Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Calm for Christmas or How the Flu Taught Me to Let Go and Give Thanks

I love Christmas. Which means I sometimes get a little crazy trying to do everything that I love to do, everything that I think everyone wants, and everything to make everyone happy. And sometimes trying to make everything perfect, ironically, ruins Christmas.

All of my family was going to be together this year for Christmas, which meant three families would stay at my house for ten days and I would host multiple events for all seventeen people. As I shopped and baked and planned and cleaned, I could feel the craziness coming on. So, as I prepared for my children to gather, I prayed earnestly and very specifically. Please let me be calm for Christmas. Please help me to feel peaceful and grateful and not crazy.

The Lord gave me what I asked for.

The day that my out-of-town children arrived, I came down with a terrible case of the flu and a chest cold. I was feverish, achy, coughing. I could hardly move, and I completely lost my voice. I had to use a clipboard to communicate.

For the entire ten days that my family gathered for the holidays, I was pretty much in bed, inert, coughing, sleeping, and very calm. I couldn’t even talk.

I lay in bed listening to my children laughing and chatting. They made meals, went on the Polar Express and to Candlelight Christmas. They went Christmas shopping and caroling—they did all the wonderful Christmassy things we had planned, just without me.

And it was OK. As I lay in bed coughing and coughing, I just felt grateful. Grateful my children were having fun together, grateful they were responsible adults taking care of meals and dishes and laundry all without me. Grateful they brought me tea and soup and were so kind to me.

In some ways, it was my best Christmas. I wasn’t trying to control anyone. I wasn’t feeling responsible for anyone’s happiness. I didn’t try to change anyone or worry about what I hadn’t done.

Every once in while I came out of my room in my jammies and just enjoyed watching my wonderful family.

Toward the end of the holiday, I felt better. I went for a walk with one of my children. We were enjoying the fresh air and I was so happy to be out of the house, laughing and talking with my beloved child. Then I reached out, almost reflexively, and straightened up her shoulders, as I had so many times throughout her growing up years. That sweet person turned to me laughing and said, “Oh Mom! You are well enough to care!”

But I immediately hated that I had done that. Why couldn’t I let go and let everyone be, now that I was well? Why couldn’t I just be grateful for the thousands of wonderful things my child is, rather than try to change her?

I hated what I had done. I just wished I could to capture that peaceful feeling of letting go, of feeling peace and calm. Why can I only let go of the need to control when I am ill?

Well. That’s a little harsh. I hope I am not truly that controlling. But there is something about being a parent that makes you feel responsible for the happiness of your children. If you think of something that might make them more happy, there is a compulsion to tell them. After all, isn’t it your job, as a parent, to teach your children?

That in itself is probably a misconception. I’m reading a book about parenting called The Gardener and the Carpenter by Alison Gopnik, a child development professor at Berkeley. She explains that we cannot intentionally craft children into adults, as a carpenter might shape a chair or a table. Instead we are more like gardeners, who provide a nurturing environment where plants can thrive and become whatever they are meant to be. Gopnik explains we need to love children, share our lives with them, but not “parent” them or try to shape them.

I’m not sure I’m not totally on board with all of this, but I do know my resolution for 2018 is to somehow become a better parent to adult children. Now that my children are grown, what is my place in their lives? I’ve started keeping a running list of my insights in that quest. I’m asking my children what I can do to better support them.

Oops. Looks like I’m still trying to control stuff—me especially. But I guess that’s OK. In any case, I’m feeling teachable. I’m letting go of the need to shape other people. I’m feeling grateful for all the good things in my life right now.

And I like the way it feels. Calm. My prayer was answered. I was not only calm for Christmas, but I can feel calmness spreading into the new year. Maybe I can keep it up even when I don’t have the flu.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Total Eclipse: 1,000,000 on a Scale of 1-10

On Sunday evening, a some of my kids were with us sitting around the backyard talking about the eclipse. Should we drive the four hours north to Idaho to see the totality? Everyone we had talked with was moaning about the traffic. “You’ll be sitting on a parking lot heading north,” they warned grimly.

That’s when my son Mark spoke up firmly. “I’m going. I saw a total eclipse in Ghana years ago and it was without question the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Ever. Pictures don’t do it justice. No one can describe it. You just have to experience it.”

So we headed north the next morning. Traffic was surprisingly light. I read aloud from a booklet on the eclipse I’d bought at Lowe’s. The author clearly shared Mark’s opinion: “When rating natural wonders on a scale of 1-10, a partial solar eclipse might be a 7, but a total solar eclipse is 1,000,000!”

We also learned cool things like the relative size of the heavenly bodies involved in the eclipse.  If the earth is a peppercorn, the moon is a poppy seed, and the sun is a dinner plate. That’s right. Just imagine one tiny little poppy seed on a ten-inch dinner plate. The reason this tiny seed can block the power and light of the huge sun is simply a trick of perspective. It just so happens that though the sun is 400 times bigger than the moon, it is also 400 times farther away from earth than the moon. That means that for a couple of minutes, in a relatively small part of the whole earth, the moon will appear to be a big as the sun and totally block its incredible light.

Our two cars full of family met up in Rexburg Idaho and sat around on the BYU-I quad to enjoy the eclipse. As the moon started its progress across the sun, we watched through our special glasses, laughed and talked and ate potato chips.

Then the last crescent of light disappeared and the sun became a dark hole up in the sky. Suddenly, it was dark and cold. We whooped and jumped up and down, but that was just because we knew it was temporary. If we didn’t know, we would have been terrified. In that moment, we knew just how powerful that sun is, because we experienced a minute or two of what life would be without it. But at the same time, for the only time in my life, I could look right at the sun, and see its power literally exploding out from behind the moon. In that moment, I realized for the first time what incredible energy sustained everything I knew. I knew I would never take that power for granted again.

And it was awesome. Totally 1,000,000 on a scale of 1-10. You have to experience it. The next solar eclipse visible from the United States is in 2024. Mark your calendars.

The eclipse over, we headed south to go home. Somehow, when I thought of traffic, I thought of going up there. I forgot that all the folks who had arrived days early would all be coming home Monday afternoon.

The freeway was a parking lot. All alternate routes were too. On our GPS map, we watched the red line spreading south along the entire route. At one point, we took off on a dirt road through wheat fields, just so we could feel like we were moving. Every bathroom along the way had lines of people waiting outside it. Every fast food place was overwhelmed by hordes of hungry travelers. Fender benders abounded.

And yet, those hordes of tired people at every gas station rest stop were amazingly content. “Did you see the eclipse?” we asked each other as we waited our turn for the toilet. “Wasn’t it amazing!”

So now I’m thinking about the whole experience, and especially about the whole perspective thing. The moon is like a poppy seed compared to the dinner-plate-sized sun. You could hardly see a poppy seed on a dinner plate. But because of a trick of perspective, that moon can make those affected by the eclipse feel that the sun has disappeared. Having seen it, I get why ancient peoples would shoot flaming arrows or bang on drums to try to save the sun. It is terrifying to think of living without it.

But now we know; the sun keeps right on shining. The darkness is a momentary trick of the eye. If we look up, we can see the sun’s power behind the obscuring darkness. If we wait a bit, we will feel the sun again, with its life-giving power, light, and warmth.

I think troubles we face in life are similar. When we are in trouble, sometimes we cannot feel God’s light and power. But if we look up, we can see His light all around the darkness, and if we hold on in faith, we will once again bask in His light. And knowing this, maybe we can see the troubles we face as amazing opportunities to come to know God better. One million on a scale of 1-10.