The lost remote

We have three remote controls for our living room television: one for the TV, one for the DVD player, and one to navigate all of the extras (Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, etc.) It is a necessity of the fallen nature of our world that at least one of those remotes should go missing every day.

 

The AWOL remote can usually be found fairly quickly by taking all of the cushions off the sofa and throwing them on the floor. The slippery little devils love to slide down into the bowels of my sofa, hiding in between cloth-covered boards and consequently reminding me of how crumby those hidey-holes can get even though my children are NOT SUPPOSED TO EAT WHILE SITTING ON THE SOFA. (Apparently goldfish crackers can swim to the sofa all by themselves. Isn’t Nature amazing?)

 

So when my youngest son was ready to watch his afternoon “chill-out” movie, the required remote could not be found. We took out all the cushions and checked the drawers of the hutch and the TV stand and the end tables. We checked in nearby rooms—the bathroom and the kitchen—but still no luck. When we looked under the sofa and the loveseat we found naught by giant dust bunnies, an orange bouncy ball, and a broken pencil.

 

My son continued to search for the remote (his desire to seeMulan 2was this strong!), but I shifted my focus to the dust bunnies. I brought out the dust mop and the vacuum. I ridded the hardwood floors of their gray layer of filth and vacuumed the living room rug which is known to be a prolific shedder.

 

After I had the floors in “company’s coming” appearance, I stood up and glanced at the mirror hanging above the loveseat. I found the greasy imprint of a face—forehead, nose, and puckered lips—a gift from one of my dear darlings, no doubt. I put away the mop and vacuum and turned my attention to the Windex and paper towels. One thing led to another and before long I had cleaned most all of the glass surfaces in the living room, kitchen, and sunroom.

 

This was not my plan. I had planned to get a movie started for my youngest and work on supper, but something clicked inside my head. A voice said, “Enough of this madness! You must cleanse this place!” The dust and the grime I walk past all too often finally mounted up past my level of tolerance to the extent that I was compelled to act.

 

At those moments—those fanatical dusting, sorting, purging moments—my spirit gets all up in the Book of Ecclesiastes. The invisible preacher in my head starts saying things like: “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might, for there is no work in the grave, whither thou goest.” (Sometimes the Preacher morphs into King James Version if I get really worked up.)

 

It’s weird, because the mess had been there for days but I was finally moved to act when I was searching for something else. It makes me wonder what other messes I am unaffected by, possibly because the job to clean them up or the frequency of the chaos is too great. I wonder if there’s an injustice I’ve ignored or a misery I don’t want to think about, but I’m actually supposed to get to work in that place. Maybe as I’m searching for some distraction, my eyes will be opened to a place that needs my care and attention.

The day the lights went out

One mid-morning last week the power went out at our house unexpectedly. There were no storms or other obvious reasons for the outage. I was unloading groceries from my van and then, with a click and a fading whir, everything just stopped. I waited to see if the problem would be remedied quickly and magically and without my assistance, but nothing happened. I checked the breaker box and saw that all of the switches were facing the correct direction (that’s the extent of my electrical expertise). I stepped outside to listen for any noises associated with electricity coming from neighboring homes—HVAC systems humming, garage doors screeching. All was quiet.

 

I finished unloading my groceries, grouping items requiring refrigeration together so that I could sneak them into my dark refrigerator stealthily to let out as little cold air as possible. Then I called the electric company to report the outage.

 

I never do this. I always expect someone else to make the call when the power goes out, but this time I started thinking about how few people are home on a Monday at 10:00 am and how none of our neighbors might even know that the power went out.

 

Another thought which crossed my mind was how foolish it would be for me to sit down at my kitchen table and twiddle my thumbs while I waited for others to take steps to get everything turned back on. Additionally, how foolish it would be to assume the electric company would act if no one alerted them to the problem.

 

When I called, the friendly electric company employee seemed surprised by the outage and told me that no one else had reported any issues. An hour or so later, everything revved back up, including the lights in all of the rooms I had earlier entered and automatically flipped on the switch even though I knew the power was out.

 

I moved from room to room, turning off lights and changing the time on the flashing digital clocks. (Side note: I forgot to change my husband’s alarm clock and the next morning he woke up at 4:20 am, showered and dressed and drove a mile before he realized it was an hour earlier than he thought. Oops!)

 

There are times when an issue rears its ugly head and we must report it, when bad behavior or unfair treatment must be dealt with. Ignoring the power going out wasn’t immediately a problem for me—it was warmish in the house and I didn’t have anywhere pressing to be so the garage door could stay open for a while—but it would’ve become a major issue eventually. When my food began to spoil and the night grew cold, I would be forced to act. Unless I was planning to become Amish, forsaking all electricity, I would have to take steps toward correcting the situation, even if I was limited by my own power and skill to completely rectify the problem.

 

We face life-altering dilemmas every day and the complicated enormity of these problems tempt us to ignore them. But we can’t sit at our kitchen tables and twiddle our thumbs, assuming others will make the call. We need to draw clear lines and act when those lines are crossed. There’s no good reason to sit in a cold, dark room or to let others do the same when we have the ability to get the lights turned back on.

I am everything of all I have ever met

While working on an assignment for school, my daughter found an interesting line of poetry. In her poem “Finding Voice,” Joellen Strandburg’s last thought is “I am everything of all I have met.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea and whether it’s true. I think about my first experiences and influences—good and bad—and how they shaped me. If I we had lived in a different town and I had gone to a different school, who would I be? Would I have turned out remarkably different? If I had never traveled to other countries or if I hadn’t gone to college, would I even recognize the me I am right now? If I had pursued sports in school instead of chorus and drama—other than being a really frustrated, uncoordinated person—would I now be more likely to watch ESPN instead of PBS?

But then I think about that age-old argument of Nature vs. Nurture. How much of our personality, strengths, weaknesses, gifts, and limitations are written in our DNA from the moment we are created and how much is created in us over a lifetime of experiences?

My best guess is that it is both. It is Nature and Nurture. Our actions and behaviors are a result of a mixture of inside and outside influences that make us who we are and who we could be.

Of course, we are not just receivers of the influence of others. We can also be the ones who impart it.

I was reminded of this fact in a bold way this week at the funeral of a kind and generous man who held a significant place in our family. There was a theme to the messages of condolence for his wife, sister, mother, and children. They told his family what a difference this man had made in their lives.

They told stories of how he had selflessly served others, how he had shown up at just the right moment to help. They spoke of his concern for all and neglect of none. His example and encouragement spurred them on to be kinder, more caring people.

If I must say that “I am everything of all I have ever met” then let this be my legacy. Let me be not a blank paper to be written on by whomever I encounter, a sponge soaking up their bitterness and disappointment. Instead, let me be discerning in what influences I allow and, beyond that, let me be an influence for good. Let part of the “everything” that I am be a series of writing on the papers that are the lives of others so that someday they can say, “knowing her made me a better person.”

Sharing is Caring

There are a lot of positives to having a baby: the miracle of birth, the revelations about the preciousness of life, the somber bestowing to parents a new purpose and responsibility. The epiphanies go on and on. But the real beauty of bringing home a new baby is the free meals.

 

When my twin daughters were born, our church family fed us three times a week for two months…two months! We ate casseroles and lasagnas and chicken potpies. They brought their best, for-company recipes, complete with desserts. It wasn’t a great plan for shedding those pregnancy pounds, but it was a load off my mind (though not off my thighs and rear end).

 

Being a first time mom was excruciating at times. I had dreamed of being a mom my whole life but the reality of it hit me hard. We had no family in town and I had convinced myself that it was all on me. The pressure led me to one afternoon, alone in the house with two squalling infants, crying and telling my girls, “I’m so sorry I’m your mom! I don’t know what to do!” My hormones were at Threat Level: Inferno.

 

Soon after that break down, a woman from church brought us a meal. When she brought the food and laid it out on the kitchen counter, she stepped into the living room to check out the babies. Then she sat down beside me on the sofa and said, “I know this is hard but it’s going to get better.” I must have had HELP ME written all over my forehead. Her few words of kindness were a succor to my soul.

 

I couldn’t tell you what she brought for supper that night other than a loaf of banana bread. Months later, when I was a little bit more myself, I asked the woman for her recipe. The taste of the bread, paired with her sweet words had remained in my mind. I’ve been making the bread ever since.

 

This recipe makes two loaves. When making the banana bread, it’s become our family’s tradition to keep one loaf and ask the Lord who should get the other loaf.

 

Over the years, we’ve had lapses into greediness and we’ve tried to eat the second loaf, too. But like the Israelites who were warned not to gather more manna than they needed, the second loaf never tastes as good as the first one, convicting us that sharing really is caring.

 

Find a way to share with someone today. It doesn’t have to be baked goods or handmade quilts (no wonder grandmas are so beloved!), but there will be a multitude of opportunities available to you, if only you keep watching for them.

 

In case you would like to share a loaf of this banana bread, I’ve included the recipe below:

 

Share-a-Loaf Banana Bread

(makes two 9×5 loaves)

Ingredients:

3½ cups all-purpose flour

2½ cups sugar

2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

4-5 ripe bananas (makes about 2 cups mashed)

1 T lemon juice

1 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

½ cup + 2 T buttermilk

2 tsp. vanilla extract

 

Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Puree bananas in a blender. Add lemon juice, oil, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Blend until smooth. Add to flour mixture and mix well. Grease and flour two 9×5 loaf pans. Pour the batter evenly in the two pans. Bake at 325-degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Sharing our Sorrows

I am the queen of strange injuries, allergies, and illnesses. For instance, a few weeks ago, while drying the dishes after my sister-in-law washed them, a cup full of silverware tipped over on the counter. One of them—an innocent-looking table knife—fell on the top of my foot, slicing a tendon. That tiny tendon’s main job was to make my next-to-baby toe mobile. Without it’s efforts, that toe has retired from service to his four brothers. It flops. It gets annoyingly tucked under the toes that flank him on either side. In other words, it’s worthless.

 

When I’m sitting for a period of time, I forget the accident happened. There’s no sharp pain and it stopped bleeding long ago. But as soon as I stand up, and walk barefoot across my floor, I remember. When it fails to clear a door threshold and I nearly lose a toenail, I think, “Oh, yeah. That’s right…I forgot.”

 

This is what it can feel like to live with an ongoing sorrow. The original, agonizing pain may be gone but there’s a dull ache that remains.

 

This pain may be the result of the death of a loved one or the end of a marriage. It may be the mourning of the life that was never realized—never married, never had children, never became that person. There may be moments when you don’t think about what or who is missing, but those moments are fleeting. Before you can settle into breathing without this sorrow bearing down on your chest like an anvil, a photo or a note reminds you of what’s been lost (or never found).

 

When C.S. Lewis lost his wife, he wrote about grief. He said, “The death of a beloved is an amputation.” You can survive it, but the sorrow remains. “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.”

 

So how does one live with this kind of relentless sorrow? Find someone to help you carry it. Even if it’s been months or years or even decades since you came face to face with your personal nightmare, speak it to another person. Now, it can’t be just anybody. The listening ear you’re looking for should be empathetic. He should not say phrases like: “Well, you think that’s bad…” or “It could be worst. At least…” This listening friend isn’t there to repair or change history. He’s there to absorb a bit of the pain, to say: “I’m so sorry.”

 

We were never promised an easy life. In fact, Christians are assured of persecution. But we’re also called to carry one another’s burdens. If you are overwhelmed by sorrow, find someone to listen to your story today.

Caring for the Most Vulnerable

While driving to a doctor’s appointment the other day, I saw a group of cars and pedestrians stopped along a residential street. I looked to see where people were pointing, hanging out of car windows and standing along the sidewalk. Eventually, I found the reason for the traffic jam: a mother duck and her four ducklings in tow.

 

Busy people stopped to smile and coo at the little family as they leisurely crossed the street. A woman walking her dog pulled her pup back, wrapping the leash tightly around her hand to protect the ducks from a sudden attack. For a moment, we were all self-appointed caretakers for this fragile group.

 

I thought a lot about those ducks the rest of my day. I wondered where they came from and where they were going. Was there a pond nearby? Were they pets? I also considered the reaction of the other people on the street. Why did this poultry parade elicit such a response?

 

I think I know why. There’s something inside us—the part of our souls where love and generosity and thoughtfulness exists—that makes us want to shelter the vulnerable. When we give in to our better self, we feel compelled to defend the defenseless and love the broken.

 

Of course, we’re also created with the capacity to cause destruction and harm. And, unfortunately, that’s the impulse that gets the most press. We read more of murdering the innocent than protecting them. We’re told of more cruelty than kindness. And though it’s right to shine a light on abuse and injustice, I’m here to say there is still goodness (Thank goodness!).

 

There are teachers who live to impart knowledge and show compassion to our kids. There are military personnel, police officers, and firefighters who voluntarily put themselves in dangerous situations so that we can sleep at night. There are social workers and healthcare professionals who give their time to disadvantaged members of our community who would otherwise go unnoticed.

 

All of these servants in our community minister to the most vulnerable, the voiceless and oppressed. In other words, they see the parade of ducklings and they stop. Maybe we all have this capacity to nurture. We may just be out of practice.