What’s real?

As we watched a complicated battle scene in the new Mulan movie a few nights ago, my youngest son said, “It would be hard to be an actor.”

 

Assuming he was referring to the acrobatics required to do things like flip around on the back of horses while shooting arrows at a pursuing enemy, I replied, “It would. They must’ve practiced this scene a bunch of times.”

 

He paused a minute then said, “Yeah…and also why would you sign up for a movie if you’re just going to get killed?”

 

“Who got killed?” I asked.

 

“Well, that guy and that guy.” He pointed at the screen. “And that guy with the arrow in his chest. They’re all dead now. I wouldn’t want to be an actor.”

 

“They aren’t really dead!” I told him. “They’re just pretending.”

 

“Are you sure? They look dead.”

 

“I’m absolutely sure. No one was killed making this movie.” I thought for a minute, then added, “And it’s the same in other movies, too. They are always just pretending to die, and then they put fake blood on them.”

 

“Ohhhh…” At least outwardly satisfied by my answer, he finished watching the movie, hopefully with a new perspective about the craft of moviemaking and the exciting career of stunt professionals.

 

Reflecting on his film-related epiphany, I wondered if he’d been thinking this all along, that actors in the movies had been actually dying, like the man in the Darth Vader mask had really perished in Luke Skywalker’s arms. I also understood why he chafed at my frequent comments about how he should be an actor because he’s so funny and expressive and, let’s face it, very dramatic. While I thought I was paying him a compliment, he may have assumed I wanted him to kick the bucket on the silver screen.

 

Perspective is such an essential tool in understanding the motivations of another human being. The well-known phrase goes something like this, “To understand another person, you must walk a mile in his shoes.” I like Atticus Finch’s counsel to his daughter Scout even better in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

 

Atticus’ advice is more of a submission to empathy than just tying on a pair of shoes and going for a walk. It’s a desire to absorb every nuance of their viewpoint and outlook. How do they see the world and how does the world see them? But it’s possible to take this to the next step. Because even after trying our best to be empathetic, we may have to admit that the other person’s opinion just doesn’t make sense, and then what? Just agree to disagree? I’m sometimes challenged to figure out how to live on the same planet with some people so ideologically different than me, let alone the same country or even the same street. The only way to move forward is with a heaping helping of grace. In spite of how I feel about them and what evidence I have about the truth, that undeserved and magical gift is as much for me as it is for them.

 

I’m glad my son and I had our conversation about movies, because it gave me just one more glimpse into the mind of one of my favorite people. It’s a bit disconcerting to realize that he has been thinking that all of these actors have been dying voluntarily, and, even worse, that we’re all okay with it. But now that it’s out there, I can put it right. We can discuss it and the truth is revealed.  Then I can show him what’s real.

Hope for an untangled future

Per our usual tradition, my family put up our Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. (By the way, this isn’t a discussion about when you should or should not decorate for Christmas. You do you, merry-makers! Deck your halls and trim your trees until you can festoon no more! And if that helps you beat the blahs of a pandemic holiday season, keep them up until August!) We dragged the boxes from the basement and began unloading their contents. Wreaths on the windows and doors. Tabletop decorations and a nativity set for the bookshelf.

 

We set up one (pre-lit) tree in the sunroom with colorful lights, kid-made ornaments, and a Santa tree skirt. I always ask our kids to hang the ornaments on this one. It’s fun to listen to them reminisce and laugh at the clay snowmen, pipe cleaner candy canes, and photos framed by popsicle sticks, dotted haphazardly with red and green pom-pom balls. And we always have to tell the story about the time when one of my daughters took a bite out of a dog bone ornament because she thought it was a Scooby snack cookie. (Either way…why? Rule Number 754 Of Things I Didn’t Think I’d Have To Say Aloud: Don’t eat, lick, or even nimble anything that is hanging on the Christmas tree.)

 

The other tree went up by the living room window. This one is artificial, too. (This also isn’t a discussion about live vs. artificial Christmas trees. Why is there so much to argue about when it comes to this stuff, anyway?!) We’ve had this tree for going on twenty years. It loses tons of (fake) needles each time we set it up, so it will eventually be bald. Until that happens, it falls to me to wrap the branches in white lights before the ornaments go on. This is not my favorite part of the process. It involves a lot of lights, standing on stools, going around in circles, and sweating.

 

As I was plugging in each strand of lights to check that they still work before putting them on the branches, I congratulated my January 2020 self for taking the time to wrap the lights around pieces of cardboard to keep them separated and organized. It would be oh-so easy to just dump the lights in a jumbled heap in the bin, pop the lid on top, and forget about it. But how I would regret it!

 

If you stop and think about it, there are plenty of things most of us are able to do because we’re infused with hopefulness. Unconsciously, we make assumptions about where we’ll be tomorrow and what we’ll be doing. When I wrapped all those lights around cardboard rectangles the day after New Year’s Day, I was saying, “I have a hope that I will need these when another Christmas season rolls around.”

 

During bleak times, remaining hopeful can sometimes feel foolish or naïve. Should we even make plans anymore? What’s the point when so much is uncertain? It reminds me of what James, Jesus’ brother, said when he scolds people for focusing too much on their own plots and proposals. “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” Good grief, James! This forces me to ask myself if I should even wrap those lights at all!

 

But then I search the Scripture for whispers of a living hope—hope for resurrection, hope for justice, hope that things will be made right. James goes on to say we shouldn’t boast about our own schemes, but spirit-filled hope is something we should shout about from the rooftops. Romans 5 gives us permission to boast, because we are bragging on a glorious and generous God who has given us a reason to be hopeful.

 

“And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Praise God for the hope He continually gives us. Whether it’s in the form of another day or a newborn baby, looking forward is an essential quality.

 

But focusing on the future doesn’t mean you don’t act in the present or even ignore the past. The miracle of hope is that it can involve all three. C.S. Lewis said, “Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”

Trimming the edges

I’m not trying to brag, but I have a massive art collection. It’s true. All of them are one-of-a-kind originals. Sure, they were made in elementary art class by my four children, but I’m telling you…it’s a priceless collection.

 

I display this priceless art in our basement. There’s a wall of just fish and bird paintings. There are self-portraits and cityscapes and jungle animals and a variety of foods, including a slice of pizza. Lots of good stuff. Bright and colorful scenes which make me happy when I’m heading to the laundry room.

 

For more than a decade since I first had elementary-aged kids, I’ve bought very cheap frames for my collection. To keep the look cohesive (because, you know, I’m pretty fancy), I pop the glass out and spray paint all of the wooden frames the same dark red color. (If only da Vinci had thought of this, that Mona Lisa thing might’ve been more popular. It’s a shame, really.)

 

The artwork that comes home from school is rarely the same size as the standard frames I buy from Hobby Lobby. Their chalky tempera masterpieces are usually on these oversized sheets of stiff, white paper which are larger than the 11×14 frames I purchase. But, as a patron of the arts, I am not daunted in accomplishing my task. My solution is to lay the glass on the artwork and trace around the sides with a pencil. Then I trim the excess so that it will lay perfectly inside the frame.

 

At first, it seemed heartless to alter my sweet babies’ drawings, cutting off pieces of suns in the upper corner or blue waves at the bottom. But the paintings don’t suffer from the lack of these edges. The artists (my kids) were mostly focused on the center of the page—the big, fat pumpkin sitting in the sunny pumpkin patch or the sails on the sailboat which is tossing on choppy, blue waves. So taking out an inch here and there is no big deal.

 

There have been times when I’ve voluntarily taken on the task of trimming the edges of my activities, duties and even the concentration of my thoughts, but first I’ve had to determine what has priority. Some things fall right in the center, such as my kids and my husband, while others hover on the periphery. It can be difficult to determine which is which, especially if it feels like people are counting on me to follow through, and I worry I might disappoint them.

 

Throughout my adult years, I haven’t always been skilled in carrying out these croppings and cuttings, then we were handed a global pandemic, and tons of activities were trimmed away for us, whether we liked it or not. I hesitate to say that it has been good, because I know so many have experienced huge heartache in the last 8 or 9 months and I would never want to trivialize that very real sorrow, but I will say that in spite of the stress and uncertainty, last summer held countless blessings—simple and beautiful ones—for our family. It was the last months before our daughters left for college for the first time and I enjoyed how slow time felt.

 

Now that those initial changes have become routine, I have had to be more intentional as I try to regain that often illusive feeling of contentment. So I go to the Scriptures and read Philippians 4:8, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Here I’m given instructions how to trim the excess. It’s not easy to block out the noise and distraction, but in verse 9 we’re given the prize: “Then the God of peace will be with you.” God-given peace, the priceless treasure we all desire to collect.

Alarming

I can’t think of anything more confusing than suddenly being awakened from a deep sleep in the middle of the night, unless it’s suddenly being awakened from a deep sleep in the middle of the night while you’re away from home, sleeping on a pull-out sofa in a strange hotel and the fire alarm is blaring up and down the halls.

 

This was my recent experience, and I’m still recovering from it. Our 9-year old’s first response was “I didn’t do anything! It wasn’t my fault!” which it wasn’t, but I sure would like to know what he was dreaming about at 1:45 am. This information might be very revealing.

 

My husband, our two sons and I hopped up and threw on shoes before shuffling down the stairwell with the rest of the hotel’s sleepy occupants. We all stood in the parking lot, huddled in groups and waiting for the fire trucks to arrive. To entertain myself, I played a favorite game of mine which I call “Look How Everybody Thinks Differently.” Though it was a chilly 40-something degrees, several people were wearing only shorts and t-shirts, and some were even bare-footed. Others had jackets or blankets draped over their shoulders. One couple emerged outside fully dressed and pulling wheeled suitcases toward their car. They are my first suspects in The Case of Someone Pulled the Fire Alarm. Some joked, others fumed, but most seemed to assume the alarm signified no real threat to any of us.

 

The fire truck arrived with only lights flashing and no siren, a sign that this was going to be speedily resolved and we’d be happily snoozing away in no time. But moments after the alarm was turned off and we were back in our room, the alarm started back up again. Beeeeep, beeeep, beep it repeated every 25 seconds, followed by a 4 second break, a more clipped beeep, beep, and then it started all over again. (I know this because I counted.) More than an hour after it began, the alarm finally stopped and, if we could also stop the residual ringing in our heads, we could fall asleep.

 

It seems we’ve become overly comfortable with alarms. More often than not, we ignore the warnings because they come way too frequently, or we find that it’s easier to assume that it’s just a drill. Murder hornets and melting icecaps. Wildfires raging in California and derechos blowing through the Tennessee Valley. Widespread racism, harassment in the workplace, child abuse, identity theft…I could go on and on, but it’s too depressing and I might have to curl up in a ball, making it really difficult to type.

 

Reading the Bible gives me insight about being watchful but in a way which won’t drive me to the fetal position. 1 Peter 5 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (NIV)

 

I see four steps to follow as I attempt to up my Watchfulness Game: 1) From a place of extreme humility, acknowledge that God is in control. 2) With the knowledge that this All-Powerful God cares for me, transfer my worry to His mighty and capable shoulders. 3) Realizing that the devil is watching and ready to pounce, be equally as alert. 4) Sustained by my faith and backed by an army of fellow believers, refuse to follow the devil.

 

With God’s help, I can be prepared and watchful without giving up the peace He promises.

Warp and Weft

I’ve been doing a little sewing lately—a set of curtains, hemming a couple of skirts, and, of course, cloth masks. Fabric is one of those things that most of us take for granted—the cotton that makes the threads that makes the fabric that makes that favorite shirt you love so much so you never put it in the dryer. But if you look closely at the fabric, you can see a miniature kingdom of order and uniformity, tiny stitches going one way and tiny stitches going the opposite way. Longitude and latitude of warp and weft.

 

Imagine a loom being prepared for weaving: Yarn stretched taught in vertical lines, followed by shuttles of yarn woven in and out creating horizontal lines. To determine which set of thread is warp and which is weft, you must hold it in your hands and stretch it. If you pull on the fabric one way, there is very little stretch. If you turn it and pull the opposite way, the fabric gives. The stronger set of threads is the warp, because they were designed to withstand the tension of the weaving process.

 

I’ve always been interested in the character of strong, courageous people. What is it about their backgrounds that make them this way? Was it the resilience cultivated in them after some childhood tragedy that made them the “warp” of their families? Or did they learn this strong moral code from watching the Giants of Goodness who walked among them as they grew up? When the “weft” around them stretch and change colors like a chameleon according to current opinions, the strong stand up for what’s right even when it’s not popular, but how did they get that way?

 

The phrase “Be strong and courageous” is used four times in the space of one chapter in the Bible. Flip to Joshua 1 and you’ll see why. Moses, the Israelites’ revered leader, has died and General Joshua is taking over. They are about to battle against nation after nation, and they need to be reminded how to be the “warp”.

 

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. (vs. 6) Be strong and very courageous. (vs. 7) Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. (vs. 9) Only be strong and courageous! (vs. 18)

 

Sometimes I also need to be reminded about the strength of my own design. I was woven with a warp and weft, strengths and weaknesses. There are times which require me to give a little and be flexible, just as there are times when I need to stand firm. Either way, we can heed the words given to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Roller Coaster Ride

You inhale deeply as you approach the wooden archway. A voice from the speaker above you and to your right is midway through its recording: “…so ride at your own risk. Only you know your limitations.”

 

You pull the corners of your mouth into a forced smile at the child who stands beside you. She has asked you to join her on this journey. It would be pure cowardice to retreat.

 

Together, you weave through the maze of metal fencing to find your place in line. The bars are painted a dark red. Shallow scratches and deep gashes in the paint show the original steely gray underneath. You rest your palms against the horizontal bars at your waist, but pull them back as you consider all of the sticky, sweaty hands that have blazed this trail before you, pioneers in tank tops and athletic shorts.

 

You glance at your child who stands shoulder-to-shoulder with you. You notice that you are eye level now. When did she get so tall or when did you shrink? She leans her back against the bar behind her, looking carefree and relaxed. A clattering sound rumbles over your heads, followed seconds later by deafening screams, and then both sounds are gone in a rush of air.

 

You shuffle forward a few feet. Conversations circle around you. Small children whine about the wait. Mothers remind them to be patient. A girl braids her friend’s hair into a long, tight rope. You turn away when you see a young couple embrace—too much affection in such a confined space.

 

Finally, you see the loading area. You watch people—brave souls just like you—as they board the cars. You fight the urge to salute them and their bravery. The affectionate couple from before is seated and both of them look nervous.

 

“I’m a little scared,” your child says quietly. You fake enthusiasm and confidence. You tell her, “Ah, come on. It’ll be fun. I promise.”

 

The cars return with their windswept occupants, smiling broadly. You wonder if their smiles are from joy or relief or both. Either way, you are encouraged that they returned without injury.

 

Your child slides into the car and you follow her. You attempt to steady trembling hands as you buckle the thick seat belt and pull down the padded bar. The bored, teen-aged park employee walks past each pair and tugs at their restraints. Internally, you question the extent of the training that allows him to operate this giant death trap.

 

It’s too late to turn back now. The cars rumble away slowly, teasing you with their nonchalant speed. You know this is a trick. You know this ride is designed to rattle your fillings and challenge your bladder.

 

The car climbs the steep hill with a repetition of clicks. At the top of the hill, you have only the briefest moment to assess the situation. In that moment, you calculate the risks and search your memory bank for any relevant news stories of crashes and negligent park staff. Then, you fall. The rapid descent lifts you ever so slightly from your seat. Your heart races and your stomach drops.

 

You chance a look at your child next to you—her eyes shut tight and her hands thrown into the air. She smiles. You scream. You find that you are grabbing her arm, involuntarily. The fear you felt before for your safety has been transferred to fear for hers.

 

When the ride is jerked to an abrupt end, you step out of the car and onto the platform with shaky legs. “That was fun!” your child says, as she bounces up and down with the release of pent-up energy. “Wanna do it again?” You manage a weak smile in response.

 

The endless recording continues as you exit the archway: “Only you know your limitations.” You chuckle at the thought of fully knowing something as fluid as your limitations. You follow your child away from the ride, watching her long legs manage a smooth, assertive stride and you wonder where this confidence comes from.

 

Suddenly, you wake up. It was all a dream. You’re not at an amusement park, but safely in your bed. As you examine the feelings of riding those ups and downs with your child, you realize that it’s May and your child is graduating from high school. Eighteen years of being her mom, and then this. Though there are giant question marks looming overhead as big as thunderclouds which seemed to be raining down their periods in the form of hail stones, you know there are sunny days ahead, just as you know that you are the proud parent of a Class of 2020 graduate.

Balance

It took nearly four years to bring our adopted son home from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During that time, I was constantly searching for information about his home country. Did the Congolese President mention adoption at his latest news conference? What were those protests about and was anyone hurt? What illness was affecting the people there? I got in a habit of turning on the radio every time I walked in the kitchen. I wanted the news running in the background so that I could catch any bits of information that I might have missed online. My ear was tuned to pick up certain words: Congo, Kabila, Ebola.

 

Now that our son has been home for four years, I realized that I still turn on the radio while I’m in the kitchen. It’s routine, like flipping on the light switch. But listening to the news I hear on the radio now is too much to absorb for hours at a time. While it’s important to stay informed, I can’t listen to the number of deaths and job losses all day long. It’s not right to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the misery of others, but it’s not healthy to swallow that darkness in such big gulp-fulls. I decided I would allow myself thirty minutes of news radio, and then switch to music for the rest of the day. I would limit social media as much as possible, choosing instead to sit in the sunshine (when available…Thank you, Jesus!) and watch the squirrels and birds in my yard. I was searching for balance.

 

Another way I’ve calmed my anxiety has been through crocheting, picking up my crochet hook and yarn during this time of social distancing. For years, I’ve enjoyed making afghans for friends, but it’s become a new form of therapy for me now. I decided to use the various balls of yarn from old projects to make a granny square blanket for one of my daughters who’s going away to college next year. Instead of making separate squares that would be joined together like a quilt, I chose to make one giant square that would change colors for each row.

 

I began with red yarn in a tiny ring that grew into four little clusters, then a little larger ring of navy, followed by another ring of mustard yellow. Little by little it’s growing, but the rings can only be made one cluster at a time, and those clusters can only be made one stitch at a time. At the beginning it seemed daunting: How would this little stitch become large enough to cover a bed? How long would it take? Though the beginning rings were smaller and took less time to make, they seemed more difficult because I couldn’t see what design was forming. Now that it’s a big enough square to just cover my lap, I am encouraged. Now I see that I can complete it as long as I stick to the plan—one stitch at a time.

 

It’s like this period of quarantine—months made from weeks, weeks made from days, days made from hours, hours made from breaths…one breath and then another and then another. Look for the balance you need to take this season one day at a time. The author of the Book of Ecclesiastes understood this kind of balance when he wrote: “There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth: a right time for birth and another for death, a right time to plant and another to reap, a right time to kill and another to heal, a right time to destroy and another to construct, a right time to cry and another to laugh…” (The Message Bible)

 

He also reminds us about enjoying TODAY: “Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange for the hard work of staying alive. Make the most of each one! Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily! This is your last and only chance at it…” (The Message Bible)

Fed by ravens

The prophet Elijah sat next to a brook, watching the water level lower and waiting for his next meal delivery. Ever since he told King Ahab that there would be no rain and God sent him to the brook to await further instructions, Elijah had been fed by ravens each morning and evening with bread and meat hanging from their beaks. I can only imagine the waiting and wondering as he sat next to that shrinking brook. Left to the solitude of his camp, did he replay what he had said to ruthless King Ahab over and over in his mind? Did he continually pinch himself to wake up from the strangest dream he’d ever had?

 

Once the brook was completely dry, God gave Elijah instructions to move on to the village of Zarephath. He was told to find a widow there who would feed him. He found her gathering sticks to light a fire and cook her last bit of flour and oil. She told Elijah her plans to make her final meal for herself and her son, and then they would die of hunger. But Elijah urged her to give him the last loaf of bread and trust that God would provide. No doubt he still had the taste of the raven-delivered bread on his own lips as he told the woman that she could trust God. Then he promised her that the oil and flour wouldn’t run out until the rains returned.

 

Elijah went on to Mount Carmel and called for a showdown with the 450 priests of Baal. He built an altar and had them do the same. Then, in the presence of King Ahab, he told the priests that only the True God would be able to send down fire to light it. The priests of Baal cried and screamed and cut themselves, but nothing happened. Elijah, the lone Prophet of God, mocked them and called for everyone to gather around to see what a Real God could do. He asked for water to be poured on the altar, soaking the wood and flowing into the deep trench that had been dug around it. Then he prayed to God. He said, “Lord, please act so that these people will know what I know about You.” God sent fire, and it consumed the sacrificed bull, the wood, and the stones. It even licked up the water in the trench. The people turned on the priests of Baal and slaughtered them.

 

When King Ahab reported to his wife, the cruel Queen Jezebel, what had happened, she sent a message to Elijah that she would kill him. Elijah was afraid and ran. Hopeless and miserable, he plopped down in the desert, ready to die. God sent an angel to feed him and sent him on to Mount Sinai, a 40-day journey. Once there, he found a cave and spent the night. Then God asked him, “What are you doing here?” Elijah explained that he had served the Lord faithfully, but he had nothing to show for it. The people still broke all of the covenants God had made with them. He was the only prophet left, and they were trying to kill him, too. Then God sent him to stand on the mountain.

 

“And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” (NLT)

 

Then God asked him again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

 

I can’t say why God asked Elijah this question two times in one chapter. I do know that when God asks a question he already knows the answer. Is it rhetorical? Is God saying, “You ran away because you were afraid for your life, but do you remember what I did on top of Mount Carmel? Do you remember the flour and oil that replenished itself from thin air and the angel that brought you food in the desert? And how about those ravens?”

 

This is my time to remember when I’ve been fed by ravens. I need to focus on the times when God has provided for me. When Elijah had a belly-full of God’s provisions, he was able to stand up to 450 angry pagan priests. I may not get an answer like he did on that mountain—mighty fire sent to burn an altar—but I may get the response he got on a different mountain. Heaven knows I have the time to listen now, Lord, so open my ears to hear your gentle whisper.

The 2020 Rosser Games

It feels like everything has been turned upside-down: We’re wearing masks and gloves to the grocery store. Adults are worried about their jobs and kids are missing their friends. Our elderly loved ones are more lonely than ever, as they’ve been isolated from family and others who might unintentionally make them very sick. And people are talking about toilet paper way more than they used to.

 

For my family, the loss of sports has been a big blow. It’s been so bad that I recently walked in the living room only to see the menfolk intensely watching a rerun of a competitive cup-stacking competition on TV. They’re especially sad that the Olympics have been postponed, so we decided to use the week of Spring Break to stage our own Olympic-type games—The Rosser Games. (Cue Olympic theme song.)

 

There were eight of us, so we decided to divide into 4 teams with an adult and child/teen on each team. Then we became the following countries: The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Isle of Man, Greece and Argentina. Though the teams were picked at random, it was clear from the outset that the Isle of Man team was stacked with the most athletic kid and the most athletic adult. (Note: I wasn’t on that team.)

 

Our first competition was a Backyard Obstacle Course. There was jumping and running and crawling and kicking and throwing. Next came Driveway Bowling. This consisted of 10 various plastic bottles we pulled from the recycling bin and placed at the bottom of our sloped driveway. Then, the bowler stood behind a chalked line further up the driveway and rolled a soccer ball, hoping it would curve and eventually careen into the bottles.

Over the following days, my husband (the Games Commissioner) planned more games. We played Frisbee Horseshoes (where we tried to get the frisbee as close to a stake in the ground as possible with extra points awarded for hitting the stake), Foosball, Stair Golf (a cup was taped to the carpet at the bottom of the stairs and the golfer stood on the landing and attempted to putt a golf ball into the cup), Bocce Ball, and Football Toss (my son wanted to do an egg toss but I wasn’t going to waste any eggs). Our final game was Bounce Off, a game from Mattel that we have had for years but never really played much before. You sit at a table and bounce ping-pong balls into a plastic grid, trying to replicate the pattern on a card. We were surprised by how intense the competition got! If we had had sports commentators, they would’ve waxed eloquently about celebrating the unbreakable human spirit and the tragedy of defeat.

It was no surprise that Isle of Man came out the victor at the end of the week. They were first in all but two events. In lieu of medals, their awards will be coming via Amazon in a few weeks—a 3’x5’ flag of their adopted country.

 

The Rosser Games were the embodiment of one of my oft-repeated mantras during this time of quarantine: “We just have to make the best of it.” This isn’t what we wanted for our Spring Break, but it’s better than competitive moping. Maybe those imaginary sports commentators were right, maybe there is something about the unbreakable human spirit to celebrate.

Forbearance

Scottish-born author Robert Louis Stevenson was no stranger to being stuck at home. Although he was an acclaimed travel writer and author of some of the 19th century’s most exciting works of fiction—Kidnapped,Treasure Island, and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—almost all of his 44 years were spent suffering through sickness. Just like his mother and his grandfather, Stevenson continually nursed a weak chest and a persistent cough. He nearly died several times, barely surviving particularly cold winters or after making long voyages.

 

In his poem “The Land of Counterpane,” it’s easy to imagine Stevenson as a weak, sickly boy as he writes: “When I was sick and lay a-bed/I had two pillows at my head/And all my toys beside me lay/To keep me happy all the day.” He had to learn how to find contentment and entertainment while confined to his bed.

 

Though Stevenson was raised by devout Protestant parents, he later proclaimed as a young adult that he was an atheist, telling his father that he couldn’t continue to live a lie. In his final years, Stevenson retired to a Samoan island where he hoped the warmer climate would improve his health. During those last four years, his feelings about religion seemed to change. Stevenson wrote Prayers Written at Vailima, a collection of devotions meant to be read at various times of the day. One of these prayers is simply called, “For Success.”

 

“Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Give us courage and gaiety, and the quiet mind. Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies. Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors. If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving to one another.”

 

In spite of how his late-19th century wording might fall on modern ears, something about this prayer especially resonates now. This man with all his unfortunate flaws and unique talents and the tragedy of his battles with sickness and seclusion, can speak to us in these extraordinary times.

 

One word in particular stood out to me—forbearance. It’s not a word I use in regular conversation, but desperate times calls for descriptive vocabulary. I’m already in the practice of daily praying for patience, but now I pray for forbearance. It’s a word with more weight, like the thud of two feet being planted in place to prepare for the attack of an opponent. To forebear is to abstain, to bear up against, to control one’s feelings. There’s a sense of delaying, of waiting, and in the waiting, an endurance. I can imagine a young Robert, lying in bed with toy soldiers and books carelessly thrown around him on the sheets. He looks out the window and sees a world he misses. He wonders what lies beyond what he can see, both down the street and in his future years. A century and a half later, these are my thoughts, too.