Sunday, April 30, 2006
This week I am hemming and fringing a silk tartan shawl for Elizabeth's graduation. A symbol of our covering care for her even as she steps out into her terra incognita after high school. The blues and reds intersect and overlap creating a shifting, shimmering play of unexpected colors that evoke the surprizing beauties in the interwoven relationships in our family.
But under my hands the cloth shifts again, and the hands are my mother's, too. We are altering thrift store suits to make uniforms for the imaginary army in my sister's Shakespeare production. Every summer, Elizabeth (for whom my graduate was named) puts on a side-splitting Shakespearean comedy to give all the cousins and their friends an extended time to delight in each other and to accomplish something real. We donate the profits to the local crisis pregnancy center. Mother is always there, making fast those behind-the-scenes necessities. But the threads stretch farther back.
Mother was the original actress, making literature come to life for us with voices and accents, teaching us to tell Bible stories to enthrall the listener, clothing us with poetry...clothing us with prayer.
In this light, the cloth is shining white. It is my wedding dress. Mother crafted it based on a photograph in Bride's magazine. And the crocheted lace bedspread she wove for us is still heavy with the prayers she brocaded into each motif, as she prepared to include this new son in the fabric of the family.
She never was simply sewing chiffon or twisting out lace. Mother was always weaving this tapestry of relationships, the patterns of history. She never refused any skein God handed her. She weaves with bitter blacks and weeping silver with nearly the same serenity as she does with the heartsblood reds and the singing azures. She is certain that God is the only one who weilds shears, and that someday she will see the whole tapestry - from the front side.
I am hemming this silken shawl; but I am learning the master-weaving, Mother's hand on mine as I throw the shuttle. My first daughter whirls out through the tensed warps, singing.
O blessed we for her in whom God knit our tissue forms
So tenuous, yet over-rich 'round all-implicit selves
Still tight wound scarlet, mere designs, and Spirit-warm
Dropped. distaff, shuttle, shears then hers to wave us whole,
Our very lives spinning pendant from her hand. Kinetic skills
Teased out, drawn strong and fine - some dull unbreakables,
Some rainbow-wound with music, magit lit from childhood still,
Some golden virtues prayer spun (Athena's competent).
This living weft laced twixt ancestral warp she deftly looms,
Herself the webster, woven too; her thread maternal hands
Spin out still. So distaff to distaff, daughter to daughter, Heaven looms
The ancient, cosmic web be-gemmed with Earth-won spoil,
God's tapestry through woman's seed redeemed, reclaimed, renewed,
Til Christ, in this His glory robes His Bride, and Life begins in truth.
(This sonnet was my Mother's Day gift to Mother in 1978.)
*The Mother-of-All is the part of a spinning wheel upon which all the other parts depend.
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Friday, April 28, 2006
As promised, my interview with Renee...
Here's my attempt at reflection on a peaceful night in the eye of the hurricane (where I've always chosen to live). My path did not lead to marriage and motherhood directly but took a decade of running the carreer track, more and more frenetically. Don't mistake me, I loved the teaching career I was given: the students, the discipline, the opportunities to grow my skills in a real world application that college never prepared me to do. I loved the class discussion and travel with students, the missions opportunities, the theatre program I cultivated single handedly. But with this career came thousands of papers to grade, seven classes a day with six different preps, an inner drive to do the next production bigger and better than the last, and a passion to never repeat anything I'd ever done before. The single life was a place to focus heart, mind and strength on the sole job of pleasing the Lord...no distractions, no breaks, no excuses. I also began to add more and more to my plate until I was teaching full time, directing a musical with 200+students, grading 75 research papers, performing in a play in which I had to memorize 125 pages, co-leading a singles Sunday school class of 300, and directing three one-act plays for a competition. That was the month I discovered there was a reason I had been drinking 36 oz. of water every 45 minute class period... I was a type I diabetic and my health was broken. It was from this hurricane that the Lord rescued me and gave me a husband who introduced me to grace, and rest. We married and moved to teach in China where I went from teaching/directing 14 -17 hours a day to teaching 15 hours a week. Then came children.
Mother-Lode: Did you purpose to become a mother? Why or why not?
Again and again I had resigned myself to the single life since I was 29 with no man on the horizon. But after marriage, the thought of children was a welcome delight and I never realized just how important all the teaching I had done would be to my confidence as I looked my own children in the face and knew I wanted to pour the wow of learning into them.
Mother-Lode: When and how did you begin to prepare yourself for this life's work?
I never prepared myself for this work. Fortunately God did. Shaping, winning and disciplining the belligerent, the dear, the talented and the devious student every day in class molded my pedagogy. All along I took mental note of successes and struggles of my siblings and the parents of great kids at school. When our first girl came along, I found Mike and Debbie Pearl's books, George MacDonald, and scriptures set to music all refreshing resources.
Mother-Lode: If you went to college, do you find that your college degree has been a help to you in your work as a mother? What would have been lacking in your home if you had not pursued college?
College was the necessary means to the end (a piece of paper so I could teach) but no help in and of itself unless the discipline of study counts. Most of what I learned, I gladly dropped as useless or worse. What it gave me were books, records and resources for my own study and a love of Shakespeare.
Mother-Lode: In the course of your work as a mother, what kinds of things have you done?
Things I never dreamed existed. I've floated polymers in water, alcohol, vinegar and oil; examined lip and teeth prints, and experimented on mystery powders all to get one girl ready for a crime lab competition. I've critiqued a brief for one daughter (using her competitive speech skills) to give to the state congress opposing a bill. I've taught all three girls to speak the Gospel in Spanish for the yearly family mission trip to Mexico. I've planned and executed a six month study abroad for our family through 12 countries in Europe visiting professors in Scotland and gypsies in Slovakia making all the history, literature, art and music live. For the last five years I've run a two week Shakespeare Camp for kids age 3-18 with a full blown play at the end to benefit a local crisis pregnancy center that last year raised $2000.00. And I've made a gingerbread castle cake with my three year old.
Mother-Lode: Have you found your work as a mother narrows your opportunities or confounds your work for and in the community?
Hardly! (See above)
Mother-Lode: How have you dealt with the feminists' view that a career is all-important for the full development of women, and with the pull of careerism in your own life?
Career was an intensely wonderful, awful slave master. How's that for an oxymoron? It was not until I met my husband who is to me "grace on legs" that I began to measure myself NOT by my productivity but by the quality of my relationships. And it was not until recently that I've begun to see that rest in the One Relationship means that all my work is a joyful reflection of His creativity...redeemed and full of purpose ...Not a frenetic attempt to be super-woman.
Mother-Lode: How would you advise a young woman about to graduate from high school?
Get a degree in something. It opens doors of credibility and opportunity you would not otherwise have. Be careful where you choose to go if you want to be able to hold what you learned as valuable.
Mother-Lode: What have been the returns of your labors as a mother?
The sweet smell of soft baby hair cuddled under my chin; the gleam in the eye of our youngest with every creative engineering project done to ease someone's load; the courage and cheerfulness of our middle girl who overcomes her physical pains of hydrocephalus shunt failure and a broken back that brought her ballet to a halt but her spirit to a place of humble care for others; the awe of watching our oldest make serving her glory on the volleyball team, the babysitting job, the mission trip, or counseling peers to make right choices in the context of abstinence; the excitement of launching educated, entertaining, engagingly articulate and caring girls into the culture with a positive visions for changing it.
Mother-Lode: If you had it to do over again, would you make the choice to be a professional mother?
It's the best of joys! It's the "break your heart beautiful" reason to pour myself out! It's the reward behind every effort. It's purpose behind so many questions. It's the best pay I've ever had.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Today, I'd like you to meet one of Linda Hirschmann's most dangerous "threats to civilization", my friend Renee. She is a real "team drop-out", leaving a ten-year teaching career to become a wife and mother. Instead, she's just slouching around raising three lovely daughters,
administering & teaching in a metropolitan educational cooperative,
spending her vacations working in Mexican orphanages,
training young lobbyists and reproductive responsibility advocates,
helping to run a national-level debate tournament for 200+ high school students,
directing a summer stock theater company for homeschoolers,
while keeping a gracious house and entertaining weekly.
But perish the thought that Renee is just a collection of jobs and accomplishments! She will be the one in the group to whom everyone will tell their troubles. Her determined cheerfulness has bouyed many a sinking heart. Her faith and courage has been an inspiration to those who know her personally, for one of her daughters has hydro-encephalitis.
When Renee was pregnant, her doctors assured her that this child would probably only live a few hours, if "it" could survive to birth at all. They showed her the ultrasounds revealing a sac protruding from the base of the baby's skull, where they speculated the baby's brain tissue would be - if there were any at all. They told her that death would be a mercy for this child, who should be a vegetable if "it" lived. They told her to abort.
But Renee and her husband refused to be the instrument of their own child's death, whatever the cost. They reasoned that as God had given, it was His prerogative to determine when and how their baby would be taken back to Him.
When Hope was born, God's miraculous Providence became evident. The sac at the base of her skull had filled with the extra brain fluid, so that her brain had developed normally inside her skull. Stunned doctors were able to drain the fluid and install a permanent shunt to protect Hope's brain from future damamge. They remained pessimistic about Hope's development. "She'll never sit up. She'll never walk. She'll never talk. She'll never read," they said. Renee never gave up.
Today, Hope is twelve. Not only does she sit up and walk, she dances the Nutcracker with a local ballet company. Not only does she talk, she just smoked the competition at this weekend's NCFCA National Open tournament, taking first place overall in her age category (Jr. Sweepstakes), and qualifying to the National Finals in three events. Not only does she read, she writes movingly, and she makes Shakespeare come to life in Renee's summer stock theater productions - which benefit the local crisis pregnancy center.
Not bad for a vegetable. Next time, Renee's interview.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Creation is supposed to speak to us of its Creator, but mostly it doesn't. A sunrise doesn't remind us of the joy of Christ hastening to claim His Bride (Ps 19). Mostly, a sunrise simply means that we went to bed too late, and now we're up too early (groan!). The fault does not lie in Creation but in its observers.
Often, it takes a work of art to bring Creation's message into focus for us dullards. The framed close-up of water rushing over brook stones makes us take note of its beauty and reflect upon the swiftness of time, and the permanence of our Rock. Bach's counterpoint gives us heart-breaking insight into the freedom, beauty, independence and harmony among the persons of the Trinity. Sunday dinner with its aromas, its crystal and candles on white tablecloths reminds us that worship isn't merely propositional. It is a feast. We aren't simply invited to an intellectual exercise. We are invited to a party.
Art lets us see into the depths and dimensions of what seems at first to be opaque material. But we don't need to go to the art museum to catch a glimpse of these undergirding realities. Just consider for a moment, why you arrange your schedule the way that you do, and how it might reflect God's work. Would consciously arranging your work to imitate His patterns actually be more productive as well as more beautiful? When you discipline your children, aren't you sculpting a human soul? And doesn't that open new horizons on God's dealings with you?
The beauty of Art is that it is a way of seeing as much as anything else. It is a habit of the heart. Perhaps the only thing that changes us more deeply is suffering.
Would that men had words and minds and songs enough
To honor that magnificent, unspeakable One
Whose love transforms us more surely than time,
More deeply than grief,
More gloriously than a thousand dying suns;
Who pours Himself out for us in scarlet richness
From the dark wound of womb-wrenching
Who breathes into our sterile spirits new-birthed Life,
By that Breath-born Prince and that ancient Breath
That still makes dust
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Friday, April 07, 2006
Gentle Readers, I have not dropped off the face of the earth. I am simply feeling the pinch of my busy season. With two regional debate tournaments behind me now, and only the national open to organize, I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I will still be mostly taken up with administration duties until that tournament is over and its results properly registered, but I will post as I am able, and will return to my regularly scheduled programming about the first week of May.
Thank you for checking up on me. Your friendship is a real wonder, maintained as it is over such distances by such ethereal means. Nevertheless, it is a strong support.