A Different Thanksgiving

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6


Aside from the years when I was incarcerated, I have made Thanksgiving dinner my entire adult life. My favorite holiday of all, I appreciate that there are no gifts, no no one person who is being honored, just a gathering of people to participate in an exercise of gratitude. The recipes for each dish are mostly stored in my mind, muscle memory meal making at its best. I know how many potatoes to peel, how much dressing to make. Every year, I add another pie, too many pies, because, well, dessert with coffee or wine after the big mess is cleaned and we have taken a walk is just delightful. I adore feeding people. That is when my heart is singing, when my soul feels closest to free. But this year, I am not cooking. Facing the fact that our nest has emptied and we are at a crossroads with others who have taken too much, I know I cannot make this meal with the same generous heart. Instead, I will spend the day presenting my requests to God.

More and more I am realizing that shedding is necessary for new growth, that allowing some things to fall away so that others may find room, this preparation time is as critical to success as all the lists I make for shopping for the big meal. I am being prepared, I cannot see what is coming, yet I know, I can feel, that God is pleased with my growing ability to accept today. To stop living in hopes for tomorrow, in memories of yesterday, to see that with each step forward, I am traveling onto His path. For that I am thankful, that I am able to release the biggest events and worries and wishes to the One who understands, the One who knows each grain of sand, the One who knows what is coming.

Thanksgiving is coming, I am not making shopping lists or gathering napkins and tablecloths. I am instead remembering each day how God is blessing me with new beginnings, second chances, deep friendships, opportunities to serve. Even without piles of food on the table, I remain as grateful as ever.

Never Read Junie B. Jones at Bedtime

Let us come before him with thanksgiving
    and extol him with music and song.

For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods.

Psalm 95:2-3

Do you know the Junie B. Jones books? The Barbara Park series of silly books for children? Plum and I have been reading these and his laughter is the music I crave. I will read all night, I tell ya (a little Junie B. humor there) just to feel him collapse on my lap, unable to contain his delight. He, like thousands of children before him, find Junie to be outrageous and hysterical. Her sass, her thought process, her choices, all combine to create chaos for about 5 chapters until she gets sorted out, usually with a hug from her parents and a snuggle with her favorite stuffed animal.  He begs for one more chapter, one more please, more music to my ears. I remember his father doing the same as we read Harry Potter. Able to read by themselves but wanting that time together, to be close and experience the story with someone. I am grateful for the opportunity to read to this child as I read to his father so many years ago, to hear his giggles and his pleas to continue.

We are blessed to have a home filed with books, to have those favorites that we return to time and again, board books that I read to him as a toddler that he now flips through quickly, “Too easy, gran, too easy,” yet when the comfort of the familiar is what he desires, I notice that is what he has selected. We have children’s books in his room and figuring prominently in the living room, a bookcase exclusively for his growing collection. His subscription to the National Wildlife series of Ranger Rick magazines once took up a spot on the shelf, now the stack reside next to his bed, a favorite pre-bedtime pick. It is my indulgence like others buy purses or shoes or new make up or fancy watches, I buy this boy books. I am investing in his future, in his thoughts, in his development. I know what we do now will reverberate long into the future, in ways we cannot predict. I feel the pressure even more to get this right.

If I worship any thing beyond my God, it is education. I trust that my God is supportive of teaching this child His ways through silliness that causes great belly laughs even before bedtime, as we prepare this special boy to drift off to sleep and hand him over to the angels. I know I am blessed by every book we share, by every time he still crawls onto my lap, by the sweet sound of his voice as he begs for one more. We are blessed by children’s authors who understand that kids need an alter ego who gives voice to their desires while maintaining a sweet heart and a basic goodness. Junie B gets many chances to get it right, I think that is called grace. I am thankful we have her to remind us to offer that to each other.



Day Three Praise, Already Struggling

I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
    You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
    you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

Daniel 2:23

Day three of looking for things to be thankful about, focusing on my gratitude list and this scripture pops up. Pretty sure you all know how I feel about my ancestors, even my thoughts on my own power, and getting what I ask for, so what does this have to offer me today? In truth, I considered skipping this one and looking for something that felt more like me, something that didn’t push so many buttons. What could this bit of the bible speak that I might need or want to hear? As I looked at who Daniel was, how he came to be with the king in the first place, it only got worse. “Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.” Daniel 1:3-4.  Okay, so the guy was rich, attractive, educated.  He had everything going for him.  Ugh. Nothing for me here, folks. 

On a morning when I feel old, decrepit, broken down, how can I relate to God using this young man to further the Kingdom? Aside from him refusing the royal food and sticking to vegetables, which I completely approve of, I can’t find much in common with this guy who is supposed to inspire me to praise God. I like my teachers to be a bit dinged up, scuffed around the edges, showing some signs of having lived, those are the folks that I can relate to, let my guard down with, show my soul to. The bible is full of those people, I gain confidence from their trials and their triumphs. But Daniel, seriously? Anyone can praise God when you have it all. Then I recalled my friend challenging some thinking lately, reminding me that even the affluent need Jesus, that even those who are middle class and not struggling to get food on the table have concerns that the church can address. It was startling to realize how judgmental I had become, how I had forgotten that even the pretty had problems, the wealthy were weakened by worries, the highly educated hide hurts as well. The church absolutely needs to feed the poor, tend the widow, visit the prisoner. We must expand our understanding to include more though, to remember that the poor can be not determined solely on finances, as evidenced by the teachings of the Beatitudes. When the church ministers to those who need differently, we create more who are able to serve the Kingdom, the real King. A Daniel, for example. Maybe there is something for me here today after all.

I am praising God for bringing into my life friends who shine light into my blindspots, who open my heart to the ways in which I have built walls to enclose others and who bring me further and further onto the path that God desires for me. I have friends who do have the wisdom and discernment of Daniel, who have the desire to follow the one real King. I am blessed.

Name Dropping

  Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. 

1 Chronicles 29:13

When Plum finished his after school snack, pretend play began in earnest. Our script was  a pick-up basketball game, we began to select players. I was choosing friends from his class, I could keep track of the names better. He was making up names, how he remembers these things, I don’t know. Our teams were set, I thought and then he sprung the surprise pick on me, he said he had one more and it was Michael Jordan. Seriously? Never mind that we are playing pretend basketball and he is going to win anyway, he has to bring in the biggest name, the greatest talent? I tried to forfeit but he wasn’t having it. He wanted to show his skills and let his team kill me. Actually we discovered he was much better than Michael, whom he forget to play mostly. Still, he knew throwing out that name would throw me, would intimidate me.

In this house with a grandfather who obsesses over MJ, Plum can’t help but know about him. We talk about his sportsmanship, about his perseverance. We hold him up as a role model, even if he has fallen for grace a bit in later years. We know all about imperfection. So the name means something to Plum. The reputation has held strong for all these years. Just this week many names are falling, reputations are dropping, as truth about sordid, ugly, illegal behavior by top executives and power houses in industries is being exposed. Heart breaking to hear that idols we have watched on the big and small screen have treated women as objects, have shown so little respect to their peers. Their names will never regain their luster.

On this second day of gratitude focus, I am struck that I do not have to fear the secrets of God being revealed, the bad behavior, the sordid truths. God is God is God. We can indeed praise His glorious name, knowing we are safe in our praise, that this idol will not fail us. Knowing that Plum is aware that his fantastic dunking skills and his beautiful blue eyes and his kind heart are all really from God, I worry little about whose team we end up on. We are both winning with our Maker, who knows our names as well. Following His lead, we can find grace when we are tarnished, we can offer grace to those who falter. Just as I know I will never win a pretend game of basketball with this child, I am sure that God is who HE says He is, and that is everything.

Day One of Gratitude

Psalm 107

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Several years ago I participated in one of those Facebook challenges, to spend the month of November posting each day about my gratitude. Having that focus can be life changing, certainly requires reflection and soul searching on many days, but is worth the effort. I decided that here in Patches of Light land, I am giving this month over to my thanksgiving again, a post a day for the month. I must say for the purpose of honesty, that I do not feel all that grateful at the moment, my list of woes is much longer. Isn’t that the point though? Time for an attitude adjustment, or at least a willingness to let God shift my eyes to what is good before me.

Today I am annoyed with the pets who want to go in and out and bark too early and the cat who insists on sitting on my keyboard as I try to write, yet aren’t they the very comfort I take on a cold evening, as they snuggle close and provide some heat? Don’t I appreciate when I am so often home alone that the beasts will sound alarms when anyone comes near? Maybe I have a smidge of thankfulness for them but it is too much of a reach to list them this early in the morning. What of hot coffee in my cup?

I do appreciate the warmth as I hold onto my mug, the very mug a friend gave to me with beautiful scripture written on the sides. Yet my office is so chilled I repeatedly have towhead to the microwave just to reheat my coffee, unable to maintain the warmth long enough to drink the full cup. No, while I appreciate having a hot cup of coffee in the morning, I don’t think this is the real push for my gratitude today. What of this house I sit in as I write?

The physical building has been home to more than I can even count anymore, certainly contains more memories than bad, and I know that most of the world, if not the actual residents of this affluent city would be over the moon to live in this dwelling. Yet it n longer feels so happy, so safe, so full of joy, it is becoming a shell that holds me in when I want to fly. If the alternative is homelessness, yes, this is amazing. Yet, I don’t think this is truly honestly what I am grateful for today. What about my life?

Yes, on day one of this exercise, I must say that I am most grateful that I am still alive, that I have the deep desire to seek out God’s love. This is a new crazy idea for me, maybe one you have settled into already, one you wrestled with and have come to terms with long ago, or even one that you grew up just knowing but this is new to me. I am feeling the seedling that was planted beginning to sprout, the knowledge that while I was told I was unworthy of love, God does indeed love me, the actual me, not the worldly one based on performance or how much I money I can make or whether or not I share my body. I am already loved and God is waiting on me to join in that love, to accept it and live within the glory of His grace, where no condemnation exists, where shame and anger and hate were expelled long ago. I am feeling a yearning to know that kind of love, to avoid death until I have fully lived. Yes, I am thankful for the bits of light that are shining into my relationship with God, a true meeting between me and my Creator that is moving slowly, as I am able to trust and become comfortable with such a crazy idea. No longer looking in at what He offers others, wishing dreaming longing for such a love, I am learning to open my hands and my heart to the One who seeks only goodness.

Today I give thanks to a patient God, who is pursuing me gently.

Runaway Legos and Packs of Gum

The tiny yellow Lego kept rolling off the table as we sorted the newest set he received for his birthday into colors, preparing to build. I generally am given the sorting task while he supervises, he checks my work for errors with a running commentary on my inability to see the difference between dark gray and black, the fact that I often choose to make an “all the rest” pile which he corrects for me, and his delight in a particularly interesting piece. He surveys the blocks like all the presents under a Christmas tree, taking in the joy of bright colors and multiple shapes, knowing everything there was waiting just for him. Yet this one piece kept escaping the pile, I was distracted and didn’t lay it flat. As it landed on the floor after many near misses, I remarked that this one piece was trying to get away from us. My Plum asked why, why is it trying to escape? I think it doesn’t want to connect with any other pieces, it just wants to be free, I replied as I moved another red piece into the corresponding pile. “Oh, yeah, I get that,” he told me. “We all feel that way sometimes.”

My joy bringer hands me snippets of wisdom at least as often as I offer him the opportunity to brush his teeth. Neither of us are particularly grateful for these gifts when we get them but maybe we both know they are in our long term best interests. While I am convinced that he is a genius guru joy bringer, the truth is probably that most children have words of wisdom to share, if only we listen to them. The beauty of a grandparent relationship with a child is we have the time, we can take the time, we can hear the snippets and remember to record them. I know my own children were quite verbal about feelings and were astute in ways of the world, surely they shared their views with me and I should have recorded them. Yet dishes and work and laundry and the other sibling and stress and stress and stress caused me to hurry and rush and miss what they could offer. Certainly I sought to atone for being gone during their early years, I listened attentively and cared deeply. Still, I was mom. When we are blessed, our true adoration comes from our grandparents. I know I am atoning with Plum for all the missed chances with Arrow and Stella. Yet ours isn’t a clear “grand” relationship either. Chef and I have stepped in far too often as parents, our roles with this child are cemented by age 7, he knows we are important caregivers in his life, we are his safe place. He can connect and still wish to roll away from some places in his life. I get it.

Accepting his wisdom does not mean I forget that he is still a child and needs us to help shape his character, to enforce rules and structure and consequences. His heart is so sweet and pure that when he strays into the dark side, my reaction is swift. I respond with immediacy and hopefully most often, natural consequences. During his birthday party, an overwhelming affair for anyone but certainly a boy who really just wanted to get to the present part and then the playing with the present part, sitting through a game of unwrap a ball of saran wrap looked tedious and horrible and mostly like torture. He chose not to play, instead he watched as his friends took turns unwrapping little toys or packages of gum.  Later as friends were leaving, one little girl couldn’t find her treat bag, which contained her circle of gum “tape,” a top prize. We searched but couldn’t find it so hurriedly created a new treat bag and wondered if someone picked hers up accidentally. This little girl is a neighbor to Plum at mama’s, a child who looks out for him, runs to get mama when he falls and gets a scrape, has a problem on the bus, needs his shoes tied. I felt horrible that this child especially had lost her prizes.

The next day, her equivalent in our own neighborhood, A, came to play with Plum. As they ran about the ever less haunted house while Chef and I dismantled it, A said she had something she had to tell, that Plum had done something bad at his party. He watched her share his secret, that he had hidden the other little girls bag, he wanted that gum. Plum and I moved upstairs to talk, after we supported A for telling the truth and following her conscience. My first question to Plum, did you know that was wrong? Everything that came after was merely faulty judgement, impulsive desires, selfishness overruling his heart, take your pick. We wondered if God had any rules about taking what isn’t ours, if we have been given any pathway to correct our mistakes, and finally if once we atone, we are meant to live in shame. He decided he needed to use his piggy bank money and buy new gum for his friend. We emptied out his pennies, took them to the bank inside the grocery store and the good folks there helped him count out what he needed. He selected the gum, rang it up, put his money inside the machine, bagged his gum and walked out with a lighter heart. That my sweet, I told him, is getting right with God. His friend hugged him as he delivered her gum, he ran to tell me how happy she was. He was clearly happier as well.

My Plum turned 7 this week and I know he will have ever more opportunities to bring me joy and share his wisdom. I know more and more though that our chances to cement his character, to have the foundation laid that will carry him into a safe and healthy future, those days are waning. We know that he will choose to be free of his connections someday, that he will test out his boundaries and push the rules. I feel the importance of each and every moment now, the inability to let something slide. This child is absolutely too precious to risk. That is my own atonement. For now, we are building Lego sets, we are giggling at runaway pieces, we are delighting in his friends who support his good choices as well, we are loving on this child who every day, brings us joy.



Celebrating My Plum

Birthday week in Patches Of Light land and all things are Halloweeny. Our joy bringer was born 3 days before the holiday yet at age 7, this is the first celebration of him that is utilizing the seasonal theme. It was supposed to be easier and cheaper and in some ways that has proven true. Yet when all around, in every store and on all social media, I am assailed with decoration ideas and this quick easy set up and that especially cool spooky idea, I am finally ready to admit that I may have gone a bit overboard. The basement is becoming a haunted house, each room upstairs is readied for activities such as pumpkin painting  or glow in the dark bowling or mini pumpkin tic tac toe. Reminding myself that all of these decorations will stow nicely away and be used for years to come, like Christmas decor, has fueled my desire to create more toilet paper rolls with eye cut outs and creepy ghosts out of every old white sheet I own. Chef remarked last night that maybe we had gone too far, that he is only 7, maybe we are spoiling him. Silly man, of course we are.

I have been leaning into an idea, a foreign concept to me, one that blew my mind when I first heard it. I was told that to God, I am worthy of celebrating. Of course I had heard comments like this before but it sank in differently this time, my soul was open to the words and the corresponding affection that just such a celebration would bring. What would it mean to believe that one is worth celebrating, not for achievements, not for a report card, not for wealth, but merely for existing? I have always hated my birthday, hated the attention it brings to me. Attention is dangerous to one who maintains a hyper-vigilance, scouring my surroundings for potential abusers. I avoid the limelight, I hate crowds. But what if I claimed my safety in God and believed that I was of value because God chose me to be in this place in this time? Heady stuff.  As I work on really integrating this idea, along comes my Plum’s birthday. My Plum whom I adore and cherish, the child upon who’s every word I hang. I watch him fall asleep, I listen for his first steps in the morning as he rises. He brings my joy and I shower my love upon him, a safe receptacle who doesn’t judge me. Maybe we are spoiling him or maybe we are telling this child with his checkered history of adults in and out of his life that we believe 100% that he is worth celebrating.

In years past, when Lego was the theme or dump trucks in the dirt was the direction we went, we didn’t go so crazy. By celebrating the holiday with his big day, we get a twofer, and I know in the future all of these spiders and webs and skulls will be used. Seriously, the odds are in my favor. Post-Halloween sales might help us round out our collection of spooky creatures, in case we have begun a new tradition of a haunted basement.  After all, he IS going to be 8 next year and my God is this child worth celebrating. My anticipation for his big day may be a bit over the top, as a grandma I really ought to be more accustomed to birthdays and children aging. But this child is special.

Thoughts of his beginnings are never far from my mind, all the days of anticipating his arrival that were spent coming to know his mama. Plum began as a yes when everything pointed to no. A disconnected father, a young mother challenged by the pregnancy. We watched as she painted a little dresser Chef found for her, readied a nursery here in our home, moved the crib about a million times to get it just right. We had many bumpy years of moving that crib out as she sought to begin life her own and then back in again as she needed a reset. Finally he moved into a bed and his room has stayed stable since, a place to call his own regardless of other changes in his life. Under his bed he stores treasures, one earring or a necklace from my dresser, a lightbulb, rocks, my Lord so many rocks, the collars from beloved pets. Not long ago a friend offered an old military truck which has become the perfect treasure chest for a little boy to contain his hoard. On days of greater anxiety, I find him sorting through it, as if the bits and pieces of his story calm him, center him. He goes through it less and less, my measurement for his inner tranquility.

“Well, Plum, what are your thoughts on year six?” I asked as he was pooping  and I was hovering outside the open door.  I don’t care what he says, he isn’t all that grown yet if he still wants me around for that event. But I digress. “It was boring.” This was the year of completing his kindergarten, beginning first grade, those seem rather significant to me. Nope. Boring. “Well, what about the summer, you played almost every day outside with A, in the mud.”  Yeah he conceded, that was pretty okay but mostly it was boring. Hmm, I was stuck. I thought it was a fantastic year, he learned to read, he exploded his math abilities, he can even tie his own shoes, for heaven’s sake (actually we just checked that off the list a couple weeks ago, but I swear he conquered it on the first try when I showed him those bunny ears.) He can barely tolerate looking back though, he said, “Six is just so young.”

He is right, as most often he is when we have these talks. But what he doesn’t know is that seven is still not grown. Anyone who comes racing off the bus with their shoe untied, cracking up only to tell me that it fell off as he was trying to get up from his seat at our stop. Apparently his buddy picked it up, held it to his face, and performed a disgusting act of maleness. “I swear, Gran, I heard him SNIFF!” Falling on the ground laughing again, backpack spilling Pokemon keychains and bouncy balls on the leaf covered lawn, he shattered the silence of my day with his giggles and delight. He is young enough still that he holds on to the sweet funny stories and events, he allows the tough things to roll off, to sizzle away like a droplet of water in a hot pan. It isn’t that he has such a perfect life that he knows no troubles, oh Lord no. I am confident that it is exactly because he has known trauma that he is resilient and determined to laugh when he can. I am at my utmost silly, I relinquish all dignity, ever willing to play the fool, just to elicit his laughter. Plum smiling means angels singing. When the angels sing, I know God is near. Truthfully, I know He has always been near to this child.

During this birthday week in Patches of Light land, I cannot help but reflect on not just who he is becoming but who has walked with him during the previous 12 months, who has shaped this year to help create this child. If ever there was evidence of the power the village plays in a child’s life, Plum is it.  His village rose up around him, he was prayed over while still in the womb. Our church has been beyond faithful in loving and supporting this child as well as his mother when she needed and was receptive. (His father has never left the prayers of the same community, God is walking that path with us, one with more twists and turns.) Plum occupied the front row closest to the praise band in order to dance and wiggle during the music portion of each service, he walks in as though he is the mayor of church. He feels ownership, as he should, as we all should. He knows comfort there, why wouldn’t he, these are his people. He glows with the love and support that surround his every step, he is unaware at his ages but one day he will realize that all those adults in his life were his prayer warriors, were placed there by God to lift him up out of his situation to become a man with a purpose in the kingdom. He will bring joy to many, not just his gran.

My joy bringer is 7 years old today, the baby I rocked to sleep, weaned from the bottle, potty trained, taught to sleep in a big boy bed and then to sleep all night. I was with him on his first day of preschool as well as kindergarten, I haven’t missed a milestone yet. But it is all the in betweens, the moments we talk amongst the bushes looking for insects or yes, even while he is pooping, that I truly treasure. This child carries my heart with him where ever he goes, as he grows. Today we will turn our home over to his many friends as they celebrate him. I will be listening for his giggles, confirmation that all the effort communicates to him, we know he is worthy. As the sun begins to rise, the early cold snap has brought flurries that catch my eye and chill my hands. My soul is warmed though, as I take these last few quiet moments before cutting apples for dipping into caramel and hanging streamers and blowing up balloons. My soul is quiet and peaceful, as I celebrate fully this child who God is sharing with me. My joy bringer, who helps me hear the angels sing.