian stack dolls from a college room mate turned sister (and auntie to our children).  Tiny spoon plate made for me by my College Girl. My hutch holds a fraction of the hundreds, maybe thousands of reminders of love from the beautiful people I’ve collected over my lifetime. Pictures hand drawn by all of my children, quilted wall hangings, homemade dresses for my daughters, gift books, silverware, house and dinning table made by Adored Husband, letters, recipes, poems, songs, towels, plants, and endless hours of listening and care that have been given me by the beautiful people in my life. Come to think of it, I do like collecting after all.

 

Amelia