511 Chesnut

dcp_0013.jpg“There’s a lot of love in this house,” June said emphatically. “I can feel it.” We were standing in front of the mantle in the “front room” of my parents’ home and had just returned from the cemetery. My father’s graveside funeral service had occurred a mere hour before, and many friends and family had gathered at 511 Chesnut to share memories, condolences, and perhaps a piece of cake. That was nearly nine years ago, and June’s comment and the way she said it stays with me. Touching my arm, she looked at me with such intensity as if to say, “Listen, this is important. Heed my words.” I’m wondering if the reason this conversation has recently lodged itself (uninvited) in my mind is because somehow I’ve taken the house for granted, have neglected it or treated it with disrespect.

After my parents’ deaths, my husband and I bought the house from my siblings and lived there happily for nearly five years. We then found ourselves thinking of ways to downsize as we began the transition into retirement. After much prayer and discussion, we decided to put the house on the market. Things happened quickly, and we soon moved into another home, a smaller one with lots of character. Did I mention that we were a tad hasty in this change? KNOWING that selling the family home was the right thing to do, we quickly found the home of our dreams and moved in. Months later, 511 sits unoccupied and well, deserted. Or that’s the way I’ve begun to think of it.

Lately I’ve started thinking more about the “soul” of that house, the home it was for all of us. Starting this week, I’m going to write about the life that took place there, the laughter and tears and conversations and heartache and joy. Maybe then it can let me go…and vice versa.

Scott Park Lesson

Since we’ve moved, I’ve changed my walking route(s). Occasionally I’ll walk around the neighborhood, especially on the days when I feel like I need a real workout that the hilly streets provide. The undulating hills and curvy, tree-lined streets are invigorating for both body and soul. Most of  the time, however, I find myself going to Scott Park, an area where people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds converge to walk, jog, play tennis or volleyball, or picnic with family and friends.

It’s SO COOL there. Trees of all kinds seem to peer down on the shifting population as they wend their way around the winding one-mile path or participate in sports. Sometimes it’s quiet except for chirping birds and the sound of one’s own footsteps. Other times, it’s a little more clamorous. Tennis balls getting whacked back and forth across the net and exuberant shouts of the volley ball players as they jump to punch the ball remind me that there’s more to sports than the solitary walk that I prefer.

What I really love about the place, however, is the variety of people there who are all trying their best to improve themselves in some way, whether it’s by socializing with others in sports or by walking or jogging their way to fitness. Since I’m a walker and occasional jogger, I’m keenly interested in and aware of those who share the footpath. They range from the young speed demons who dart past me to the elderly who slowly and cautiously make their way around the track. I’ve seen people limping, using walkers and canes, and even leaning on companions for support as they make “the loop.” Some are thin as rails while others are obese. Our socioeconomic background, race, ethnicity, age, and state of health differ, yet I feel somehow united to all of these folks because I sense that we have many things in common. We see the connection between mind, body, and spirit and are out saying “yes” to our physical and spiritual selves.  

I never leave the track without feeling inspired or motivated in some way, and this morning was no exception. On my last lap, I saw two women ahead of me whom I hadn’t seen before. Both were struggling to make it up the slight incline, and as I got closer I could overhear their conversation. The woman with the cane was in obvious discomfort and informed her friend, “My heel’s ‘bout to kill me.” Her walking buddy encouraged her to go back to the car and wait for her to finish two laps and assured her that one lap was enough considering her pain. “No, I gotta do this, and I am,” she replied. I walked briskly by and heard the words, “You’re determined, that’s for sure.”

Yes, she was, and I admired her for it and was grateful for the lesson. It’s so much easier to take the path of least resistance…at least in the short run. It would have been easier for this walker to stop and rest while her friend went “the distance,” and yet would her health have improved? Perseverance and persistence are traits essential for any accomplishment, and as I walked on past them, this little quote came to mind: “How can you expect God to direct your steps if you’re not taking any?” Who said that, I’m not sure, but there’s a lot of truth in that pithy little phrase.

Baby Emma

getattachment.jpgI dropped by Mrs. C.’s house to drop off the latest pictures of Baby Emma and her brother and sister. Being three hours away from her great grandchildren makes it difficult for her to see them as often as she’d like, so pictures are the next best thing. Studying the baby’s features intently, she commented on her huge eyes and then told me that her mother, Baby Emma’s great-great grandmother, had big eyes too.

Interested in this lady whom I had never met and yet whose DNA influenced my children, I asked Mrs. C. about her mother and her early demise. One story led to another, and before I knew it, I was listening to the details of the budding romance between Mr. and Mrs. Crolley. She had been his nurse, a very proper one who believed in following the rules. He didn’t want her to bend the rules, yet having noticed her before, he seized upon the opportunity to get to know her a little better. Would she be willing to give him a back rub after her shift ended? She was…and did, and the spell was cast.

Even though the hospital where they first became acquainted has long been demolished to make room for houses, I can still picture the two-story brick edifice and visualize a young couple becoming better acquainted there. His “Crolley charm,” as my son refers to it, melted her resolve, and before long the neat professional nurse in the starched white uniform became his wife. 

Today as I look at the photographs of the most recent family member, Emma Elizabeth, I can’t help but think about this precious child and her heritage. Baby Emma’s mother Carrie has a sign above an entry into her family room that says, “All because two people fell in love,” and although she thinks of Rich and her, this afternoon I’m thinking of another couple who met six decades ago. As long as Emma lives, so will they.

Gratitude and Receptivity

Connie introduced me to this great blog by songwriter Christine Kane, and I’m so happy about it. Every time I go to Christine’s blog (I feel like we’re on a first-name, buddy basis already), I read something else new and neat. Her overall outlook and world view are similar to mine, but her writing puts a slightly different twist on things.

I’m a BIG believer in gratitude and make it a point to write in a gratitude journal on a regular basis. One of the tidbits I picked up from Christine’s blog is that gratitude makes a person more receptive and concave, much like a vessel waiting to be filled. As soon as I read this I thought of two beautiful bowls I have. One is green and was specially chosen for its decorative purpose; its jade green color and rippled texture made it a perfect accessory for the dresser in the bedroom. On the inside rim, there is a single small flower that adds just the right touch of beauty. Simple and understated, the bowl is lovely. Er, that is, I think it still looks lovely. Right now it’s filled to overflowing with paper, coins, nails, screws, and other miscellaneous contents from my husband’s pockets. The other bowl is larger and flatter but just as lovely in its own way. Made of polished wood, I placed it on a shelf near the back door just to be pretty! However, at this moment, it too is filled with mail, pictures, keys, and other paraphernalia that somehow gets put there.

We’re not bowls, but we are vessels hoping expectantly to be filled with blessings, and the more grateful we are, the more receptive and “concave” we are. To quote Christine, gratitude says, “I am receptive. Send more!”


Standing in the cross walk between the maternity wing and the delivery room, Jenny and I were entertaining ourselves by taking pictures of the clouds and the beautiful blue sky. Sultry and steamy outside, it was cool and comfortable in the air conditioned crosswalk. Surrounded by windows on all sides, we got a little carried away taking pictures of the various cloud formations from different angles. It was so beautiful! I even snapped a photo of a building across the way because the clouds were mirrored on its sleek side.

Did I mention that we had been in Lauren’s hospital room for over three hours waiting for the doctor’s availability to perform her C-section? The anticipation and anxiety had been steadily building, and these sky views from the crosswalk helped to calm our spirits. We knew the moment when we’d see the baby was speedily approaching, and we were excited about the probability of being the first to see her.

I had just snapped my cell phone shut when I glanced up and saw Charlie and a delivery room nurse approach the double doors leading to the crosswalk. Cradled in the nurse’s arms was the little neonate with her precious, scrunched-up little face. Sallie was here at last, and there in glass-enclosed crosswalk surrounded by sun and sky, we got our first glimpse. I’m not sure what Otis and Jenny were thinking, but my thoughts were how awesome it was to behold the face of one who had so recently left her Heavenly Father’s presence. If she could only talk, what stories she might tell!

I’ll forever associate the birth of this child with my “heavenly” photographs and the sunny day she entered the world.

Contagion or Compulsion?

It was an innocent remark, or so I thought. An innocuous, off-hand comment about a family situation unleashed a torrent of angry words from my daughter “Mom, when are you and Dad going to learn that we’re adults now? You can’t tell us what to do anymore.”

Taken aback, I nonetheless felt that the issue was “on the table” and needed to be discussed. “You’re right,”   I told her, “you are too old for us to be telling you what to do…at least in the way we did when you were a child.” I then went on to tell her of something I’d read about the impact of  influencing by catagion as opposed to that of compulsion. It reminded me of Brigham Young’s comment that you can’t flog a man into heaven. You can’t force a person to live the commandments or to walk the straight path, but you can influence by example, by love, and by kindness. I then reminded my lovely daughter that the only reason her father and I kept dispensing parental advice is because we loved her and her siblings very much. From now on, however, I promised to use less talk and more action in the hope that my behavior would be contagious.

Nevertheless, as I was putting the finishing touches on my Sunday school lesson this morning, I was stuck with how replete the Scriptures are with instructions from our Heavenly Father to us, His children. Not only are the commandments and reminders there for us to read and apply throughout our entire lives, but there’s also the fact that many of them are listed over and over again. If our loving Father felt the need to give us continued and repeated instructions, isn’t it permissible for us as earthly parents to do the same thing with our children that He has entrusted to us?

Knock, Knock, Knocking at the Door

Perplexed, flummoxed, perhaps a little panicky. All of those adjectives describe my feelings this morning. Months ago we put our home on the market and bought another. This was AFTER prayerful consideration and the certain knowledge that things would work out just the way we needed them to. I had lightheartedly remarked that we had enough money to make three payments on the new house, never dreaming that six months later, we’d be struggling to make two payments. Remaining prayerful and optimistic has yielded no contract.  This morning I feel like Marjorie Holmes, one of my mother’s favorite authors, who said that she had prayed so often for certain things that her voice was hoarse from asking and her knuckles bloody from knocking on the door. And still she knocked. And so do I. Aren’t we told that if we ask we shall receive and that if we knock the door will be opened?  Recently bemoaning our proximity to the proverbial Poorhouse if something doesn’t happen soon, I quipped that even prayer doesn’t seem to be working. A spiritual friend was quick in his response: “Sure it does. You just don’t know it yet.”  I needed that reminder. Although we as mortals may not understand why something is or isn’t happening just the way that we think it should, that doesn’t mean that events are not unfolding in the way that’s best for us. He has higher thoughts and better plans.

Sunday School Shenanigans

Sunday school left me bewildered….again. I’m baffled about how and why young people in today’s world can act so rudely and disrespectfully that teaching them is a chore, not a pleasure, especially teens who have been raised in loving families by parents who teach manners and appropriate, civil behavior. When a teacher has to stop her lesson to remind students to stop chatting and “listen up,” every three minutes (or less), soon the Spirit is missing. What’s up with that??? Are all youth this way, or is it just American ones?

Rather than give THE LECTURE about appropriate behavior in Heavenly Father’s house yet again, I decided to try blending a little psychology into the introduction. I gave a brief overview of the major psychological perspectives and then tried to relate their unruly, seemingly uncontrollable behavior to each of the viewpoints in order to come up with the WHY of general incivility.

  • Could it be psychoanalytic? Were they misbehaving because of some regressed memories? Were there some unconscious forces that made them all vie for attention? Or maybe their ids were overpowering their superegos.
  • What about the behavioral perspective. Evidently somewhere along the line someone (perhaps several someones) had reinforced being cute and talkative and disruptive. Perhaps they even did it to each other. Even worse. I could be strengthening their antics by calling attention to them.
  • That brings us to the humanistic view. Were they trying to achieve positive regard? Achieve a healthy self-concept? Were they in the process of growing and “becoming?”
  • The cognitive view offers “food for thought” because it’s definite that teenagers think dramatically different from younger children and from more mature individuals. I looked at these adolescents and realized that by the time they turn twenty-five, they’ll in all likelihood look back on their disrespectful behavior in disbelief. Right now they’re wrapped up in the “imaginary audience.”
  • Then there’s the sociocultural perspective. There’s absolutely no doubt that teenagers in other cultures share some of the same characteristics as those in
    America, and yet in many countries (especially Eastern ones), they are more disciplined and self-controlled. To giggle and chatter away incessantly while an adult talks would be unthinkable in other cultures. Is it any wonder that we’re sometimes referred to collectively as the “ugly American?”
  • A biophysical viewpoint offers answers too. Perhaps the prefrontal cortex is still developing, or maybe hormones are raging or “out of whack.”

While I enjoyed thinking of these possible explanations, I came up with no definitive answers to my class’s irreverent behavior. ..and neither did they. By the way, yes I did consider that perhaps my boring lessons are the cause of the shenanigans, but somehow I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, EVERYONE who teaches or works with this group of young people is experiencing the same frustration and exasperation. What can I (we) do?

Love and Motherhood

On my way to work this morning, Dr. Scott Peck’s comments about love came to mind. In The Road Less Traveled, Dr. Peck says that all love requires courage and work…courage because a person risks rejection, heartache, and perhaps even despair if his or her love is not returned or is little value to another. The work part comes in because of the sacrifices a person has to make in the name of love. I say “has to make” because according to Dr. Peck, if you say that you love someone and yet you do nothing (or very little) for that person, then it’s not love, and there are no exceptions. None.

So how does this relate to motherhood? I see young parents enraptured with the perfect little beings they have brought into this world, and I’m hopeful that things will go well for the little family. And yet, I know from experience that the sweet-smelling, velvet-skinned, adorable infant will soon grow into a busy toddler whose favorite word is “NO.” My grandchildren love to say, “I don’t want to,” when their sweet mother makes a request like picking up their toys or bringing her a diaper to change Baby Emma. A parent turns her head, and the defiant (but cute) toddler is a teenager with opinions, friends, and tastes much different from that of the parents. Teens can break a parent’s heart. Some have even been known to lash out with such statements as “I didn’t ask to be born!” Or even worse, “I hate you!” Does it take courage to have and raise a child? Absolutely!

The work aspect of love is easy to see…and hard to practice at times. Daydreaming about having children doesn’t always match reality. There’s sleep deprivation for starters, a phenomenom that begins when a child enters the world and ends…well, I’m not so sure about that one. There are still nights of insomnia when I find myself vexed or fretting about one of my children. There are always clothes to launder, fold, or press; soccer practices, dance classes, hockey games, and track meets to chaffeur; food purchasing and preparation; activities related to school including homework assistance, meeting with teachers, and actually getting children there; keeping a clean, organized, and spiritual household; and providing for the child’s temporal as well as spiritual needs. Add to this the good old fashioned need for quality time, one-on-one time with each child, and it’s no wonder that mothers are often weary and a bit overwhelmed. Motherhood is WORK.

Dr. Peck was right. Being a mother and loving a child requires both courage and work. Is motherhood worth it? You bet. 

Homeless People

A friend and I went to Columbia intending to go on a tour of homes. On the way, however, we got sidetracked by returning an earlier purchase and then doing some unneeded (but fun) shopping. It became imperative that I purchase a green lamp for my guestroom, and she felt the urgent need to buy some butter cream scented candles. 

Heading downtown, we got sidetracked and rode through some lovely residential areas and finally arrived at a unique store specializing in originally designed jewelry. What a fun place! We even got to sample chocolate coated strawberries and cheese cake drizzled on pink spoons. Yum. Before leaving, Connie spied a lovely two-strand turquoise and silver necklace with her name on it. In high spirits (was it the cheesecake or the glittering array of jewelry?), we decided to drive farther into the city to a truly unique jewelry store near the university. As I was maneuvering my trusty Camry into the only available parking spot, we saw him…only we couldn’t tell for certain if it was a he or a she. The homeless person was so disheveled that we couldn’t determine the gender for certain. The individual’s clothing appeared lumpy, as if all of his worldly goods, including whatever might have been discovered on a day of walking
Columbia’s downtown streets, were beneath the oversized blue sweatshirt.

Connie and I looked at each other, swallowed hard, and then marched right into the store, perhaps hoping to forget the image that had so disconcerted us. How were we supposed to have fun with that sad sight in our minds? Nevertheless, a few minutes in Handpicked, and our consciences were quiet. Thirty minutes and a few dollars later, the material girls  emerged laughing and chatting about what was next on our agenda. Then we saw the person again. This time he was sitting on a bench right outside of the store, his bearded chin resting on his chest as he napped, his hair matted and filthy. We got in the car and discussed the homeless situation in
Columbia…and indeed everywhere. What should we do? What could we do?

Quiet for the first time that day, both of us thinking of what we’d seen, we looked to our right and saw another homeless man standing behind a tree, a bag of possessions at his feet. What can be done?  Who are these people? Where are their families? Are they schizophrenics with no medication? Were they once employed in “safe” jobs that somehow ended? Is there no one who loves them?

What are we to do if we truly desire to be good Samaritans?