It was 1958 or Nine

I grew up in a beautiful America.  Dad was Dad, and Mom was Mom and every home had those two individuals.  Kids were either boys or girls, and very generic after that.  When our mom and dad made friends with other moms and dads, we always demanded to know about their children, eager for playmates of our own age and gender.  When two families got together, it was an instant party, a house full of laughing people, with food the mother of the house had grown in her garden, baked in her oven, or “fixed for us” in her brand new kitchen.

It was an era when each American felt freshly vindicated by having conquered the Nazis who tried to murder millions of innocent civilians simply for being Jewish, or having Jewish “sympathies.”  We were born several years after the end of World War II, and knew no suffering, no lack, no fear.  Our parents were children of the Depression who had known hunger, lack, and bone-chilling cold in winters that seemed endless.  By contrast, our homes were heated in winter, and Union Gas showed up monthly to refill the fuel supply in our basement.  As a child I would watch out the window and call out to my mom, “The Onion Man is here!”  When she asked why I called him the onion man, I said, “That’s what it says on the truck.”  (I was a Phonics kid. For me, the word “Union” did not start with a “Y” but with a “U” so UNION man it was.

Our parents would never discuss the war, but the Depression was frequently mentioned.  The tone was unanimously informative and cautionary from parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  It was as if they had barely survived total immolation, but for God’s hand, and if we were not careful, we would suffer the same.  This awareness of God’s grace, and their relief at His providential solutions to poverty,  genocide, and starvation was real, and no small thing, nothing to take for granted.  We were occasionally warned that our days of careless play and full bellies could well be numbered.  We laughed behind their backs, certain the stories were only fables meant to teach us manners and godly behavior.

Freshly laundered clothing flapped in the sunshine outside, and long white diapers and sheets caught breezes as my grandmother bent to the heavy basket and pinned up even more.  She would raise a cranky voice and tell us something in Norwegian as we chased each other through the wet billows in an effort to run without being caught in them.  We knew what she was saying, even though we spoke nothing but English.  In those days, children listened for tone, more than the words themselves.  Adults spoke “grown up” and we spoke “child” and it seemed two separate things.  We listened for “angry” or “inviting” or “pay attention” or “stop it.”  Other than these simple tones, we ran freely past them, paying no attention.

50s

We were so confident of their love and provision we took them completely for granted, and when they told us of their impoverished childhoods, they spoke in hushed and embarrassed tones.  They spoke of their memories in shame, and it humiliated us that our own parents had known that kind of lack. We would edge away from their sad narrative, scared and suspicious it might be congenital in nature.  It was not in keeping with the sunshine of our own experience, and we knew they were speaking truth, but we had no place in our hearts and minds to file these stories.  It was important to them.  It marked them.  It was our heritage and they wanted us to have it, but we were not willing to receive it.

to be continued…

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We Have Missing

Votive

Votive (Photo credit: selva)

At times, the awareness of what it all means escapes us, and at other times, we totally comprehend the meaning yet cannot find the courage to share it.  Writers  have a responsibility to bring some kind of meaning to events both large and small, happy and sad, and we toil to bring sense out of the senseless.

This is where the authentic, sad, and monstrous stuff of life threatens to immobilize the very people who carry the light.  We stand with the votive candle in our trembling hands, fearful the rain and wind will extinguish the only light we have.  In past times it has.  This was before.  It was before we realized we had these candles for a reason.  We do not need to figure out why we have them.  We need to figure out what to DO with them while there is still time.  Tonight I will light and relight and keep lighting my small source of light until others find the courage to do the same.

At the Vermont Studio Center last summer, I made a tiny and casual observation at the conference table of twenty or so writers who had come to study the craft of candle bearing.  During the introductions, each was doing his or her best to present himself as someone who had studied, accomplished, published, and was continuing to do even more.  As I listened to each one, I was in awe of the talent, the degrees, and the literary work they were doing on a daily basis.  For example, one handsome youth who appeared to be about 17, was actually a college professor who was working to translate Chinese poetry into English.

I had nothing to compare.  I sat quietly, hoping to be skipped, but one of them said, “What about you?  Are you hiding back there?”  It was said in jest and with great kindness, but I actually was hiding because I had nothing to say to make myself relevant in such company.  Instead I proffered this, “I am Tandy Belt, and I write reality.  I am an online blogger.  I also write creative non-fiction.”  They seemed interested and also surprised.  I felt bold enough to continue,  “I have been listening to all of you and I must say the credentials are very impressive!  I am in awe of each one of you, but I want to say one thing:  In the dark of night, when you are alone and afraid you are not quite good enough, smart enough, or talented enough to continue, remember that you are.  In your own individual way, in all kinds of areas of effort, you are keeping the light alive.  If someone comes by you and blows out your candle, light it again, and again and AGAIN.  This is what I do, and will always do, and I will never let my candle go out permanently.”  I said it emphatically, because I meant it.

I am telling no lie.  Every single face around that table registered some combination of relief, agreement, empowerment and appreciation for what I had said, and I was surprised.  But simple truth has relevance, and is always immediately recognized.  It removes fear and brings goodness out of hiding.  It is empowering, even when stated with apprehension.

The next day, many came up to me, seeking me out for a private word.  I was absolutely stunned.  One sweet and shy girl said, “We had a gathering last night and talked for hours about what you said yesterday.  We all appreciated it so much!”  Then she embraced me, and kissed me on the cheek!

Seriously?  I learned something important right then and there.  It is not the published work, the PhD, or the high paying position at a prestigious school that brings security, because we are all afraid.  We all need encouragement.  We are all lonely, wounded, doubtful of our own worthiness to continue.  It is this pervasive fear that drives us to write, to light those candles, to hope.

Tonight I am struggling to light a candle whose wick is wet.  My matches are damp.  My hands shake.  Even here in the darkness, I cannot stop struggling to find a way to get it done.  AGAIN.

The numbing cold left behind by the massacre of kindergarteners in Newtown, Connecticut threatens to keep me in darkness once and for all.  Rain pelts my face, and has the sting of icy fingers around my throat.  I have nothing to say, I plead.  Let me hide my failure.  Let me give up my hope.  But my own words come back to haunt me so I keep struggling against the odds.  How can I think of even one thing to say?!  My candle is extinguished.  Yet I remember I am a light carrier, and people are waiting.  A feminine voice taunts from a faraway corner.  “And what about YOU?  Are you HIDING back there?”   THE VOICE IS MY OWN.

I strike the match one last time, and there is a small flame.  I hold it to the wick until my fingers get hot.  It fires and sputters, but the light has come.  The flame transfers to the candle and I drop the match with great relief.  I hold my candle carefully as the comforting light expands so I can see those who are suffering all around me.  I am not alone.  I was never alone.

I hold it up and the faces, though twisted with grief, turn to the sudden light.  There is an instant awareness not one of us was ever truly alone, despite our perceptions moments before.  The light reveals gaps in the crowd.  We have missing.  The small spaces between some parents…the tall spots among families with children.  We have 28 gaps all told.  We all see the gaps and say nothing.

What is most painful about being a light carrier is having to recognize both good and evil.  We must accept and acknowledge that both are true and exist simultaneously.  The simple truth I must share now is this:  It is in our own individual power to change the balance of it.  In addition, we are powerless to make that change for anyone else.

Someone blew my candle out, but I have managed to light it once more.  I will do this again.  This is my decision, even if I were the only one left who was able to do so.  I encourage you to do the same.

Widow

Today I feel led to write about Jesus and his treatment, opinion and honor of women.  Seems to me he went out of his way to level them with men who traditionally put us in a lower category.  2,000 years ago, Jesus was pretty advanced.  I am thinking of the story of “The Widow’s Mite”.  Apparently, people were lined up, dropping various sums of money into the offering plate, and those who were watching commented on how large some of the donations were.

Jesus had noticed a widow in line, who dropped in a tiny amount, but he recognized it was all she had to live on.  In other words, she gave it ALL.  He said, “She has put in more than anyone else.”  This truthful observation shocked some who did not even notice the mite, as it fell among the gold and silver beneath it.

I can picture her moving forward, being jostled about in her faded clothing, aware of her lowly status in such a crowd.  Her feet were probably hurting, and maybe she had poor vision.  But she was on a mission.  She had a penny in her hand, and she wanted to make an offering.  Without fanfare, she let it drop into the receptacle and Jesus noticed.  This tiny event from such a long time ago is recorded in the Bible because Jesus  said, “All the others put in out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty, put in all she had to live on.”

All she had to live on.  Seriously?  If all I had was five dollars, and had not had lunch yet, I doubt I’d drop it into the offering plate at church!  Yet this is what she did, and without expectation of any kind of return.

Jesus recognized her for doing so, and despite the many lofty thoughts running through his mind on this ordinary day, commented on it.  It was included in the Bible for all posterity.  A singular honor for a mite.

The widow gave 100%.  Jesus noticed.  He found it remarkable. 

F.R.O.G.

I have been reluctant to broadcast my personal relationship to God, because I do not consider myself a very good example of what a Christian should look and act like.  Still, at the very heart of my writing God’s guidance is evident.  Each thing I produce has to past the sniff test of truth, as I understand it before I can expect anyone else to listen!

“Frog” is kind of code among Christian believers.  It is an acronym for Fully Rely On God.

In a confusing array of choices, I take comfort in the guidance of a higher being, one who sees and knows everything.  To know He has a plan, and I am part of it, and not all of it, helps me find security in my reason for existing.  I write from that source.

Often I think about my host of friends who choose not to believe in divine authority.  As God is my witness, I do not look down on them because of this.  I consider them very dear friends, and accept them just as they are, and they do me.  But to drop my pride and reveal I am a “Christian” will cost me something.   To affiliate with those who boldly fly the banner of Christ may cause  finger-pointing by those who consider themselves better Christians…I will never be able to withstand their withering glares, and whispers of unacceptance, and the judgement and rejection.

But to step out and fully rely on God demands I do so publicly.  I have been flamed, brow beaten, disrespected and rejected at times when I timidly shared my faith with someone who was skeptical.  It is a rare atheist who will politely tolerate a Christian’s viewpoint without openly reviling it.  These bullying events have scared me,  and although I remained resolute, I became very cautious.  I became covert, which only served to make me look odd to believers and unbelievers alike!

I do not attend church.  I deliberately work on Sundays because nobody else wants to.  I enjoy sitting quietly at my desk, thinking my own thoughts, praying, working on things I was too busy to work on during the past week.  This day of preparation for the following week is an important service to every one of my co-workers.  I like to think of it as a “sacrifice” I make on behalf of others, to enable them to attend services, be with their families, and so on.  It is pure joy, and I think God accepts it as my Sabbath, or day of rest.

I am deeply embarrassed by “Bible thumpers” and strident Christians who proclaim their own righteousness by disparaging others.  They list their own credentials, and their list of good deeds like a well rehearsed speech on why they qualify to carry the name “Christian”.  When I study God’s Word, I never find where Christ himself ever did this.  It was the Pharisees who acted in such indignant self-righteousness that Jesus rebuked them openly.  No other group received such a severe tongue lashing as this group!

Of course they were angry, and ultimately silenced Jesus by arranging his death.  I think the rest of the story is well-known.  The idea of a human being rising from the dead is a hard thing to convince really happened.  The idea Jesus was a God/Man is even more difficult!  These basic tenets of Christianity are based on faith, not reason.  Each human being is perfectly well-known by God, yet we regard God as a fantasy because of our lack of knowledge about Him.  Our unbelief, though reasonable, does not change the truth of God one bit.  We are free, absolutely free in our choice to bathe in his light, or flee from it.

I relate more closely with the “woman at the well” who  went to draw water at an odd time of day, after all the “righteous” women had finished.  This woman was well-known as a local prostitute, and had a long history in her small town as one who had made wrong choices and was no longer welcome in polite society.  Guess who came to that well at the very same time?  It was the unknown Jesus, a carpenter from the area.

A casual observer in those days would have been astonished and outraged.  No self-respecting Jewish man spoke to any woman in public, much less one of her pedigree.  Yet Jesus did.  But why?  She had no credentials, no authority, no money, nothing of value at all.

Despite this, they had a long conversation together, about her history, her past, and her present.  It was an honest and surprisingly accurate discourse, and she was quite astonished.  But there was no condemnation, despite her record.  She was a Samaritan, not even one of the “Chosen People”.  She had no idea who Jesus was, but she said, “I know that Messiah, (called Christ) is coming.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  and Jesus answered, “I who speak to you, am he.”  This public harlot was the very first person on the planet Jesus revealed he was actually the Messiah!  Openly, and in full view of everyone, she was the first to hear these words.   He is a rule breaker, a man without fear, and one who is able to love someone everyone else condemns.  I cannot get past a person like Jesus!

Neither did she.  She ran back to town and began to tell anyone who would listen about this encounter.  She recognized the truth, accepted it,  and shared it.  She could have refused the offer, but did not.  Each of us will eventually have the same opportunity and choice.  It has nothing to do with our own choices prior to the encounter, but everything to do with whether or not we believe Jesus can find us worth loving just as we are, in all our self judgement, shame, anger, and fear.  The acceptance Jesus demonstrated to such a woman leaves me assured any other person, including me, can be loved and accepted also!

In the coming weeks, I am going to discuss the importance of women in Jesus’ time on earth.  It is an amazing and redemptive saga.

End Of Days…Why Grandmothers Are Like This

I decided to select a photo from my collection from October a few years back, more than a couple of years, really! I chose October 2008, which held a series of pictures of my grandson Cavin on an all day adventure at “Dodie’s House”.   I wish I could insert the entire album! He was maybe twenty months old.   Running in only a diaper, I snapped photos of him in his brother’s cap, my wide-brimmed sun hat, and a bent up cowboy hat. He tried each on in turn, trying out characters, as if to learn who he might become.
He spent an entire day in various get ups, and while I played paparazzi, my photos show him climbing, squatting, licking spoons of brownie mix, wiping his hands on his lil belly. He is inside, outside, devouring slices of watermelon, and patting dogs from the neighborhood. In the series he is never still, and I feel joy in the memory, with a keen awareness of the gift he was to me, and his cavalier disregard for me snapping photos of his antics.
I remember thinking how different boys are from girls in the way they play and do the work of childhood. I had been a mom of girls, never actually knowing how completely my experience differed from my friends who had sons.
Then I got a slew of grandsons, and realized my joy was only beginning!
I admit it was challenging to me to allow the climbing, jumping, and mechanical experimentation that never stopped. Their serious faces, intent on bugs, guns, and machines would change suddenly, brilliantly, into bursts of unbridled movement…and I felt each was on the verge of death if I failed to keep up! It was tiring, aggravating, and scary.
But then there would come this moment in early evening, when the boy would become quiet, truck still in his hand, and the tipping would begin, softly at first, gently, like soft snow falling…the squat became a sit, and the sit, a belly roll, and the army crawl lightly became a rolling over, with one last look at the ceiling before the stillness, a toy truck falling from open fingers, and suddenly silencestillness.
It would come like some kind of spell, right in the midst of chaotic and jerky movement, as if this boy who moments before had been inexhaustible, had accidentally hit the kill switch, the safety switch, the off button, and just fell asleep in his tracks.
This moment, that special and amazing moment happened over and over again, and my mother’s heart would return to me. All of the annoyances of my day seemed sinful on my part, and the shrieks of “No!” and “Watch out!” and “What is wrong with you?” confronted me there, in the waning daylight, and I would silently ask forgiveness for my harshness over his day of development.
It is different when you become a grandmother. We take time. We feel no obligation to get it right.  Yet we are still mothers.  MOTHERS, with all the accompanying guilt, frustrations, hopes, and dreams, while at the same time knowing we will not be there to watch over them when they are growing families of their own unless we are very, very lucky, and do a very, very good job preventing their deaths as we boldly face our OWN.   Whether our time left is short or long, we spend it lavishly, as if we will always be here.

I leaned over him, smelling his breath, turning my face to feel it on my cheek, and counting his eyelashes when I turned back to look at him, marveling at the length of them.  I set my camera on the bedside table, and leaned closer  to study his face for several minutes. The sheer miraculous beauty of the boy with his lashes sweeping over a perfect (but dirty) cheek lying there, with his heavy head crushing his cowboy hat astonished me! I gently tried to take the hat from him, but he stirred, firmly lifting his strong little hand to the top of his head, preventing me from removing the thing. He was a cowboy, at least for that day, and early signs show more of the same. I allowed it then, and allow it today.
I lifted the camera for one last shot. Somehow I needed proof for myself that hard men all over the world had once been like this child. ALL men, all over the world. Yes. ALL.
Were it not for mothers of boys, the world would have destroyed itself long ago. I will never fully understand it, but I am grateful for every girl who is one of those mothers chosen by God to be one of them.

Red cowboy hat

Red cowboy hat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

October 6, 2012

My Bedroom

Does not take a lot of room for “just the two of us”!

This is a snapshot of our sleeping space. In this quiet spot each of us feels safe, secure, warm and cared for, whether we are together or alone. From my side of the bed, I compose drafts, have my devotional time, or “warm up” for the day by being served breakfast in bed. Who knew a cowboy could cook so well, and be so willing?

From his side of the bed he rests, sleeps, passes the time, or heals from his decades as a roughneck, farrier, cowboy, laborer…on the premise he is “giving me space and quiet” while I write. I sleep on a rather regular 11PM to 7AM schedule and he is on a roughly 8PM-4AM sleeping schedule. In this way, we have togetherness with apartness, something we enjoy. There is freedom for us as individuals when nobody is mandating bed time or rising time.

Each of us needs serenity and quiet, and we must allow space for it in our homes. The outside world gets chaotic, and we need safety and peace when we are tired. This is my space for resting when my shoulders droop, and I feel heavy in my heart.

October 4, 2012

Psalm 137

Psalm 137 (Photo credit: Mouse)

To be on the planet at all is a stupendous opportunity!  Each of us has the chance to improve conditions here, clarifying and identifying situations that could be ameliorated by our special attention.

How frequently I become overwhelmed with “things that something should be done about”!

It is so easy to get lost in the labyrinth of problems.  The planet is too large for me!  The old platitude occurs to me today:  Bloom where you are planted.  I have always chafed at the idea of being planted.  I yearn for lightness, airiness, freedom.  Still…

We all need the good earth to pull sap into our veins, to stay hydrated, to fully live.  My daily practice is to open the Holy scriptures before the day is fully underway.  Here is what I do:  I ask God to lead me to what I need.  Then, I open the Bible randomly to a place in the Old Testament, the story of the Jewish people, the chosen family of God.  His miraculous interactions with ordinary people all through it make exciting reading.  Though often callous and rebellious, God reached down to guide and protect them from their many enemies.

Next, I open randomly to the New Testament, reading the pages in front of me, and finishing at least one chapter.  They are usually short.  The sayings of Jesus are in red ink in my version.  But quite often, the passages I am reading are all in black.  Both provide immediacy and intimacy for me, drawing me (small inconsequential human) to know there is a plan, has always been a plan, and I am counted.  I have a part to play.

Next I go to Proverbs, a book of 31 chapters, one for each day.  Pithy, wise, simple to understand, if I were only be able to read one book, it would be Proverbs.  Today is October 4, so I read Chapter 4.  Verse 23 is circled in my Bible:  Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.  I ponder its meaning.

Last of all, I randomly select a Psalm.  For me, the Psalms are a book of comfort and reassurance.  Once I have read a chapter, I feel refreshed and close my Bible.  The entire process is about 15-20 minutes.  If I want to, I can read more, but normally I do not.  I am a busy girl!

The immediacy of knowing God is with me, even when I seriously doubt it, as others have done since the very beginning, way before my time, and long before these books were written consoles me.  I relax, knowing it has never been just up to me to solve every temporal problem on earth.  All things work together in some mysterious way.  All we have to do is align ourselves with goodness, love, light and peace, to get a perspective of knowing when we have choices, to make good ones.  It is a VERY individual walk, yet it affects the entirety.

I must bloom today, but could not do so if I had not been firmly planted first.