never swim alone…

I wrote this a few years ago and after an incredibly inspirational night of talk and song at Vanderbilt Divinity School I thought I’d post it for your enjoyment.

Never Swim Alone

Rule #1 Never Swim Alone.
This is one of my rules. When we moved out to the country a while ago I made a list of rules for the children to help adapt to our new surroundings. The pool on the side of the house caused me a few sleepless nights so rule #1 is Never Swim Alone.

I guess I make rules and drill them into my children because of the fear. I could theorize that I do this to help them protect themselves out here in the “wild” but really I think it’s because I don’t want to be alone in my fear. If they end up being wiser for it then so much the better because if I’m looking for another shoe to drop I know it will. A watched pot may not boil but a watched shoe is bound to drop and then before you know it we find a couple of copperhead snakes living in a retaining wall near the house.

Rule #2 Never touch a snake.
Never touch a snake, never put your hand or foot anywhere you can’t see into. Never put your face into a hole in the ground, things like that. Every day for what seems like 6 months I say this to them. And then one glorious day while basking in the cool breeze in back of our house my 5 year old son says, “There is a snake living in here” as he points to the crevice. My response was basically, “HUH?” But sure, enough, there it was. I’ve done a little research on snakes in our area and this was one of the few venomous. Lucky us. Never touch a snake.

We made our way inside. We played inside until the nice man from an animal control company came to claim the snake and the snake’s surprise friend. He asked my son about it. “What did you do when you saw him?” asked the snake man. “I told my mom. She said ‘Never touch a snake.’”

There you go, consistency pays off.

It’s only recently that I have begun to notice the pattern of life becoming consistent again after the unsettling move from the city life we had in Chicago. I find that I look forward to the steady clicking of the clock, the predictable measure of a schedule. I crave the schedule. Every morning is the same, every afternoon ordered and every evening filled with ritual and ordinary time and shoes waiting to drop.

A friend of mine lost her daughter Allison to cancer recently. She was 7 years old. I followed Allison’s progress for most of her illness through email and phone calls and occasional visits. Sandy and I had met a few months earlier for dinner in fact. Hearing her talk about the daily regimen of treatments, medications and tests made my head spin. There was an order to it but each medication and each treatment was utterly dependant on how her body responded in any given moment. They seemed to be at the mercy of this illness and then she said something amazing. She told me she was coaching her son’s soccer team that spring. In the midst of the struggle she was coaching soccer. When I walked her to the car I saw the mass of soccer balls in the backseat. How ordinary it seemed to me. Ordinary Time.

For Allison’s funeral I sent sunflowers because they reminded me of her. I imagined her sitting across from me at American Girl place the day we met there, smiling broadly, missing a couple front teeth and most of her hair. She beamed with joy. Sunflower beaming.

Some things even my “rules” will not cover. Never get cancer. Never die young. So many things are out of my control that to be “consistent” seems an unearthly task. I suppose it is, in fact. I comfort myself late at night with the thought that only God is consistent. Words fail, bodies fail, people fail…

The truth is that I simply cannot protect my children or myself. I cannot protect anyone it seems from the reality of life on this broken planet. I can be as consistent as possible. I can make rules and give instruction. I can confront my fears and pray for release from them. I can do all these things but is it enough?
Never Swim Alone.

The reason we never swim alone is that we might drown and no one would know we were missing. No one would know we were in trouble. No one would be there to go for help, to add us to their prayer chain, to bring meals when we are too tired to cook, to offer to babysit for us when we’ve been at the hospital all day, to give a word of encouragement, to send sunflowers because they remind us of someone we’ve lost, to tell us we are not alone when we feel utterly helpless and no one there to pull us up when the water begins to cover our head.
So, Rule #1 Never Swim Alone.


Cold Comfort

The other night my three year old woke up from a nightmare AND was experiencing leg cramps to boot. He was inconsolable. It was the middle of the night. He would not take ANY comfort measures from me; soft words, cuddling, kisses, gatorate, tylenol nothing. It was the worst feeling seeing him in pain and not being allowed to comfort him at all.

He just kept wailing and kicking at me each time I tried to pick him up. He looked at me and said, “I don’t want you…I don’t like you!” I knew that he didn’t really mean that….at least I knew that in my heart, my 2am brain was not so sure. It was hard to even imagine what to do next. All I could think was that he was still somewhat asleep and did not grasp the fact that I was there and that I was designed specifically to come to his aid at this point in his life.

I turned on the lights in the room nearly blinding us both. He continued to cry for a moment and then blinked up at me. Then his cry changed. He wasn’t angry anymore. He rubbed his calf and moaned “Oh, my poor, poor, leg.” At this point I sat next to him and asked softly if he would let me help him and he nodded yes. He was still in pain but he knew now from where his help would come.

That is where we begin. We cry out in pain, in anger, in desperation and in the dark. Sometimes comfort cannot happen while we are still a little asleep. Sometimes we need to really awaken and let the light nearly blind us before we can see that someone we love and trust is standing close, ready to love us. Sometimes it takes that awareness to move us from fear into comfort.

Mid life crisis: Heartstrings

I joke about my mid life crisis but you know that behind all jokes there is a kernal of truth. In my case it’s not a kernal, it’s the whole corn stalk, babe. It may, in fact end up being an entire crop if things get too outta hand so in the interest of preserving the little sanity I already own I will be writing it all down.

As you already know I am a musician among other things. I studied piano for 12 years. I studied Cello for 6 years. I write, I sing, I dance the hokey pokey and I turn it all around…cause that’s what I’m all about. I’ve always wanted to learn to play the guitar so now that I’ve turned 40 I’m going to learn. I do ALREADY know a couple of chords. I can do BOTH the “easy” G and the full on three fingers on the frets G and something I think is D, or close to it…yeah, I’m THAT good.

So, as I’m imagining how awesome and cool and sexy I’ll be when I whip out my guitar in the near future at some open mic night I decide to poll a couple of guitar playing friends for advice on which instrument to buy. I think, oh, I’ll ask these guys…they’ll know what’ll be cool. So I’m thinking this in my head:

cool sexy electric

and my friend, Steve comes back with this:

Not sexy but great sounding acoustic

What? How could you miss that what I was goin for was the cool, sexy, “I’m not really 40” guitar?

And then it comes to me….ohhhhhhhh…yeah, see? Here’s the thing; I asked a musician for his advice and in his sage thinking he actually did something really nice for me. He assumed that I actually wanted to learn to be a good guitar player, that I might actually want to develop a craft and have it sound good too and that was a really nice way to think about it.

You see, what this did for me was twofold. First, it got my focus right which is that I actually DO want to learn to play and love playing in the process and second, it reminded me that sexy is as sexy does. Get your minds out of the gutter, people while I explain. People can look beautiful, attractive, sexy, what have you, at first blush. It’s not hard to find the right haircolor, the right clothes, the sultry electric guitar to make the package but in the end, it’s just that, packaging. It’s what lies inside and works it’s way out that makes the gift. This is what keeps people coming back over and over to have the conversation, to go deeper, to understand more fully, to give comfort, to offer love.

Turning 40 I suppose I’m starting to understand this better by trial and error…via my mid life crisis. I think there will be more of these. I gave it a “category” and everything. I just hope that I come to the kernal of truth in each crisis as quickly as I came to this one. At some point, I hope I will be able to rename the category, “Mid Life Wisdom” but I’m just not there yet.

I start lessons in a couple of weeks. I let you know how it goes. First I need to go find my non sexy but great sounding guitar.