Filling the Space

Its interesting that we feel that if we had more space to live in, it would be better for us. Our homes have gotten progressively bigger over the last 50 years and our families smaller, and people still call out for more space. More bedrooms, more bathrooms, bigger closets, and a finished basement. Families do not even live during the day in these bigger homes – kids are at school and activities, and both parents often work outside of the home. So what is the point of having more space?

We all survived living in small children’s bedrooms, sometimes shared with a sibling, or the college dorm room. That small space encouraged us to get out because it felt so confining. We had to be among other people and talk and find commonalities, and we did things together, event if it was only sitting in the grass watching other people go by.

Now we live in these bigger homes with Pottery Barn-like furniture organizing our stuff. Our children are rarely out because their home is filled with enough toys and games to keep them occupied for months. When I was child, we were outside all day, practically living out on the streets, coming home only for meals and nightfall.

More space to live in didn’t make things better, just very different. A big house filled with things won’t bring cherished memories to adults in 50 years. Will children remember the perfectly organized toys? Or that time they colored on the walls? Will they talk about that sofa when they have their own children? Or will they share stories about their special climbing tree?

The spell of “more is better” just winds around us and pulls us along. When we have “more” we fill it, and we don’t need to be creative with what we have. We don’t have to make choices and accept what is and just be happy. We get yanked by “more” and it is ultimately unsatisfying and brings us frustration. Breaking the powerful spell of “more” is tough.

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Why Tilled and Sown

FOR, BEHOLD, I AM FOR YOU, AND I WILL TURN UNTO YOU, AND YE SHALL BE TILLED AND SOWN. -EZEKIEL 36:9

Why this quote from this prophet? Because for me life isn’t about straight linear progression of continuous improvement. I’ve tried to make it that and succeed sometimes in adding more things or bigger things and it looks like it is getting better (bigger house, more land, another vacation, great kids activities).

However what is on the outside that other people have seen of my life isn’t what it has felt like to me. What I’ve experienced over and over again is that something in my life was taken away and I have to start from a new place with a new something. New places to live, new jobs, marriage, babies, toddlers, children, teens (each age is like starting over), new school situations for the girls, family and friends passing, and on and on it goes.

The firm ground of my life was on is broken up and turned upside down, and new things are put in it. Ezekiel tells us God does this tilling and sowing to us. He can’t put the new things in without turning under the old and getting rid of it. Plants from last season can not be made into new plants. The plant grows and provides what it does and then we use it’s decaying parts to fertilize the seeds we put in the soil for new plants.

What is new is there for a season, and then it is turned under and used to start the next new thing. It is a cycle going on and on and can not be fought – tilling and sowing.

THON 1989

Thon Tshirt

THON weekend 1989 is the weekend I will always wish I could remember. It was my junior year at Penn State, and my dance partner Doug (a fellow education major) and I danced from Friday night 5pm to Sunday night 5pm in the White Building. I went to classes all day Friday and tried to take a nap before going and was too excited to fall asleep, so I went more like 60 hours without sleep.

I remember so little of that weekend. We were on our feet the whole time, no sitting allowed. There were DJ’s and some live bands, and the children being treated for cancer at Hershey medical center came and cheered us on during the day. Many were bald from the chemotherapy and I couldn’t help buy think “would this be one of the last things they would ever do?”. I danced faster as if by dancing  I could fix their illness.

We got a few minutes each hour to go to the bathroom in groups and when we returned to the gym we ran in and belly-flopped onto a gym mat. Student volunteers then massaged our shoulders and legs for a minute. Then we jumped back up and went out to the gym floor. Any longer than a minute lying flat and we would have been asleep for sure.

We ate standing up and dancing, and what we ate and when, I can’t remember, I don’t think there was coffee and if there was I wasn’t a drinker of it anyway. My coffee drinking days would begin during finals that May.

The rules were we had to keep dancing. We couldn’t stand still or lean over or sit. We couldn’t have someone else hold us up. Student volunteers roamed the floor constantly to make sure we followed the rules. It was fun to try to work in a touching of the toes and other leg stretches into a dance move.

There were bleachers surrounding us in the gym and people would come stand and watch us. I liked the fact that they didn’t sit to watch. Saturday night got crowded when the bars closed at 2am. The bleachers were full of a very rowdy crowd – Penn Staters know how to cheer from bleachers! – and I recall the whole room felt lighter, like our fellow students’ words were carrying us. Later I realized I was hallucinating from lack of sleep, but I still enjoy remember that feeling of lightness.

Dancers dropped out during the weekend. We all had blisters on our feet, cramps in our legs and aching in our back and necks. No one could blame someone for being overwhelmed by the pain and tiredness. I couldn’t quit. I don’t know why but I just had to finish.

On Sunday the bleacher crowds grew until everyone was shoulder to shoulder, and the dance floor was full of children and families. The fundraising totals were being announced more often of how much was pledged to the Four Diamonds Fund. We all went crazy as we got closer to a million dollars. Then the big moment came when we passed one million dollars pledged and it was the first time that had happened in the history of the THON.

When it was over, I don’t remember how we checked out and left. We got to change our clothes during the weekend, so I must have had a bag of some sort. I do remember that I had to concentrate very hard to cross the street to get to my dorm. I couldn’t fall asleep for awhile and then slept twelve hours straight, ate breakfast and went back to sleep. So much for Monday classes. We didn’t get a note or anything for our professors. I did have a t-shirt though but I don’t know if that helped.

Now 25 years later, our children have had two classmates who have had aggressive cancers.  Both children and their families have attended THON and been a part of it. Both families have received financial support from the Four Diamonds fund to cover their child’s cancer treatments. Both have said what a blessing it was being a part of THON.

It is weird how life works. It all comes full circle given enough time.

Its a Trip

“Vacations” become “trips” when you have children. I suppose there is some mother somewhere who will profess that she relaxes and unwinds when she is away with her family, but for most parents traveling with children is a trip. There is the equipment required for young children – stroller, crib, carseats, the constant need for entertainment and snacks, and the sleep deprivation for everyone as routines are disrupted. Older children have their own demands about what they will and won’t do, will and won’t eat. I didn’t know what traveling with teens would bring.

We just did our 7th trip to Florida and this was by far the most enjoyable. Traveling with teenagers is underrated. They can entertain themselves, wait to eat for hours, and can walk for miles. They also see through the charade of the theme parks, so when it was announced “Mickey and friends were up all night preparing the park just for you!”, the response from the teens was a sarcastic “Yeah, right, sure he was.” This is much more enjoyable for me then pretending that Mickey is real and trying to get their photo with this giant mouse, waiting in line for an hour or more. The teens also appreciated the length the employees go through to be helpful and how clean everything was kept. We talked for hours about the level of details used in construction and organization which only enhanced our experience of the parks, rather than detract from it. Plus they appreciated the trip and said “thank you” often for the experience of going and being there.

What couldn’t be avoided on this trip was the contrast between foreign tourists in  Florida and American tourists. Americans were all very overweight – by hundreds of pounds often – dressed in t-shirts and stretchy top pants. In contrast, the other half of the people we saw were from European and South American countries and they were trim and fit, wearing collared shirts and pants with zippers and pockets. I’m not any kind of expert on people, so I don’t know what to make of it, but that is what we saw day after day.

So this trip was more like a vacation than any other trip we have done together. We are all still glad to be home though and not anxious about doing another trip any time soon.

Zydeco in the Grocery Store

Walking into Wegman’s grocery store today, I was immediately surrounded by the sounds of a live zydeco band. Yes a six piece live band Jammin away! it’s all I could do to keep from dancing. Looking around people are smiling and doing a little jigs down the aisles. It’s awesome!

Hooray for Wegmans to blast out the winter blues with some New Orleans music! Why the hell not have a band in a grocery store? We have the resources to bring joy to people – let’s do it!

Laissez les bon temps roule!!

It Doesn’t Change Until It Does

The normal day-to-day is the same until it isn’t. Sometimes the changes are gradual – children growing up, seasons shifting, gaining weight. Sometimes the changes shock us and are sudden ones – death, job loss, and other tragedies.

We expect the unexpected to act as a revelation and change us immediately and forever for the better or for the worse. It doesn’t. A close call while driving, a cancer scare, the death of a loved one all cause us to make promises of how we will be different and better. We are impacted, but not deeply changed instantaneously.

We assume the repetitive normal of day-to-day life to not change us. It does. People’s anxiety, weight gain, depression, stress all come from their daily life repeated over and over.

Continuous, gradual, never-ending improvement. Small, manageable bits each day add up to the change. They don’t look like much by themselves, alone.

One snowflake tips an avalanche, but it takes the millions of snowflakes before that final one to make it an avalanche. All that snow piles up looking innocuous to a casual observer. It doesn’t change until it does.

Saddest Day

Valentine’s Day for many people is the saddest day of the year.

May I propose that instead of waiting to see what someone else does for us, that we instead pick something to do? Maybe do some things for others who don’t expect it?

Those we know are hurting or lonely in our lives, those we don’t know in prison or nursing homes or the hospital- all in need of some extra love.

Let’s give what we want to receive – an unexpected expression of love and appreciation for who we are. And give it without expectation of reciprocation.