Chasing sunshine

Today was one of those Tennessee February days when everyone is talking about the weather.

“What a beautiful day!”

“Can you believe this sunshine?”

“Did you hear it’s supposed to get up to 70-degrees this weekend? Crazy!”

We stand under the sun’s rays and drink it in like we’ve lived underground for the last three months. We gulp it down with closed eyes, our retinas unable to withstand the brightness. For those of us prone to melancholy during gray, sun-less days, this is better than any antidepressants—Prozac from the heavens.

My youngest was just as excited about the pleasant weather. His heart still beats loudest for the sunny African days of his first five years of life so it took no arm-twisting to convince him to play outside. I pulled a camping chair from the garage and placed it strategically in a sunny triangle on the edge of the driveway to simultaneously watch him play and to read a magazine. (Moms are pretty awesome at this kind of multi-tasking.)

Our yard is blessed with several trees—mostly shaggy cedars and tall, tall pines—so it was only a matter of time before my sunny spot had been eclipsed by the surrounding shade. I felt the lack of sun before I saw it, shivering slightly in my t-shirt. So I moved my chair five feet to catch the sun again. Ten minutes later, I felt another chill. I scooted away from the house and right into the center of the driveway, a concrete square by the garage doors, the only warm spot not in our sloping, grassy front yard. My son rode his bike in circles around me like we were in a very boring circus act.

We spent the hour before it was time to pick up his older brother from school in this way: him peddling and me scooting. And my relentless quest for sunshine got me thinking about other pointless ventures.

King Solomon, the author of Ecclesiastes, called these kind of meaningless activities “chasing after the wind” or in my case, the sun. (If you’re feeling overly happy, you should give Ecclesiastes a quick read. The narrator in my head for this book is Ben Stein’s monotone voice.)  Solomon calls everything meaningless: folly, wisdom, toil, pleasure. The reader might begin to ask: what’s the point?

In chapter 11, Solomon finally gives us something positive to consider amidst all of those warnings about futile pursuits.

Oh, how sweet the light of day,

And how wonderful to live in the sunshine!

Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted.

Take delight in each light-filled hour,

Remembering that there will also be many dark days

And that most of what comes your way is smoke. (The Message)

I need that reminder that too much of what I spend my energy on is “smoke.” Today, I will choose to live in the sunshine!

Why I love a UT fan

I didn’t grow up in a family that cared much for athletics. We didn’t identify with any particular team or sport. If held at gunpoint, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the teams playing in the Super Bowl or the World Series or the NBA Playoffs. March Madness could’ve meant any number of things to me, like spring allergies or some kind of Easter clearance sale. It just wasn’t a part of our everyday lives.

One of the only sports-related memories I have from grade school was the time my cousin was sitting on the floor watching a Kentucky Wildcats basketball game on TV while holding our poodle Rusty in his lap. Somebody on the basketball court did something my cousin didn’t like so he squeezed Rusty too hard and our dog peed all over my cousin. Yep. That’s all I’ve got for the sports highlight reel.

Then I met my husband…

Brent was born in Knoxville to a family of devoted UT Vols fans. His parents graduated from the University of Tennessee, along with his sister and her husband. Brent was raised on Neyland Stadium Saturdays watching the “Pride of the Southland” Marching Band and the players running victoriously through the “T” even before the game had begun.

When we started dating I couldn’t understand my mild-mannered boyfriend’s mood swings that were determined wholly by the outcome of a college football game. Did he have money riding on it? Was the quarterback his brother? Was there some sort of James Bond-type plot to blow up the stadium unless a sizable ransom was paid and the Vols won? (I might not have watched much sports but I did watch lot of TV.)

Fatherhood has mellowed quite a bit of the intensity he once brought to a UT football game. He still cares but he isn’t going to let a Vols loss ruin his evening as it once did. But even with the mellowing (and the lack of recent championship titles), Brent still bleeds orange and here’s how I know: I listen to what he tells our son Knox, the heir apparent to the Vols fan dynasty and the boy who never had a chance to support a different college team.

Brent and Knox discuss the names and hometowns of these 20-something year old players as if they are close personal friends. Son and father read the sports page of the newspaper every day. They swap statistics and devise theories for possible plays and recruiting achievements.

The best part is Knox’s face when he listens to Brent talk about the UT football games of the 1990’s: going to the Sugar Bowl with his parents and watching the 1998 championship title and the excitement of all that was Peyton Manning. Brent tells Knox what he missed by being born a decade too late. But he also tells him that it’s normal for teams to win and lose. They can have successful streaks and then lose five games in a row. Then Brent explains about loyalty, loyalty to your team in the good and the bad times. He says, “You don’t switch teams just because your team isn’t winning and a different team is better.”

So this is how a non-sporty girl came to like football. I can get behind this idea of loyalty to a team, even when they’re faltering. I like to know this is possible and I see this applied to his other commitments. Brent shows this type of loyalty to his job and to his family. He shows me that type of loyalty, too, for which I am grateful. I have good times and bad times and I need to know that he’s always going to be on my team…no matter what.

10 months home

When I was in college I went on a couple of mission trips to Romania to teach English using the Bible. Like any overseas trip, it was eye-opening. So much is different: the food, the customs, the language.

I remember that one time when, unbeknownst to us, our shower was leaking through the bathroom floor in our flat and down through the ceiling in the flat below us. The landlord came knocking to tell us what was happening but our Romanian language skills were abysmal. We had no idea what he was saying. Like so many Europeans, he was fluent in more than one language—but none that we understood. In the end, he had to speak Romanian to a non-English speaking friend who translated his words into French. A few of us had studied French in high school, so we cobbled together his meaning: your shower is leaking, you dumb Americans.

The longer we were there, the less difficult the language barrier became. We learned to point, pantomime, and draw pictures to communicate. We also learned some important phrases, like “Unde este toaleta?” (Where is the bathroom?) But mostly, we learned to be comfortable with the confusion. And we learned that in spite of our differences, there was much more we had in common.

Bringing someone into our home who speaks a different language has been difficult at times, especially at the beginning. As of today, our African-born son Ezra has been in the U.S. for 10 months. He can understand nearly everything we say. Although he usually likes us to repeat it for clarity.

Me: After we take them to school, we’re going to the store so grab your shoes.

Ezra: Mama, what?

Me: (Slowly, emphasizing every syllable) After we take them to school, we’re going to the store so grab your shoes.

Ezra: Oh. Shoes. Yessee, ma’am.

It may take a few times but he can get it.

When I stayed home from church with his sick older brother on Sunday, Ezra was able to tell me the Bible story they learned in Sunday School. It was like I was a contestant on a game show.

Ezra: “Um, a boat. Jesus was sleeping. Rain and crashing waves sound effects. Jesus say, ‘Be Still!’”

Me: Jesus calms the storm!

But there’s so much more to communicating with Ezra than words and phrases and idioms and explaining why he shouldn’t use his middle finger to point at things. We are still attempting to speak the language of trust and forever and unconditional love to his wary heart.

There are times when I am reminded of where Ezra has been and how he spent the first 5 years of his life. Those occasions come less often than they did when he first came home so I sometimes forget that he still needs so many reassurances.

This morning was one of those times. Ezra said something unkind to his sister in the car and I said, “Be nice to your sister.” To me, it was a restrained, insignificant rebuke. Full disclosure, I may have had my 7:30 am on a weekday voice which I use to say things like: “Let’s go! We’re late! Where’s your lunchbox?” But I honestly didn’t think it was a full-on Mom Scolding. For whatever reason—Ezra’s head cold or my strained tone—he took it to mean that I was mad.

He gave me the cold shoulder while we completed our carpooling duties. Then he stayed in the car after I pulled into the garage, refusing to leave. I left him there to stew for a bit.

When he finally came in the house, he sat at his place at the kitchen table, laid his head down, and exploded into snotty sobs. “Mama, no love me!” he cried.

“Ezra,” I said, “What is the matter?”

I scooped him up and carried him to the sofa. I wrapped him in a blanket and held him in the way I have held all of my babies—his body curved into a J and his head resting against my left arm. He cried with his whole being as I pulled a dozen tissues from the Kleenex box to wipe his eyes and help him blow his nose.

He wouldn’t talk. He would only cry. So I started to throw out possible scenarios:

Ezra, if you brought a lion in our house and the lion ran to my closet and ripped up all of my clothes so that they were in pieces all over my room, I would still love you.

If a policeman came to our door and told me that you stole all the soccer balls in Murfreesboro, I would still love you.

If you never learn your colors or your letters or your numbers or how to tie your shoes, I will still love you.

If you fuss at your sisters and brother and daddy and me every day for 100 years, I will still love you.

If you tell me you don’t love me, I will still love you.

Nothing you could do or say would make me stop loving you because I will love you forever, ever, ever.

In between hiccuppy breaths, he agreed to a cup of hot chocolate with no less than 12 marshmallows and we moved on with our day.

Before Ezra, I don’t think I ever considered how life would be if I felt completely unloved. Sure, I’ve questioned the extent of affection from certain people but I’ve never known an utter lack of love. Now I am learning some truths about unconditional love. Love is a verb, an action, an effort. It is also a noun, a thing, a gift.

Love, the noun, has more weight with the addition of our son. Love, the verb, requires constant motion. Love, the word, bears repeating over and over and over.