Friday, March 26, 2010

Tethering the Roots

Lately I’ve been reminiscing. It’s dangerous really. I think things like ‘what if that had happened the way I wanted it to’ and think of things that will never be. Those things did not happen because it would disrupt the universe, it’s the only logical explanation.

I traveled to a city where I spent some time as a child. I saw the houses, walked the streets and steeped myself in nostalgia, got it out of my system. Went back to my roots…. Are my roots there? Really I think my roots are here in this life, not the one I lived in the past. I see photographs and hear stories from my old city and I remember the coziness. I walk into a room and hear the conversations just as I left them, the tones, the inflections, smell the bacon, touch the carpet. Sometimes I’d like it all back and wonder why I left in the first place. What was it that didn’t hold me there so long ago?

Those old familiar streets are walked by other children now who dream like I did years ago. Those houses have other families, someone else’s eggs in the frying pan. We must carry our roots with us. We are transient beings. Is this the lesson of the Feast of Booths? Moses led the children of Israel through the Red Sea and God commanded the feast of booths, each family dwelling in their own tent, making meals, living together. Transient dwellings for transient people. The lesson defined: Egypt, the past, is not your home, nor is the ground you pitch your tent on. Houses don’t have roots, nor do tents. Roots may be completely unbiblical, which would explain a lot.

How quickly we say someone is looking for their roots when they go home. But isn’t home where you are? If it’s not, are we all living in hotels? You may have had a home elsewhere but now your home is here. So this thing called roots might be an illusion, a guise to keep us tied to what might have been if we stayed where we were. No one can offer us the past and only one can offer us the future. Perhaps that is where my roots really are, not in my old city nor in this present one, but in eternity where it will really matter. So instead of anchoring my tent to the dirt beneath my feet, I need to anchor it to the ground above, where it has a better grab. Yes, I think that’s it, we are not trees after all and the universe is more reliable than we think.

photo credit: Erica McGrath

Friday, March 19, 2010

My Fifth Piano

Townhouses are small by definition. For years I’ve wanted a piano but I could not reconcile my desire with the reality of the space we live in. One day I realized God is bigger than my townhouse. We didn’t have a few grand (pardon the pun) to toss into this strange desire for a piano that I can’t play… yet… nonetheless, my heart yearned for the lovely notes to waft through my house with the pure sound of the ivory keys.

The conversation was simple. I’d like a piano, God. Whatever kind you think is best to fit in the living room. I know you can do it. I forgot about it after that. But I did notice piano sales from time to time.
Then they started coming in. I got five of them. That’s right, five pianos.

The first one someone was giving away, an upright, and I could have it if I could move it. I asked Paul what he thought and he gave me the answer I’d given myself for so long. The house is too small for a piano. Ok, no piano.
Then the second arrived. It was well loved and on a curb. We could take it if we could move it. Again Paul gave me the sensible answer. The next one I don’t remember but the fourth one was rough. It was free and needed to be moved, of course. But the house is too small and then the clincher addition, no one can play it.

By the time the fifth one rolled around I was getting smarter asking God to open Paul’s eyes to the possibility. The piano notice went out in a church bulletin and I was enthralled. Again, Paul said no and I watched my piano dream disappear over the pews. Then no one claimed it. In a church with a lot of people who had a lot of friends with no takers on this piano after months, how can that be? I was in heaven – obviously God was holding the piano for me.

I think I snapped when Paul asked me to pray that someone would take the piano because our friend needed to move. I told Paul it was my piano and I was going to pray for me. He gave me the impossible answer and began reasoning with me and midsentence asked if I prayed for this piano. No, I prayed for a piano and God gave me five of them. He stared at me and so did the entire congregation in church that day. Don’t you love how things get quiet around you and you just don’t notice…

My husband does not embarrass easily, good thing! He loves me dearly and would give me anything I want. He didn’t realize I wanted it until I persisted. Paul’s version of this story is that he remembers one piano, he said no and was promptly ambushed by my emotional response.  Aye, marital harmony!

This piano has been passed down musician to musician from our first church; a bright history. Music floats through our townhouse like summer breezes in May. We found a great piano teacher for the girls. Now that she’s graduated college, she is studying post grad at a prestigious music school – she plays beautifully. The girls love their music; they write their own lyrics and scores impressing their friends at chorus.

Daily I hear bands of music playing the most excellent notes and I am whisked away to imaginary concerts on Newport lawns and performances on the Cape in town squares. What a wonderful sound my fifth piano makes singing me a melody of my husband’s patience and God’s continual offers of love. He trumps my reason all the time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Answer

Raising teens is hard I’ve heard. I thought that was reserved for the terrible two’s. As a ‘raiser’ of teens, it’s not especially heroic what I do each day but my girls are easy. They are kind, obedient, hard-working, just; until, of course, they have something on their list they don’t want to do. But I am like that. Aren’t we all?

The other day was one of those days for my youngest teen. She wanted to draw instead of studying her math. I wouldn’t have a problem with that if she hadn't been drawing for hours neglecting algebra completely. My girls can substitute one subject for another as long as everything is done in a day.

There I was, cracking the verbal whip, insisting she learn math and put drawing on hold. It did not go over well. Regardless, hormones or whatever, I don’t think I have to buy into the expert advice that teen years are difficult. I survived the two’s and three’s and so did they, we are professionals now, right?!

Well, my darling collapsed into tears and ran to the bathroom. After twenty minutes of listening to ever-increasing crashes of woe, I went to her aid, muttering “God give me strength”, or some such thing. Comical, I suppose in his greater scheme; what does he say when I collapse in the bathroom?!

As my foot hit the first step on the stair I heard in my heart, “You are the answer.” What was that? I am the answer? No, I said, snapping that fancy whip again, the answer is do the work, then play. I sensed the parent talk. Ok. I am the answer. The answer stood outside the bathroom door knocking and begging entrance with the enticement of a plan she would like without a clue yet what that would be... The door cracked an inch. Whew, I was IN! She was crumpled in the corner, red-faced, sobbing desperately and I wondered how I was going to fix this and did I want to?  Isn’t it ok to let children cry? After all, she was not doing what she was supposed to be doing and she has to learn responsibility before she goes out into the ‘real’ world in a few short years,… the stealthy lie…

I am the answer, not the schoolwork, not the drawing, not the to-do list; me. So I hugged her. Words couldn’t have broken the sound barrier at that point, communication had to be on a different level. I relied on heart; my heart to hers, parent to child, in the depths of my spirit singing her a love song of acceptance she could feel with every beat of my heart. A hormonal storm for sure but I am the answer. I held onto her through the tempest waves until the rain let up (she stopped crying) and the sun came out once again (she smiled). “Thanks, Mom,” she gushed, “I needed that!”

Math got done, drawing got overdone and there was smooth sailing in my house for the rest of the day. Yeah!

When I am in the midst of my storms, God doesn’t crack the whip and tell me to do my math; he comforts me, chills me out, heart to heart, spirit to spirit, and helps me navigate to quiet seas again. He is the answer, his heart beat, his presence, his reality. He gives me his heart time and time again, it’s the only thing on his to-do list. The real expert is all smart.

Photo credit: Erica McGrath

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I walked around my house this weekend, minding my own business, doing my work, making dinner... until I stumbled into something in the living room. It stood there, large and shadowy, almost invisible. I sidestepped it and then tried to paint it different colors to fit the décor. It didn’t work. I jumped into the kitchen and stole a glance around the corner.

Finally I looked at it straight on and decided to deal with it. I had to get it out of my living room for one thing. I circled it looking for an opening or some recognizable form, wanting to challenge it. I asked God what he thought and then it came crashing back.

One year, two maybe. No three.

Three years since my niece and her baby son were martyred.

Denial is a blessing, isn’t it? It lets me continue, do my work, make dinner, function. All the while it sits in my living room covering up the beastly things.

I lift the facade and yes, terror is still there. Haven’t I dealt with it all before? When will it go away and stop claiming space in my room? I know the answer as I beg the question. It will leave when I have wrung out every last bit of the instance that is so painful, so deep and so very wounding which means maybe not in this life.

Ok, I scream, flinging off the shroud only to retch in tears for hours that become days, adding to weeks, unveiling my soul in the horror of the memories. Haven’t I forgiven it all? Haven’t I grieved every last bit? Why then is denial such a demanding visitor?

Ah, Kate. She loved animals and rude people. I chided her once for defending someone who was utterly awful and still she kept it up. Her pure heart was her downfall in this world but not in the next. There she will wear righteous robes. She witnessed evil first hand and chose to love. Today her life sings from the grave to the hearts of murderers to repent. And they hear her, somehow they hear her, death is powerless to silence her sweet lullaby.

Sing on, dear Kate, sing on.


My niece, Katherine MacDougall, was killed by her fiancé, Taylor Hurst, on March 2, 2007. She was three months pregnant. When we found out what happened, Katie was dead for several days, her body finally discovered in her apartment by the authorities after her mother made continuous pleas to them to find her.

As a family we gathered at Paul's parent’s house in Dedham and together forgave Taylor. It was the only reasonable thing we could do. Forgiveness is not to be confused with reconciliation. Forgiveness is commanded by our Heavenly Father. Reconciliation is not.

Taylor is still battling his demons. We long for the day when he will let Jesus do that for him. We also know that we will see Katie and her baby again so our sorrow is not as great as it might be for Taylor who has yet to receive salvation. Please pray for him if God puts him on your heart. Katie has only been taken from us for a short while. Taylor might be taken forever.

We do not know what a day brings, but we do know a day is coming when the Lord will make all things right. Until then, we stand in the brilliance of his gaze and offer his mercy and his redemption to those who will hear. Sometimes it's a small sacrifice and other times it's unbearable but none of it can be compared with the glory to come.