Thursday, November 28, 2019

Full and Empty: A Thanksgiving Poem

Empty oven.
Empty pans.
Empty roasters.
Empty plans.

Make a list of
Fifty goals
Write a guest list:
Fifteen souls.

Empty crock pots.
Empty case.
Clean the fridge and
Clear the space.

Make a menu.
Time to start.
Fill the WinCo
Shopping cart.

Peel potatoes.
Celery chop.
Fill the piecrusts 
To the top.

Crank the pressure
Cooker's vent.
Fill the kitchen 
With the scent

Fill the crock pots.
Whip the cream.
Work together
As a team.

Empty table
Stretch it long
Set the plates where
They belong.

Fold the napkins
Set the spoons
Guests will be 
Arriving soon.

Family, strangers
Covered miles.
Here they come with
Cautious smiles.

Empty stomachs.
Hard to wait.
Smells that make us

Bustling kitchen.
Joyful hugs.
Cream and coffee
In the mugs.

Pull the turkey.
Slice the meat.
It is almost 
Time to eat.

Stir the gravy.
Warm the rolls.
Unplug crock pots.
Fill the bowls.

Fill the table.
Fill the chairs.
Join the hands and
Offer prayers.

Pass potatoes.
Stuffing, dip.
Don't let the turkey
Platter slip.

Pass ideas.
Questions, ask.
Discussion is a
Worthy task.

Make connections.
Laugh together. 
Be a friend.

Groaning stomachs.
Drooping eyes.
Pass the coffee.
Cut the pies.

Empty dishes.
Stack the plates.
Can't believe how
Much we ate.

Fill the empty
Wash the china
With great care.

Fill the couch and
Comfy chairs
Nap like hibernating 

Pass the party mix
And yawn.
Bring on Settlers
Of Catan.

Hug the guests and 
Say goodbye.
House feels empty.
Night is nigh.

Hearts are full as
At this day's
End we whisper
Thanks and praise.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Mom No Longer Knows Everything

I used to toss around the phrase "Moms know everything," as an only-half-joking way to end arguments, protracted questionings, and suspicions about my credibility.

I'm sure the children always thought I invented it myself, but it came from one of the many people who invested in my kids. When we lived in Dryden, Ontario, one of the single staff ladies at the camp where we lived wanted to give my children a Christmas gift. Like all the other voluntary service people, she didn't have much money. So she bought two secondhand children's books and read them aloud into a cassette recorder, clanging a spoon on a metal bowl when it was time to turn the page.

Then she gave the children the books and the tapes. I still think it was one of the cleverest low-cost gifts ever. The kids practically memorized those stories.

I can still see this young lady in my mind--round face, glasses, smiling--but I can't bring up her name. Something Coblentz, maybe.

[Later: Brenda Coblentz! That's who it was!]

One part of one of the stories had a list of weather-related words like meteorology, hygrometer, and anemometer.  Miss Coblentz slowly sounded them out and then added, aside, "If you don't know what those are, ask your mom. Moms know everything."

What a handy phrase. I ended up using it a lot.

It came up again this morning.

Steven is home, briefly. He just finished an intense 3-month paramedic course at a community college in McCook, Nebraska. Next week he heads to Las Vegas for his internship. "Las Vegas is good because there's lots of gunshot wounds, heart attacks, that kind of thing."

I went into the guest room this morning to get some books to fill an order. Steven was still in bed and on his phone. "I'm reading about drugs," he said.  "Ketoralac." He explained further complicated things about Ketoralac that I can't remember.

"I was wondering," I said, "what you do when you come on the scene and someone is unconscious. Let's say you know they need a certain drug, but you don't know their medical history, and you don't know if they're on a drug that will react with what you need to give them."

He explained that if someone's unconscious, you check their blood sugar and their pupils. Dilated pupils could indicate an overdose of a benzo drug. Pinpoint pupils indicate narcotics. He casually went on to explain processes, symptoms, solutions, and if-then scenarios, all peppered with multi-syllable medical words that slipped into one of my ears and out the other without registering in my brain.

I said, "You know, the days when I knew more than my kids are long gone."

He laughed. "Moms know everything?"

"Yes. But not any more."

Those were good days, when they came to me wondering why are leaves green, how old is Grandma Yoder, and who is that new family in church? When will it be my birthday, why do we pray before we eat, and where is the shampoo? Why do tigers have stripes, is this rope strong enough for a swing, and what are we having for supper?

I knew everything.

That is no longer the case.

Last week, I was twirling a fidget spinner and noted the pressure on my fingers when I tilted it back and forth. "Oh!" said Jenny and Amy. "Conservation of angular momentum."

Seriously, who pulls up those words as casually as I recall how to spell mayonnaise?

Among the six of them, they know vastly more than me about rocket fuel, pop bands, Narcan, the Thai language, the combustion rate of lignin, space travel, politics, cooking, fashion, coffee, farming, culture, chemistry, teaching, sports, directing drama, and much much more.

That is as it ought to be. I picture a little splash in a pool, and the ripples radiate outward, into faraway river systems and oceans.

"As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are children of the youth," says Psalms 127:4.

Off they go. Outward from the center.

1 Chronicles 4:10 says, "Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, 'Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.' And God granted his request."

I don't pray Jabez's prayer for myself, because I already have more options and opportunities than I can handle, but I pray it for my children, that their influence for good would radiate steadily outward into a world that needs kindness, knowledge, Jesus, wisdom, humor, literacy, joy, clean water, and rescue.

I know as much as I did back then, and lots more besides, but it's no longer everything. It's only a tiny bit, in comparison.

That's ok. I am happy to be here at home, sending and praying, nudging and encouraging, ever outward. Here at the center, where it all began, is a good place to be. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Story About a Boy and a Girl from Oregon

Once upon a time there was a red-haired boy growing up near Harrisburg, Oregon. He liked to research animals, do dangerous things, and take mechanical things apart.

His name was Matt.

His mom, Dorcas, wrote for the newspaper in town, the Register-Guard.

Seven miles away a little dark-haired girl was growing up. Her name was Phoebe. She was creative and liked science.

Phoebe's dad was named Tom. He also worked for the Register-Guard newspaper, as a graphic designer. He would design the page where Matt's mom's articles appeared.

Tom and Dorcas didn't know each other, but in 2012 Dorcas wanted to self-publish a bunch of her articles. She asked her friend Bob, another RG columnist, who he'd recommend to help design the cover and inside pages.

Bob said, "I always ask my friend Tom."

Tom was willing to help. He found an artist who drew pretty teapots, and he set up the cover and inside pages of Tea and Trouble Brewing. He found a special font that could be used for future books as well. "Your signature font," he said.

Meanwhile, Matt finished up his engineering studies at Oregon State University and moved to Washington, DC, to work for the Navy. 

A few years later, Dorcas wanted to publish another book. Again, she called on Tom. He came out to their farmhouse to discuss it. They sat at the kitchen table along with Dorcas's dad, Amos, who frowned at Tom with his bristly eyebrows and demanded, "So, are you British??"

Tom was gracious. Yes, he has some English ancestry, he said.

This book was to be called Footprints on the Ceiling. Dorcas wanted a picture on the cover of old barn boards with a big footprint. Tom said he could do that, and again he did all the layout and design, and served as a liaison with the printer, Friesens, in Manitoba.

When the time came for another book, Tom was doing the work of at least two people at the Register-Guard, since the newspaper was cutting staff in an effort to stay alive, so Dorcas kept the same font and the teapot artist but hired someone else to take care of the design.

Meanwhile, Matt kept working in DC and Phoebe finished college in Oregon. Matt enrolled at the University of Maryland and studied aerospace engineering while working full time.

In June of 2018, Dorcas wrote an article for Fathers Day. She mentioned that when her son Matt comes home from Washington, DC, he and his dad talk about work and politics, while she and he discuss life, feelings, nice girls, church, friends, and such things.

Tom set up the column, as usual. When he read it, he had an idea. His mother always read the column when it came out on Sundays, and she had the same idea. The two of them discussed it. The grandma was sure this idea came from the Holy Spirit.

Tom sent Dorcas an email. Did she realize, he wondered, that his daughter Phoebe was working in DC? Did Dorcas think her son and Tom's daughter would enjoy meeting for coffee?

Now Dorcas had tried her hand at matchmaking and it had been a dismal failure, so she didn't let herself go into that mode in this situation. Besides, she had never met Phoebe and didn't know if she passed her strict standards. But she knew Matt would enjoy seeing someone from back home, since he always enjoyed Oregon connections, including figuring out that there was exactly one other Oregon license plate in the big parking lot at the Navy Yard.

Phone numbers were exchanged all around.

They met for coffee.

Matt texted a short, nonchalant message to his mom.

A week later, word filtered back home that they had met again.

"Oh!" said Dorcas.

Matt said they went to the Air and Space Museum for three hours.

The Smuckers discussed this at length. Matt's brother Ben said, "Any girl that can listen to Matt at the Air and Space Museum for three hours is something special."

Matt and Phoebe continued to meet. Phoebe's friends at the ladies' boarding house where she lived were deeply invested in the story. "But Phoebe, is he a Calvinist? You can't date someone who's not a Calvinist!"

The two families back in Oregon were deeply invested as well.

By August, Matt and Phoebe decided they were officially dating.

Phoebe spent time with his family at Christmas. Matt went to Phoebe's grandpa's birthday party. The families were delighted all around, and it was so convenient to have the families living only a few miles apart.

By the following September, everyone was anxiously waiting for Matt to propose. To help him out, his mom and sister bought a little unicorn ring from a vending machine. He considered using it when he and Phoebe were by a lake in Minnesota one evening after his grandpa's funeral, especially when a lovely shooting star blazed by, but somehow it didn't seem right to propose right after a funeral.

In October, they came to Oregon again because her grandpa was turning 100 years old. Matt took Phoebe out to the coast one day. When they returned, Phoebe had a pretty ring on her finger--a real diamond ring. Dorcas was so happy she burst into tears.

Her daughter Emily wrote about it here.

They discussed dates, and Dorcas and Phoebe looked at wedding dress patterns.

"Wait. Is this real?" thought Dorcas. It was.

She gave thanks.

As for the "Is he a Calvinist?" question, Emily wrote: “But it’s even funnier now,” Matt says, “because our whole relationship seems predestined.”

For one thing, Tom first emailed his idea only two weeks after Matt had finished getting his master's degree in aerospace engineering. He would never have had time for a relationship while he was in grad school, he said.

And in the most goose-bumpy coincidence of all, it turned out that way back when Tom needed a footprint for the cover of Dorcas's book, he asked his daughters for help. Phoebe painted the bottom of her foot and printed it on a piece of paper. "We have a picture of it," she said. "I was in pajamas and laughing hysterically."

So for the last four or five years, while Dorcas was praying for Matt's future wife, that mystical faceless woman, 2000 copies of that same young lady's footprint were right in front of Dorcas as she sent out orders or arranged her books on a table at book events.

That is how God works.

They all plan to live happily ever after. 

And, in case you're wondering, Phoebe says they're Calminian.