Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Three Days in March

I am rarely around children for extended periods of time, especially without other adults present. But in the last two weeks, I spent three days with three different children.

First was Knox, age 4 years + 6 months, at his house. He is all boy—playing with cars and transformers, bouncing around on the jungle gym, wanting to ride his Big Wheel but legs not quite long enough to reach. A nap is not a consideration. We talk about his preschool. He loves to sound out simple words and to recite his newest Bible verse from the prophets. (If you haven't seen his video, do click here.) We read lots of books. Precious little boy.

Second was Victoria, age 4 months, at my house. She smiled a lot, cried only when hungry, and took a 3½ hour nap. I even took her with me to meet with my little in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters after-school program and to Kroger and she was well-behaved.
Precious baby girl.

Today is Brianna, age 3 years + 9 months, at my house. She’s all about the dolls left from 25 years ago, distressed at the missing arm of one, delicately dressing another. She delights in showing me how strong she is, taking the toys upstairs, and how smart she is, for she excels in counting and her ABCs. We talk about her preschool. We read lots of books and she loves the play jewelry box.
She is entranced by the little drawer in our kitchen table where we keep napkins, and goes through several, requiring additional withdrawals from the drawer. Loves watching our squirrels. Takes an hour nap. She said, "Since you are Finn's grandma, you could be my grandma, too." Absolutely! Precious little girl.

These experiences have helped me in various ways—to remember how time-consuming children can be for their parents, to see how children have a different view of things, to see how little effort it takes to bring a smile to a child’s face, and to recognize my own joy in the interactions.

I pray that God will give me opportunities to serve him through serving others, so I grudgingly take these opportunities as they arise. Then I am blessed by the giving far more than I bless.

But I do need to make clear that once every three or four months is all I’m available!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Have you been to the new Target?"

“Have you been to the new Target?” seems to be the conversation-starter of the month. Our location in Campbell County, Kentucky, just across the river from downtown Cincinnati has always been an ideal location for access to downtown plays and athletic events. We, however, have always had to go several miles to big-box stores of any kind. With a population of 87,000, it’s surprising that stores have been more likely to close here than to open.

So I hear people talking about going to the new Target, which is only five minutes from our house at our usual interstate access point. The buzz about that exit started a little over a year ago when a super-Kroger opened there. The only thing that will exceed the excitement over these two will be if the Kroger gas station ever opens. That will truly transport us all to bliss.

So why does everyone get so excited about store openings? Novelty, of course, but also convenience. We get something we need. We all are so rushed about everything, always behind, never catching up on all we have to do. So saving time—and now, gas money—is appealing.

I’m reminded of the conversation on the road to Emmaus, when Jesus joined Cleopas and his friend.

“Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Cleopas asked Jesus. Obviously Jesus was the novelty of the day, and his teaching as well as his crucifixion were paramount in people’s minds. So why else were people so interested in Jesus—and so disappointed at his death?

Because people got something they needed. They needed hope. They needed the assurance of life eternally. They needed to be involved in something greater than themselves, and Jesus met that need.

And just as the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not at first recognize Jesus, we often do not initially recognize what we really need. We have the same needs today as those who were contemporaries of Jesus.

We need hope. We need the assurance that this is not all there is. We need to be involved in something greater than ourselves and our own limited interests.

Jesus finally revealed himself to the two disciples, and it’s time we reveal ourselves to our friends and family who do not know Jesus. More and more, I realize that others do not feel the peace and contentment that comes with knowing Jesus. I want to share “the joy of my salvation,” as David referred to it in Psalm 51. If you don’t know Jesus, Psalm 51 is a good prayer to start with.

As I consider my friends and acquaintances, I see certain people that I would approach to know more about Jesus if I were becoming interested in following him. Some that are regular church attenders would not necessarily be chosen, but those who glow with the love of Jesus and the joy of serving others stand out in my mind. So I want to live my life so that I am that person to others.

What question can I ask that will be as engaging as the one about Target, but that will get to the heart of knowing Jesus? I welcome your ideas.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Aging Gracefully

The Ides of March! Unlike their foreboding implication, I welcome March 15 each year, because I know that spring is not far away. In spite of the present grayness and gloom, I know that sunny days are ahead.

The seasons are so unlike life. We always know it won’t be long until green newness arrives everywhere. But life isn’t like that. When we feel gray and old, we look forward only to getting older. Lately I’ve been thinking of the phrase “growing old gracefully.” On one hand, I’d like to be put in that category; on the other hand, I prefer to age kicking and screaming against the injustice of it all as I slowly lose abilities I always took for granted, such as a good memory.

I find myself analyzing people’s wrinkles—does she have more or fewer than I do? Which of us looks older? I wonder if she’s using face cream or if she’s just letting it go. Such pondering reminds me of a couple of conversations I had with my mother who still had lovely skin at age 85.

I stood by her bed, holding her hand as we waited for her to be picked up for surgery.

“Your skin feels so dry,” I said. “Do you want me to rub your face with my face cream?”

“Oh, yes! Please do,” she said.

As I gently stroked her face, I thought of the instructions she’d given me since I was a teenager about how to apply face cream. That’s beside the point now, I thought, but I was wrong.

She said, “Now be sure to rub in upward motions. An Elizabeth Arden clerk told me long ago to rub upward when applying face cream in order to avoid wrinkles.”

I looked at her in amazement that it would still matter to her at this point--and that she thought she was telling me something I didn't know. Smiling, I said, “Well, it’s obviously worked for you. Your skin is beautiful.” And it was. Though she was 22 when I was born, we had about the same amount of wrinkles.

She survived that surgery and months later was still in rehab. The bright sun came through the window and shone directly on me as I stood by her bed.

Peering at me, she said, “Honey, you need to use some cream on your face. You’ve got lots of wrinkles.”

Thanks, Mother! I thought.

But I said, “Oh, I do, Mother. But unfortunately I inherited the Bradley skin instead of your beautiful smooth skin.” All true. In fact, following her earlier advice, I probably spend more a year on face creams than she has in a lifetime.

She lived Psalm 73: 25-26: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. “

Did she age gracefully? I guess she did, for she maintained a lively spirit no matter what her physical condition. If that’s what’s meant by aging gracefully, I’m all for it. I don’t want to be seen as one who is getting older and not wiser or one that focuses on aging rather than on life.

Last week I heard a woman about my age say, “I don’t look in the mirror any more. I don’t want to focus on wrinkles; I’m too busy for that.” I like that and am inspired to have the same philosophy.

There’s a great post on the HOPE blog that has excellent points about aging. Thanks, Ingrid, for great insights.

What are your thoughts on getting older?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Goldilocks Finds "Just Right"

I’ve walked for exercise for years, getting up early enough to walk before going to school each day. I enjoyed the solitude for my prayer time whether outside (preferrably) or on our treadmill (grudgingly).

When I took early retirement from teaching (notice I was not retirement age when I quit!), I started Pilates classes and loved it. The classes were 75 minutes long, twice a week, at 8:30, and gave a great start to my day. After about a year, the place closed for remodeling.

For a while, I used Pilates tapes, but that is not the same! No instructor to say, “Raise those hips higher!” or “Tighten those abs every time you breathe in or out!” Then when the exercise center reopened, the classes changed to once a week and a time that wasn’t convenient for my schedule.

Back to the Pilates tapes and DVDs, but not the same. I’d alternate Pilates and walking outside in good weather and the treadmill in bad.

My rheumatologist said I should be walking in water rather than on land—that it would pay off for my joints down the road. (But what road?) For over a year, I went to the YMCA twice a week to walk in the pool. Hated it. But at least I could get in my prayer time that way. I canceled my membership when I left town for the summer. I decided that was a road I’d accept when I came to it.

Then a new Pilates place opened nearby. Fabulous! Caring, capable instructor, classes that fit my schedule. I was back in gear. Pilates twice a week and walking at least three other days.

Then last summer’s mission trip to Malaysia interrupted my Pilates schedule, and by the time I returned and contacted my great Pilates place, one class had been dropped and the other was full.

Yikes! So I signed up for Pilates classes in Cincinnati with a great Groupon offer. Went five times and felt inadequate four of them. The first time was a snowy day and I was the only person there. Great! Essentially a private lesson. But the other times I was surrounded by beautiful young bodies who could lift and balance and raise and lower in ways that I could only dream about. Oh, I could do what they did 7 or 8 times, but not 30 or 50! They were kind to me, but I felt so inept that I didn’t sign up for more classes.

Then I read in our local paper about Curves/Zumba classes. Maybe that’s my answer, I thought. So I took their free week and learned the machines at Curves. As I’d feared, I was surrounded by dear, white-haired ladies who were very encouraging and sweet and saying things like, “That thirty seconds on that machine is a long time!” I wasn’t sure I wanted to associate myself with that age group.

But finally came the Zumba classes, and I think I’ve found my niche. There isn’t a gray hair in the class except for the instructor’s ponytail, obviously premature. Now I must admit that I think it’s because most of us use a little L’Oreal or Clairol help not to be gray, but that’s part of the point: these are women who haven’t given in to aging in any way they can fight. These women move and stimulate me to do the same.

I love the energy required to keep up with the Zumba moves in between time on the Curves machines. I feel like Goldilocks—it’s not too hard, not too easy, but “just right.” Finally!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Writing About My Mother

Mary Onezima Ralph Bradley, my mother, was the quintessential hostess, graciously feeding groups from class reunions to business meetings to elderly illiterate cousins and lonely parolees. She didn’t just feed them, but incorporated their problems as her own. She was the Southern version of The Matchmaker, but she matched jobs to the jobless, income sources to the penniless, living water to the spiritually dry. Her home was a haven for the downtrodden, some for hours, others for years.

She was a woman of passion. She was passionate about everything that really counts—her faith, her husband, her children and later their families, her extended family of eight siblings, dozens of aunts, uncles, and cousins, and her friends. She was passionate about education and constantly demonstrated the term “life-long learner.”

But she was passionate about trivia as well: setting the table, adding ingredients to a recipe in the correct order, addressing an envelope, weeding the garden, answering the phone, moving a chair from one place to another, placing a book on the coffee table. All were fodder for her particular passionate perspective.

Above all, she was passionate about Jesus Christ.

But she was also a human being and flawed. During the first 80 years of her life, she had a quick temper and a sharp tongue to go with it. Stories of her temperamental responses have become family legend, but she managed to live through them and grow by them. And her growth jump-started the development of the rest of us as well.

I have written a book telling of my mother’s exploits and how both she and we grew from them—socially, spiritually, emotionally. I continue to work on this book as events prompt additional memories. Each chapter ends with a recipe of one of her special food items that was mentioned in the chapter. Recipes include such Southern favorites as Fresh Coconut Cake, Fried Okra, Blackberry Cobbler, Pork Barbecue, and Fried Green Tomatoes. Can’t you feel your arteries clog, just reading the names of the foods she so beautifully prepared?

These days, a well-written book about an interesting person is not enough. Publishers want writers already to have a platform—meaning followers on a blog, speaking engagements, and other connections that will help to sell books. So before I can submit my book, I must work on my platform. Right now my platform is so small I must balance on one foot to stand on it.

People tell me they read my blog, but I need readers who will sign up on my blog as a follower. I need to speak to women’s groups or church groups or parent groups wherever they’ll have me. I’m working on updating my deplorably obsolete website. My precious little Findlay is not even mentioned on it, and he’ll be a year old next month! Thus an excuse to post a picture of little Finn Byers with his doting cousin Knox. And to ask my readers to sign up as followers of my blog. Thanks, dear friends.