Refocusing on Perfection (and other less haughty goals)

Knowing how inconsistent I’ve been in the blogging community this year, I thought I’d better try to get my creative cap back on – even if I’ve managed to lose all of my writing communities and what little bit of interest I might have gained from blogging friends that I appear to have “dumped.”

I had gotten so deep into an intense scientific style of writing, in finishing out my dissertation, that my creativity (and time) felt otherwise pushed to the edge. So, here’s a warm up, as I’m hoping to get back to my other writing projects soon that have gathered lots of dust on the shelf.

I’m including a poem of dichotomy that played through my mind this morning, as well as a couple of images that were sitting on my iPhone (since I haven’t had time to get out and explore the trails with a decent camera in hand lately).

Okay, enough with the excuses…

dichotomous blaze

Dichotomous Blaze

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Refocusing on Perfection
© jody love, 2014

My head rolled up slowly, my focus adjusting on you.
You were close – so very close.
You took my breath.
Our legs circled and entwined.
Your head turned away.
You sighed in contentment.
I closed my eyes and wondered.

In the vastness of this world
What were the chances of running into you?
I realized how perfect this all was.

 

My head snapped up sharply, my focus adjusting on you.
You were down the aisle – so far away.
You took my breath.
Our legs rotated in double-time.
Your head turned away.
I sighed in anguish.
I changed my path and wondered.

In the vastness of this world
What were the chances of running into you?
I realized this was all just…Perfect.

Evening Sunset in Bloom

Evening Sunset in Bloom

Recesses

Had I but known it was the last time I would look
Upon your face, into your eyes…
I would have lingered there.

Had I but known it was the last time I would feel
Your very presence, next to mine…
I would not dare have let go.

Yet now, they’re only memories, barely kept
In the recesses of my mind,
Threatening to tell me you never were

As you said, forever mine.
Then you were gone.

Had I but known it was the last time I would breathe
Your very essence, take in your scent…
I would never have exhaled.

Had I but known it was the last time I would taste
Your tender lips, with honeyed kisses…
I could not have pulled away.

Yet now, they’re only demons, taunting me
Within the dreams of restless sleep,
Making me believe you have returned

To be, forever mine.
Then you are gone.

Had I but known it was the last time I would hear
Your words so tender, full of love…
I would have blocked all else out.

Had I but known it was the last time I could sense
The bond between us, sworn eternal…
I would have prayed for its recapture.

Yet now, they’re almost gone, departing me
As if you never were, or did not care,
Beseeching me, forget the love we shared.

An empty space, forever mine -
For you are gone.

© 2012 Jody Love

Recesses. Published in World Poetry Movement (compiler), Great Poets Across America: A Celebration of National Poetry Month. ISBN: 978-1-61936-035-8.

(Author’s note: I’m sure the loss of someone we love, under whatever circumstance, resonates deep within our souls. I term it “the without within.” As 9-1-1 poignantly calls upon us again today to remember loss in conglomeration, it amplifies that empty space for many, individually and as a nation – and even as a world desperately in need of love, forgiveness, and understanding.)

Why I Let My Kid Skip School (to come to My Defense)

The school-skipping offender – and his pup

I let my son skip the first day of his high school junior year this week.

I’m pretty sure it was a more difficult decision for me than for him.

Like most parents who care about their kids’ success, I didn’t want my son to miss out on any key information – like his new locker combination.

I didn’t want him to get behind before the school year had even started – especially behind some cute little gal who’d swing her hair all over his desk during the school year because he missed getting a seat up front, near the teacher. (Surely, that’s where he always tries to sit.)

I didn’t want him to miss out on the excitement of those first few magical moments of a new school year – the high-fashion runway reunions that are only surpassed by the final few hours of summer bum hang-out plans that will now have to wait until about 300 days into the future.

But my son wasn’t having it any other way. He wasn’t going to take ‘No’ for an answer.

Do you think that makes me a weak-minded parent?

If so -

Let me take you back 5 years, to the beginning of his first day in middle school.

That’s when we began our new journeys together. He was transitioning into a new school, where he didn’t know anyone…and so was his mom. (Different school, different anyones.)

He was entering a world where the development of personal organizational skills would be just as imperative as grasping the meaning of girls’ eyes being batted at him with curves trickier than hard hit baseballs – to which he was only otherwise accustomed.

I was entering a world where my batting average of organizational skills would be the only means by which I was going to stay in the game of academia. No sooner had I dropped my son off for that first week of school and gotten my work day in, than I was sitting in a classroom of new colleagues myself. My class was on its way to forming robust doctoral candidates – and sturdy support systems for one another.

I’m happy to report that both my son and I made immediate and long-lasting friends during our week of firsts…and we’ve both honed our organizational and study skills over these past 5 years (while he’s apparently honed his girl-reading skills during that time too). Much of that (not the girl-stuff) came from many study sessions and hours of commiserating – not always solely with our peers, but quite often with one another.

I can think back to one evening at the table when my 7th grade son discovered that, with his new-found algebraic skills, he could easily perform my graduate statistics textbook equations. From there, he double-checked my homework answers for me, assuring me I should get a 100% on my assignment.

I can think back to an 8th grade science project where my son tapped into the collegiate research process to develop his research poster methodology, which he then had to explain in detail to his science teacher to receive a grade. (The more popular ‘swiping water faucets for germs experiment’ doesn’t generally require mixed methods of study.)

And I think back on my past few years of ‘bleacher classes’ – all of those evenings when my textbooks, articles, and my own research work were strewn across seasons of both indoor and outdoor bleachers – just so I could attend all of my son’s sporting events to cheer on his stellar athletic feats. (Yes, I’m a mom. Of course they were all stellar. No, I don’t ordinarily work the word ‘strewn’ into my everyday conversations.)

From the beginning, my son understood that my goal was to beat him – meaning that I hoped to graduate before he did. We might have even gotten a little competitive about it on occasion. There were times when I wasn’t sure I would make that goal. But as of this week, my day finally came. After a huge push of collecting the final data in my longitudinal study, carefully analyzing the information, and working to best communicate the results during this past year…

My Day of Defense Arrived!

Unfortunately, my dissertation defense was scheduled later than I had anticipated, what with research never quite going as planned, the scheduling of my own students’ graduation, and then some of my committee members out of town (or even out of the country).

I was extremely disappointed when I learned that my defense wouldn’t take place until the morning of my son’s first day of school. I had wanted him to be there to experience my defense – to see the final product of the past several years of our educational journey together…but not at the cost of him missing his first day of school. I come from a long line of teachers, you see, so this was pretty much a commandment growing up: “Thou shalt not miss school.” That rule was so ingrained in me that I even stayed at my desk at the age of 10, doubled over with a fever – at least until my appendix eventually gave way and ruptured.

Despite me pulling out the engraved commandment stone (albeit cracked from misuse at some point during my mid-teen years), my son wasn’t going to have it any other way. He argued that he would only be missing 2 or 3 morning classes. He argued that he wouldn’t be missing any information that he couldn’t gather the next day. He argued that even his teachers would agree it was important for him to see a doctoral defense – that it would inspire him in his own post-high school education. And then, when all else failed, he pulled out the big guns and aimed. He argued that we had started this journey together, and he wanted to see it to completion. Didn’t I, after all, plan on being there for him when his school years concluded?

On the morning of my defense, there he sat – along with other family members who surprised me by changing their work schedules drastically (meaning they were supposed to be in other cities and states) to be there in a showing of support for me. As I took my first breath to begin my defense, I knew immediately that all was well. Had I stumbled over my words or my feet, had I bumbled the entire presentation and been at a complete loss for words, I realized that none of that truly mattered. This day was complete. I was supported greatly in love.

My youngest son wasted no time getting a ride back from my colleagues the minute my presentation was over – since I had to stay to meet with my dissertation committee for a final time. In his lack of words, I heard the message. My son was assuring me that his academics were important to him too.

I didn’t see him again until late that evening, when he finally came in from his football practice – hot, tired, and hungry. As he sat his backpack and gym bag down, he walked over to me, hugged me up and said, “Mom, you did a great job today. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.”

I’m pretty sure it was his way of saying that he was glad I’d let him skip school – and maybe (just maybe) that I’d even beaten him to graduation.

Sorry I’ve been MIA

Yes, I’m leaving this one for the grammar freaks to fret about, punctual on punctuation as they may be.

“What ever on earth does she mean here?”

Sorry.

I’ve been MIA to MIA (as was marked on my luggage this past week).

You see, before last week, my brain was burnt. I decided maybe it was time to let my body get that way, instead.

Miami made for a nice brain-break.

The waters looked like the blue and green of the Caribbean this past week, and the sand looked like it was shipped down from the Gulf. (My little iPhone probably doesn’t do either of them justice.)

I actually had no plans to see those wavy waters. As it was, I received a last-minute invitation, based on bumming a portion of a hotel room from my sister, along with the use of her frequent-flyer miles. As awesome as that sounds, I still had to convince myself that our plane rides would allow for the final polishing edits of my dissertation. After much arm-twisting, I decided that was a small price to pay.

After 4 nights and 3 days:

  • I accomplished the best tan I’ve had in the past 2 decades (all in the 1st day, thereafter having to hide beneath the beach umbrella each time I heard my skin sizzling like bacon);
  • I unintentionally swam with 2 sharks (after which my oldest son informed me that it’s never a good idea to follow a school of interesting-looking fish who have been chased into the shallows); and
  • I unabashedly looked forward to a small, delicious piece of dark chocolate snuggled up on my pillow every evening (thereafter being tucked safely in my warm tummy).

Within a couple of days of being home, I managed to:

  • scrape off one side of my tan in a road rash cycling incident,
  • splash around at our waterfront while cheering T as he did a triathlon (thinking maybe I could get some of my tan to come back through the scabs),
  • wave goodbye to T as he hit the road for his big move, and
  • finally submit my (typed) final edits to my committee.

I should mention that I only shed tears on one of those aforementioned occasions, but will leave it to you to decide upon which.

Maybe a surprise vacate does clear the mind for taking on the world once again.

Guess I’m truly not sorry I’ve been MIA.

 

The Great Physician’s Hearing Aid Prescription for the Church

Matthew 13 (NIV)

The Parable of the Sower

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Whoever has ears, let them hear.

That line was never more meaningful to me than it became at our Church’s Annual Conference on Tuesday night, when I found myself in need of a hearing aid from God.

We had gathered to celebrate God’s presence in mission work, with seeds being cast over soil across the world through our conference. It included a processional of flags from across the world, of which I was privileged enough to get to lead in one side of the flag-bearers. As I carried the Afghanistan flag, I prayed the whole while for all of those in that country – our military men and women as well – to feel the power of God’s loving presence in their lives. No sooner did those many country’s flags spread out across the front of the auditorium than a tremendous storm began to blow in from the west.

The assembly of people were standing, singing ‘How Great is our God.’

The sky went black with an ominous cloud. The wind was rattling the wall of windows behind me. Large trees were bending. One loud thunder clap, and we lost all power, with nighttime settling on top of us early.

Immediate removal of musical accompaniment did not stop the crowd from standing resolute and continuing to sing of the greatness of our Lord. Soon, we had gone into “…then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee. How great Thou art, How great Thou art.”

The challenge came more to the speakers, working to bring thunderous voices from their diaphragms, than it did to our color guard trying to orderly dismiss ourselves, or to ushers working to provide a candlelit nuance, or to workers rushing to open windows and doors for some air flow. The storm at our conference had subsided, but its passing over us wasn’t going to bring instant repair to a blown transformer outside.

As I stood in the auditorium, straining to hear, I began to see a parable unfold.

Jesus explained the meaning of his parable to his followers in this way:

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Often times, we ‘churchy-folk’ like to think Jesus was talking about ‘unchurched-folk’ hearing the Word for the first time, but my ears heard it differently this time around; my eyes saw it in a new light (albeit dimly lit).

As the storm came up, many of the people who were in the auditorium were glancing around nervously, peering out at the scary-look cloud, unable to sing. Frozen in fear. I’m not suggesting that it wasn’t worth giving some attention (and will admit that I did). But, truthfully, there was no additional cover to seek. Praising God in the storm was the very best action to be taken in this case. That seed of praise had been”[snatched] away” from some of the hearts there, though (vs. 19). They could no longer hear the praise over the storm or see God at work because they were blinded by their fear. A few exited immediately upon the storm blowing over.

Within minutes, many of those same ‘churchy-folk’ who hadn’t left, proclaiming God’s greatness only minutes earlier, became frustrated with the darkness surrounding them, the stillness of the warming air, the inability to hear all that was being said in the natural. They began to slip out, little by little, until the auditorium was about three-fourths its capacity. As Jesus said, “they [lasted] only a short time…they quickly [fell] away” (vs. 20-21).

The thorny hearts (vs. 22) became of greatest concern to me personally, to be honest (because, as thorns tend to do, they also reached out to choke out the life – or at least the ears – of those around them). I stood in the back with some friends and fellow flag bearers. If we had strained to hear before, we were surely straining by then. A brother in Christ from South Sudan had taken the stage to thank our conference for the hope we were providing to his people. He had grown up as a child who was taken to carry a weapon of war in the country of Sudan. Yet, he had escaped that life. He had wanted a new life for the generations to follow his, a life that brought hope and peace. He and others had suffered much, but trusted God much, for such a new beginning as that – a beginning that was symbolized in the natural when South Sudan became its own country. Despite the positive word this messenger brought, I also knew what had been encountered for the past year by this brother and another pastor brother in South Sudan with Visa problems to be able to bring it. After much disappointment and even greater patience, our South Sudanese brother had finally been able to come to the states, just so we could be blessed with this encounter. Let me reiterate that his presence among us was special – as though we were personally being thanked by God’s very own messenger. Yet, this messenger was a man from another place than ours, with a different accent than ours, with a low, humble voice that didn’t boom like some of the other speakers. He was working to convey God’s gratitude to straining human ears.

The thorniness didn’t allow some hearts to offer the respect our messenger-brother deserved. Some of those who had earlier exited stood outside the outer open doors, chatting and laughing about earthly “worries” (things that were apparently of greater interest than kingdom issues). After some time, realizing that many on the back rows had one straining ear on the stage and another ear being disrupted by these competing exchanges, a man I know in local missions respectfully closed the outer door. Not only did this act not serve to send a gentle message to the boisterous men outside, but it seemed to encourage the young ladies who were working the desk behind us to become louder, talking between themselves and bursting out in laughter over one of their cell phones ringing during the service. After several ‘teacher glances’ behind me that served to be absolutely ineffective, I closed the set of inner doors in front of the immature offenders. Almost immediately, the doors slung back open, with one of the young ladies slamming down the door stops without concern for the noise it created. She snapped at me, “We’re watching this. The doors need to stay open.” To this, the mother in me kicked in. Without taking the time to explain to her the gravity of our guest’s presence with us, instead, I replied, “Then watch with your eyes, not your mouths, so others can hear.” The seed was not going to be fruitful among the thorns, who deceitfully claimed to want to hear the word, but in essence, served to choke it out from others. I hate that I got snagged by them – as did many others who continued to slip out, leaving less than one-half of our original assembly.

An offering was taken, in which conference envelopes had already been prepared from churches. Many more left during that time, staying only to the point at which they felt their obligation to be there (to turn in their envelopes) had been fulfilled. (I’ve attended worship out of obligation before, too. What about you?)

Jesus said:

13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’[a]

I pray that Jesus can heal my heart where my soul can learn to better receive His Word – that I can learn to discern with my heart, to see through spirit-filled eyes.

It’s interesting to me that those standing and praising until the very end of that celebration service – despite the darkness, despite the lack of sound equipment, despite the lack of many conveniences of our modern American day – appeared to be approximately one-fourth of the original group. This was the soil who heard the word through their hearts more than their ears (the same as 1/4 of Jesus’ 4 groups). Seeing how this service was about the mission field (which comes with many similar circumstances), I’m going to be bold enough to proclaim that I believe them to be the seed who will “[produce] crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (vs. 23).

Because Jesus also said:

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.

17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Oh, LORD, let me be a seer, a hearer, and a doer of Your Word.

My Chief Lesson

For any additional lightness in my pocketbook today, my heart is feeling many more times heavy.

I lost a best friend last night. A loyal companion. An intense playmate.

He was the one who loved it whenever I put my feet all over him.

He was the one who looked most forward to taking long evening walks with me next to his side.

He was the one who would chase me around our couches, then turn the other direction and run from me – always keeping me rolling in giggles.

And he was the one who would chase his tail just to entertain everyone else.

I guess you’d call him our “pack clown.”

Through highly intelligent eyes, he anticipated what I wanted from him.

Through a curious and loving heart, he didn’t always do what I asked him not to do.

And with that ridiculous tongue hanging out, his humor came through in his big canine smile.

***

Last night, as we were walking home with some of the rest of our pack, he began to wheeze. He veered from a well-known path, desperately trying to remain upright. Within seconds, he was retching and trying to regain his uprightness where he had collapsed. Our 2 T’s headed off to get the car, as I sat helplessly in an unknown neighbor’s yard, watching my buddy’s gums and tongue turn gray, as he strained to squeeze anything through his air passage.

We never saw it coming.

Forty minutes earlier, he and I had been doing the happy dance together. (I had come in from work and asked if he wanted to go on a W-A-L-K, which was my joke with my family – that he was so smart he could spell.)

Chief – that was our sweet boy’s name – ran to the rack where his collar and lead were hanging, jumped around in circles, then came back smacking his long tail into everything that managed to horizontally get in his way. As he saw me grab up my tennis shoes, he impatiently danced around some more, finally unable to contain his excitement, jumping up to “hug” me – just before he turned back and waited to be fitted into his own “sports gear.” He always got so excited about our family walks. He loved to explore, and he loved doing it as a family unit – a pack.

It seemed like it took years to get to the emergency clinic after the incident (since his vet was already closed by then). My oldest son left his ballgame to meet us there, instinctively understanding this would be the last chance he’d have for loving on his pup.

Although they intubated Chief the minute we arrived, that wasn’t going to get rid of the clot in his lung. We were told that he could remain on a mechanical respirator for $1,000 per day, but even if we could afford that, his life would no longer be his own.

Though we got to be with him as he was euthanized, he was already on so much medication to ease his stress, only we were the ones who were aware. Despite our prayer over him, it was a distressful departing. No sooner had we stepped out of one room, after saying our unworthy good-byes, than we were presented with a $400 bill, immediately due. Was that the closure then?

We’re all numb today – traumatized. We brought Chief home, so his remains can at least be close by. But that’s never enough, is it?

I want my friend back. Waking up this morning without him on his bed was disorienting. Driving through my neighborhood this morning, passing the sidewalk of our final journey together, was excruciating. I dread going home this afternoon, to abide in the obvious emptiness without his presence to greet me. My grief feels immense.

Yet, there is a Chief lesson that I’ve learned in this.

Grieving is important. It reminds us of the immense capability we have to love; the importance of sharing in that love as part of living. What would a relationship be worth if there were no pain in its loss?

Chief holds a special place in our hearts. I can’t imagine going on without him to brighten our days.

But I can’t imagine how much less our lives would be had we never had him to love in the first place.

A friend loves at all times…
Proverbs 17:17a

 

 

 

 

Where’s Your Gumption Gonna’ Getcha’?

We just finished our interview and acceptance process of students for the upcoming year.
I’ve gone through these proceedings more times than I care to remember at this point – painstakingly scoring academic records, notifying applicants of missing materials, deciding who gets to be interviewed, and then trying to determine as much about a person’s lifetime building capacity of character and experience within fewer minutes than I can count on my fingers and toes. It can be emotionally exhausting for everyone involved.

To be honest, regardless of all the fuss, in many ways, I find the interview process to be completely unnecessary for me to make any decisions at all. I can easily see if a student is academically prepared to intellectually excel in our program. And if I want to know if a student has the fortitude to roll up a set of sleeves and the work ethic to see something through, I have the ability to make those assessments within the first few weeks of the program. Granted, I can dig pretty deeply within just a few minutes of an interview to find out what I need to know for applicants to get in…but I have to wait and see if these folks have what it takes to keep them here.

What I find out about an applicant isn’t really the greatest point of our interview process, anyway. Truthfully, it’s not nearly as important for me to see through the interview facade that gets spread on like peanut butter for that short amount of time as it is for the applicant to see through the opacity of himself or herself. I mean, in the end, I’m not the one who’ll be undertaking this career challenge along with all of the circumstances that each of these individuals will be facing in life. I long ago made my own decision and had the gumption to stick to it.

Gumption.

gumptionI like that word. It should be used more often in all the self-help tripe that gets plastered across the huge quarter section of the bookstore and slapped over half-naked bodies on magazine covers.

Gumption may not be stylish for a fashion cover, but it makes me appreciate the years that cause me to go well beyond the counting I can do on my fingers and toes anymore.

Old folks surely know all about gumption.

Gumption is the best response to life when it’s kicking you around and trying its bloody best to hold you down.

Gumption puts its head down and pushes the plow ’til the work’s done.

Gumption won’t take no for an answer.

***

This was an exciting week for many of our program’s applicants. They opened the mailbox to letters of acceptance.

This was a heartbreaking week for many of our program’s applicants. They opened the mailbox to letters of “not this time.”

What the individuals in either of these groups do from here will be determined by their…you got it – Gumption!

I can think of some program applicants, particularly, who received that second type of letter in the past but showed a great deal of gumption.

Those applicants were not accepted during their first year of applying. With every measure of gumption (while likely swallowing some salty tears), each one asked to be considered for the following year. Once accepted, two of them came (in separate years) and finished at the top of their classes, each receiving the class excellence award. One of these women is now the head of her department and has trained and employed multiple students beyond herself. Another applicant was an alternate, accepted in the final moments before classes began, after other individuals no longer believed their positions were of as great importance as they had at the time of the interview. This student persisted and later became an instructor in the program for a time. In each of these cases, excellence by perseverance made itself known. Without the gumption to brush themselves off and try again, those ladies’ gumption would’ve gone untapped.

The media likes to show big winners – either when they’re on top or when they’ve just lost everything they once had. What we don’t hear enough about are those who have lost a lot in life but who have the gumption to go on. They’re already winners – despite setbacks, despite life sending them in directions they didn’t choose to take, despite heartbreaks. Why? Because gumption understands that winning is about picking yourself up and continuing to move. Whether the movement is ahead or in a different direction, one thing’s for certain…

Life can’t hold those folks down.

They’ve got GUMPTION.