Tuesday, June 14, 2011

That Annoying Bird

In early spring, we began to hear the cry of a bird nesting in the trees of the vacant lot next door. Arrggghhh! It was an irritating sound, slicing through the early morning silence like an annoying alarm clock that won’t shut off. “Oh, no,” I cried out. “Not a crow!” I wanted the chatter of tiny colorful songbirds at our bird feeder, not an ugly bird hiding in the trees, mocking me. The annoying noises continued, day after day.

Last weekend while sitting on the front porch, we heard the bird again, and Bill saw something fly by and perch in our neighbor’s enormous tree. “Doesn’t look like a crow,” he said. It had a white underbelly and a curved beak. It continued to yell at us from high on the tree branch.

Bill went inside and looked it up on the computer. “It’s a peregrine falcon,” he said, “the fastest bird on earth.”

My reaction to the bird was instantly transformed from “Woe!” to “Wow!” An object of annoyance had become in my mind something treasured. I saw the bird differently. It was no longer trespassing on my turf, but graced our lives with its magnificence.

What happened in my mind? It was the same bird. It made the same noise. But now I viewed him from a new perspective.

Looking through radically new eyes, that annoying kid, husband, friend, or neighbor, may actually be a blessing in disguise (or the opportunity for us to be). They may be annoying and irritating only because they infringe on our own agenda, personal peace and happiness or, sadly, how we think the person SHOULD be-- as if we were God.

And yet….it is God who sees all things so radically different. He doesn’t see us as we SHOULD be; He sees us as we really are, without our costumes and disguises, without the baggage we have picked up along the way, and without excuses. He always sees from the way He designed us, always deeper, more graciously, more loving, and amazingly profound and personal. This is God who chose the awkward, the marginal, and the often annoying little brothers to be the leaders of His Kingdom, the people we would never expect, because He sees them differently. He sees us differently too.

He sees the falcon in us.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Perennial Garden


Early one fall when my mother was ten years old, her aunt who lived nearby transplanted some irises into their garden, just green spears and bulbs with the promise of flowers the following spring.  Little did my aunt know at the time how desperately they would need that bit of color and beauty.   It was 1929 and about a month later, the stock market crashed and Great Depression began. 

Every time my mother and grandmother moved, they brought along the bulbs, dividing the clusters and always leaving some behind, Fort Worth, New York, Chicago, New Jersey, and back again to Chicago.  When my parents eventually moved to Florida in the 1990s, we scooped up some of the bulbs for our own garden.  The irises have now traveled with us to Kansas City, Iowa City, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Chicago.  In each of our nomadic locations, there are irises blooming every spring, the story behind them unknown to those who live in those houses. 

This week I have been writing the obituary for my father who passed away earlier this spring.  Due to space limitations, the entry can only hit the highlights of his career as a scientist, inventor and entrepreneur.  The text seems incomplete, and the words cry out to me what is missing and what really matters.  He was a man of integrity (“if you are going to steal, rob a bank”), a father who provided, a grandfather who desired each newborn to go to college, and a shepherd more than a business man – those who worked for him (some up to 40 years) considered him “family” because that is how he treated them.  He was not a man of many words until very late in his life.  Faith played a large role in his life, even though he didn’t speak much about it.  In his own way, he cared about people, even to the point of initiating a “men’s club” among the elderly men in his assisted living facility.  He outlived them all, including the one woman member who was blind and acted as their secretary.  He was full of stories about growing up in Brooklyn, coming of age in the War, and meeting Eisenhower and Einstein, most of which we never heard until the last few months of his life. 

The iris blooms make me think about what we leave behind.  Our culture thinks largely of the material – “make sure you have a will” – but those who come after us don’t need a tufted chair or a check, but an inheritance that tells of the hope within.  I came across my grandfather’s Bible last week.  He was born in 1866, the year after the Civil War ended, and died decades before I was born.  As I lifted up the crumbling book, what I desired more than anything was a note to fall out that would give me a clue about who he was and what was important to him.  I held his Bible and realized I was holding that evidence in my hand. 

When I became a grandmother, the first thing that profoundly hit me was that everything that I do and say and believe and hold as true will directly affect this little child in my arms.  What am I passing on to her?  Baggage that will weigh her down or perennial hope?  The irises remind me what to leave behind.

We will not hide them from their children,

but tell to the coming generation

the glorious deeds of the LORD, and His might,

and the wonders which He has wrought.

,,,that the next generation might know them,

the children yet unborn,

and arise and tell them to their children,

so that they should set their hope in God…

                                      Psalm 78. 4, 6-7

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The First Picture Show

Howard Gary Anderson 001

About 14 years ago, we moved to Iowa City and lived on the edge of town with a creek running through our backyard. The fields beyond the borders of our yard appeared, at times, to extend all the way to the horizon where sunsets silenced us by their beauty. It was a precious season in our family when all four of our girls still lived at home, before that time when one by one they journeyed to distant worlds called “college.” It was a time when the washer and dryer droned on a daily basis. Our evenings were full to overflowing with homework and art projects and bedtime readings about Middle Earth. And our mornings were a flurry of back packs and quick searches for shoes before the bus came up the hill.

In that “rush hour” early one junior high morning, as she flew out the door, grasping her coat, backpack, and lunchbag in one hand and toast wrapped in a paper towel in her other hand, our daughter Kate hesitated just a moment, turned to me and said, “Mom, I had the weirdest dream last night. I dreamt that our house was surrounded by corn. I mean, surrounded, like pressed up against the windows.” And with that, she was off to catch the bus.

At the time, I was taking a fiction writing course at the University of Iowa, and I had a deadline for a new story in just a few days. The deadline so far had no accompanying story to submit. That morning, Kate’s words hung in the air, as vivid as apples hanging ripe and heavy in a tree, just waiting to be harvested. I drove the two youngest girls to the elementary school and came back home to a sink full of morning dishes and a laundry room full of yesterday’s dirty clothes. And, ignoring all, I wrote. What emerged over the next couple of days, just in time for my afternoon class, was a story about truth and a boy raised in a house surrounded by corn.

Last night, I had the privilege, no, make that the HONOR, of seeing that story on the big screen. Caught in the middle of the flurry that morning was our youngest daughter Hannah, then 8 years old. She heard Kate talk about the dream. And then, over the years, she grew up knowing the story about that amazing house and the little boy in it, indeed growing up with him. About a year and a half ago, as a film and animation major at Northwestern University, Hannah began translating those words first into a screenplay and then turning that script into visual images. She pitched her idea and won a grant to fund the film. She interviewed actors, she rented an old farmhouse to film, she built a model house and birds to animate, she stayed up for -–I can’t imagine how many --days and nights directing amidst rustling corn stalks, animating checkerboard pieces in the computer lab, and weaving together a story not about corn, but the manifestation of truth.

Last night, as she gave a short speech thanking the “Academy,” so to speak, I saw that imaginative little girl with two dark braids suddenly transformed into a confident smiling woman on the cusp of a great adventure. And this Momma is so proud.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Concrete block walls held together with super-glue

Bill and I were invited to a get-together last fall by a high school friend of mine.  At the party, it became obvious that everyone there had known each other for many years.  When asked about our family, we told them about our three girls living in Chicago and our daughter who lives in Nashville.  “I have a sister who is a nurse in Nashville,” one woman said. 

“You have a sister?!?” another woman exclaimed.  “I have known you for twenty years, and I didn’t know that.”

The woman replied, “Well, we haven’t even spoken to each other in, oh about, thirty years or so.”  When prodded by the others for the reason why, she hesitated a moment and then responded, “I can’t remember anymore.”

Who is lurking in your closet?

The more time that passes by, the higher and thicker the walls between us.  We seem to think that forgiveness needs to be someone else’s responsibility.  Sometimes we just don’t know how to go about it. And sometimes we just don’t want to let go of the hurt, thinking oddly enough that holding onto the pain is somehow hurting them back.

Forgiveness is recognizing the gap, acknowledging that something happened or something was said that caused pain.  The first step even in Alcoholics Anonymous is realizing that there is a problem.  The second step is recognizing that there is pain.  Yes, it hurt…and it still does.  That is usually when we stop and let it brew longer and stronger.

The third step is determining to do something about it.  Forgiveness does not mean saying that “it’s ok,” or “you didn’t mean it,” or “letting someone off the hook,” or “pretending that nothing happened.”  Forgiveness is letting go of the bitterness.  Bitterness manifests itself in any number of ways that physically and emotionally affect you – and everyone around you, even if you don’t realize it.  When you let it go, it no longer has control over you.  Let go of the hurt.  And do what YOU can to reconcile.  I thought for a long time that forgiveness meant having to go to someone and say, “I forgive you for hitting me, or ruining my life, or fill in the _____.”   Sometimes all that does is stir up the past.  And sometimes the person has no idea that they have done anything wrong.  If YOU are in the wrong, then asking for forgiveness is in order.  If not, sometimes the kindest and most forgiving thing is to just let it go …and move on.  Put the relationship first, not the hurtful action.  And pray that God would show you how to see that person differently.  They may hang up the phone on you.  They may never answer your emails.  They may not hug you back.  But then again… they might.

There are two great movies available about the impact of forgiveness:  An Unfinished Life (2005) starring Robert Redford, Jennifer Lopez and Morgan Freeman, and just out on DVD Get Low (2010) starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray, which is, by the way, one of the best movies I have seen in a long time.   Nothing is more powerful than redemption…and nothing more destructive than a lack of forgiveness.

It is a long way home.  It may be a friend or a parent or a sibling or even one of your kids.  But don’t wait until it is too late.  Regrets are even harder to live with.