Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Learning to write

I love my grandchildren's writing, especially when they are first learning to write. These are recent pages my daughter sent from our five-year-old grand-daughter, Shannon. She's in kindergarten.
I love the sentiment. I love the images accompanying the text. I even love the misspellings as they are evidence of learning.

I wonder, though, as teachers, when we stop being charmed by evidences of learning, when we stop seeing errors as the writer taking risks and start seeing the errors, instead, as wrong. As mistakes. As bad writing. Could I correct Shannon's spelling? Of course. But why would I? I don't mind that she spells my name with an o at the end instead of an a. I know her. I know that she's thinking of one of the sounds an o can make. (She's kind of a stickler for letters making the sounds she knows and doesn't like it at all when letters make different sounds in some words.)

Loving the notes and letters my grandchildren send me reminds me that we are all learners. Do I sometimes have to hold students to a standard? Yes. But not every time they write. And sometimes, even in polished writing, I should probably look at some of what my students do as risks they have taken, as their attempt to address something I may not understand, as evidence of learning in process. I should think of them as people. If I do that, I take a more human perspective. And, in the end, I might take more risks in my own writing, maybe giving myself the same freedom to take risks and try something that I might not be really good at. I hope so, anyway.

Monday, January 8, 2018

circle of life

Last week four people we knew passed away, relatives and friends. Some of the loss was expected and a blessing for lives in suffering; others were surprises. We were able to attend two funerals and still have one to go to.

During the same week, we also attended a sealing of a young woman we came to know and love after we were assigned to be her home teachers last year. Two days later we (with my parents) were able to seal 56 relatives to our family, extending the connections further.

And then, to top off the week, we had a new addition to our family: a new grand-daughter. What a delight and a blessing. Even though we haven't seen her in person yet, we love her already. Family members texted in the hours before her birth, all joyously awaiting her arrival, reminding me that a baby binds us together in happy ways.

And after a week like this--with all its ups and downs, with its joys and sorrows--I am reminded that this is the stuff of living. Through it all, our family holds. We have the things that matter most: a knowledge of life after this one and the connection of family that extends beyond the doors of death. Blessed!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Flaws and Beauty

Over Thanksgiving we met two of our children (and their families) who live in the southern part of the US and spent the holiday with them on the Gulf Coast, in a town called Navarre. The beach was beautiful--white sand as far as we could see. And, because it was "winter," the beach was pretty much our own. Our condos looked out on the ocean, which was sparkling and clear. From the pier, we could see all the way to the sandy bottom of the water, so we could observe small sharks, stingrays, and the large turtles that flocked the area (probably because of the turtle rescue facility there).

I read a little about the area. It seems that the town was the site for the filming of the second Jaws film. Eerie to think about when we were in the water! But the town--and the beach--had been partially destroyed several times since then by hurricanes. When the hurricanes come, the beach is often erased by the wind and waves. Afterward, new sand is dredged up from under the water and blown onto the beach again. That can explain why it is so white and clean, I suppose. And filled with shells.

In my office, I have a bowl of shells I have collected from beaches I have visited around the world. I can't remember which shell is from which beach anymore, but I put them in a clear bowl to remind me of the beaches I have visited. Favorite memories. On this trip, my grandchildren had collected grocery bags full of shells and laid them out to examine on the deck of the condo. As I looked at them, admiring their beauty, I realized that none of the shells was perfect. Each had a flaw of some sort. I imagined the flaws were the result of some ocean hazard--waves beating them against the sand, currents carrying them against rocks, even sea creatures using and then discarding them. Each mark that made the shell imperfect was the result of a struggle, but each mark, now, on the shore, drying in the sun, made the shells beautiful. Unique. Strong. They had survived intact. As I studied them, I realized that in each case, the beauty of each shell existed in the aspects that might be considered flaws. Just like us: it isn't perfection that makes us special. It is the way we carry our struggles and move on. Smoothing over the broken edges and becoming something else. Something better.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


The word "serendipity," I learned, was coined in 1754 in a letter from one author to another, explaining the happy chance of learning something he had wondered about in a book he was reading. When I look up the word online, I find lots of boundaries for it--it can't be looked for, as it is partly related to chance; it isn't planned, but it can occur in the process of a planned event; it is always happy (there is another word for unhappy things that happen randomly; and it isn't just a synonym for chance as there's the happy element to it, too. I guess I would say that being in the right place at the right time to experience something that might not have occurred at another time or place--and that the experience is happy--is a good way to summarize what I read.

This morning I was walking from my car to my office and just happened to spy a hot air balloon flying low over the south end of campus, just above the trees. It had the morning sun shining on it, making it almost sparkle. I grabbed my phone to snap a photo before it was gone.
It looked like it was just sitting there, balancing on the trees. I just had to smile. Big.  

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were running an errand as the sun was setting. I commented on the beauty of the reflected rays of the snow on the mountain tops. I said, "Pull over. Let me take a picture!" He did and I did. I took three, trying to get some trees in the shot to frame the mountain better than in this first shot. But even in the moments spread from the first photo to the third, the sun had changed; the colors were not as spectacular. The moment was gone, almost as fast as I could say how beautiful it was. 

These are truly serendipitous moments, captured because I was in a time and place at just the right moment to see the beauty. I think of all the moments like this in my life--fleeting, happy, beautiful. Sometimes I try to take a mental picture, but they fade. These moments add something to the beauty of my life. In my church, we have a phrase, "tender mercies," to describe the little ways God blesses us that we might not notice if we aren't paying attention. I think these serendipitous moments are tender mercies. Like a genuine smile or a hug from a friend when you're feeling down, they are small in the big picture but oh so meaningful in terms of our spirit. I need to pay attention. I know there are more of them in my life than I remember. And how rich would my life be if I could record and remember them all! 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Fences and Sky

Fences and sky
Boundaries and freedom
Fences stretching to horizon,
Boundaries on what I can do,
Where I can go.

Built tough.
By hands meant to tame
Meant to separate
Yours and mine.
Meant to show
What is. 

Beyond the fence is sky.
Open, free, ever-changing.
God’s gift of potentials. 

Fences against sky.
Both frame and free.
Fences leading to sky.
Together: beauty. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

balloons and beauty

We spent Labor Day weekend with our kids and grand-kids in Boise. They have a tradition of going to the balloon festival on Saturday morning. We have tried to go with them before, but the weather didn't cooperate, so the balloons couldn't go up. We wondered about their insistence that we go: we had to get up really early (on a Saturday morning!) to leave the house by 6AM. We stopped and got donuts and milk along the way, but we were at the park just as the sun was coming up. Clouds came and went, but the day was pretty nice (even if a little cool). I have to say, now that I've seen it, I can see why they make the effort. It was amazing. The announcer gives the clearance to inflate, and, suddenly all around us these giant balloons start filling and then rising. We were up close to see them go. And they flew right over our heads, many of them waving, some of them tossing candy from just above us.

Last week I wrote about the glow worm caves. They were something to see! And when I was at the balloon festival, I found myself thinking how beautiful it was--all those varied colors and shapes floating by against the clouds and sky. This time, though, the beauty was man-made, not nature-made. Still, it was breath-taking, and I was reminded that beauty comes in many forms. Now that the leaves are turning, maybe it's time for a trip to the mountains and try nature-made beauty again?

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

beautiful world

Last week I was in New Zealand. I loved the tour of the Hobbit village--all those colorful round doors! But I can't stop thinking about a tour of Waitomo Caves.

For one thing, they are beautiful caverns. Pink stalactites and stalagmites in graceful swirls in every glance. I kept thinking that it was real. Real. It took millions of years to form. But we could see something like this that Disney had made. It could look exactly the same. But this was real. This was created by the beautiful processes at work in nature, not fabricated by man.

The breathtaking aspect of these caves, though, were the glow worms. Glow worms--yes, like the nursery song--are real! They don't exist in very many places. Lots of caves in New Zealand and Australia, a few in the British Isles, one place each in the US (Alabama), India, Pakistan, and Morocco. Rare!

All glow worms are insects, but they are not all the same. The reason for the glow and the part of the body that makes the glow differs among the different kinds of worms. The ones we saw use the lights to attract bugs to eat. It seems kind of gross, in some ways. And when they showed us the webs that string among the worms, that seemed a little creepy. But when the guide took us in a boat, in a slow river, in the dark, without lights, the view was amazing. Magical. Like something I have never seen before. A night sky filled with millions of stars, so close they feel like they hang in your hair. Something beautiful and odd and wonderful and secret. Lovely.

Image result for photo of waitomo caves