The Safe Spot

Rainy spring day.  Energetic toddler.  Need to get out of the house.  What to do?  Indoor playground at the mall.

It sits at the edge of the food court. (Convenient.) Dozens of parked strollers forecast the activity inside.  The brown bear by the entrance has his arm up to measure “Only this tall.  No bigger.”

We find a space on the bench lining the wall.  Sofia knows what to do.  Shoes come off; away she goes.  Parents, grandparents, nannies line the wall.  I watch Sofia, but not like a hawk.  She can’t get out without passing me.  I lean back, content to take this break.

The play area is full of life.  Climbing, running, jumping.  Wrestling.  That would be the boys.  Non-stop motion.  Laughter and fun in the air.  Sounds of joy.

Sofia comes back to me.  Big smile. “Hi, Nani”.  A quick hug and she is off again.

As I sit, I notice.  These little ones are like homing pigeons.   They come back to home base.  Over and over I see it.   Passionate, fully focused play, and then a trip to the sidelines.  Checking in for a happy hug or a comforting cuddle, they find their way to the one they know.

Amazing. So many big people line the wall. How do they know just where to go?

I think again. Perhaps not so amazing.  On this playground kids are in motion;  big people stay put.  The safe spot never changes.  Never, ever.

Life tumbles by.  Good times. Rough patches.  Have you found your safe spot?



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And the loser is . . . . ?

Ludlow, Massachusetts takes pride in its soccer history.   Home of the Western Mass Professional Soccer Club, the team plays in Lusitano Stadium, the only soccer specific stadium in New England. Home games draw up to 3000 spectators.  Fans line the fence along the edge of the field to be closer to the action.  A favorite concession is the Portuguese pork and grilled onion sandwich.

Soccer passion spills over to high school soccer and that is where this story starts.  The 17- time state champion Ludlow Lions boys soccer team found out this past week that they will forfeit eleven of twelve games because a player on the team was academically ineligible.  The athletic director said that the system in place to make sure that an ineligible player does not play  “didn’t work” and the violation was reported to the MIAA as soon as it was discovered.  This means that in all likelihood the Lions will not make the post-season.

In this soccer crazy town the wolves are circling; parents are demanding the resignation of the athletic director.  In the words of one parent, he is searching for accountability.  “I just would like for someone to step up and take ownership,” he said.  “We’ll put it behind us when someone takes ownership.”  And evidently the person who is supposed to take ‘ownership’ is the AD.

It is true that the AD is charged with being on top of just these sorts of things.  He admits he failed but that isn’t enough to satisfy angry parents.  They want his resignation.  They want a man to lose his livelihood because their children will not have a chance to play before college scouts come tournament time.

Let me tell you something, parents.  If your child is good enough to play college soccer he will play.  Missing the western Mass high school tournament will not be the deciding factor.  Get over it.  Believe me, I have seen firsthand the value of being a part of a team and the camaraderie that exists among teammates, but unless your child is good enough to play D1 soccer, he will not be getting an athletic scholarship.  Far better to encourage your child to excel in the classroom and earn an academic scholarship.

I have a daughter who played college soccer for one of the consistently best D3 soccer teams in the country. She was able to play for this team because she was a good soccer player who received academic scholarships.  Her four-year college experience was a wonderful time of growth on the pitch, but more importantly, she grew academically and personally.   Some of her college teammates will no doubt be lifelong friends and that grew out of the cohesiveness they had as a team.  They were accountable to each other.

And that leads me back to the Ludlow situation.  I have not read one article that even hints that the student-athlete who was ineligible bears any responsibility for the current mess. His teammates say they stand by him, but does this individual realize that he bears some responsibility for what has happened?  Surely he knew, or should have known, that his grades were not what they needed to be.  At any time did he consider going to his coach to say he wasn’t sure his grades were high enough?  Did he feel any accountability to his teammates?

It is certainly easier to join the crowd and point the finger at the AD.  “Crucify him!”  But, wouldn’t it be nice if an adult who truly cares about character and integrity talks to this student and helps him to learn some bigger lessons about personal responsibility? Wouldn’t that be a fitting role for the parent who wants someone to take ‘ownership’?

This is a tough life lesson to learn so early in life, and I feel for this young man.  He is carrying a heavy burden.  But to learn at this age the strength and character it takes to admit a mistake would stand him in good stead his entire life.

Common Bullying….. or Something Worse?

I still remember the clear blue skies and the sun glinting off the snow as I walked home that cold winter day.

I gradually became aware of the sound of voices behind me.  I turned my head to see a group of older girls close behind me.  They were 9th graders while I was a lowly 7th grader.  I felt a flash of anxiety, and fear quickened my steps.

“That’s right.  You better run, you honky bitch.”   Seconds later a chunk of ice hit me hard in the back of the head.  My world momentarily went black and in that darkness I saw stars.  My vision cleared as I stumbled forward several steps.  I heard raucous laughter behind me and my anxiety was now a full-blown fear.  I was getting close to home, but I could never hope to outrun my tormentors.  I felt a shove on my back.  I was trying not to cry as I did not want to show fear.  It was with an overwhelming sense of relief that I saw a white station wagon pull to the curb.  My mom’s best friend rolled down her window and ordered me to get in.  Jeers followed me as I climbed into the car.

With the slamming of the car door  my memory of that event stops.  It is a tiny snapshot in my life and yet I still remember it 45 years later.  I  had no doubt why I was targeted.  My sin?  The color of my skin.  I am white.

Racial tensions were high in Flint, Michigan in the years following Martin Luther King’s assassination.  I entered Holmes Junior High School in 1969, a year after his assassination.  The main memory of my three years at Holmes, followed by one year at Flint Northwestern, was that of fear.  Every year on the date of the anniversary of his death there were riots.  Even at that time I thought how odd it was that people would choose to ‘honor’ him with riots when he himself engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience.

There was a math teacher at Holmes, Mr. Bourcier, who once brought up in class the subject of racism.  He accused the white kids of being racist because they waited outside the locked front doors of the school rather than go in the unlocked main entrance where the black kids entered.  I burned with indignation at the injustice of this remark.   Did he not see that this racism went two ways?  I felt betrayed at his refusal to listen to contrary viewpoints.  He was a teacher!  Shouldn’t he be more fair than this?  I don’t know why I did it, some perverseness in me that wanted to prove something to Mr. Bourcier I suppose, but I made up my mind to try the side entrance.  It was a winter day and I wore a coat with a hood.   I was standing in the crowded lobby, the only white kid in sight, when I was suddenly pulled backwards by the hood dangling on my back.  My books fell to the ground, my arms flailing as I tried to keep my footing.  I was gasping for air as the pressure against my neck tightened.  It was suddenly released and I stumbled backwards several steps.  All around me I heard the laughter of kids who had witnessed my humiliation.  Uhh right, Mr. Bourcier.  Take that.

I was a cheerleader at Holmes in the 8th and 9th grade and I had friends, both black and white, who were fellow cheerleaders and basketball players.  One day after school I went down the hall that led to the gym and locker rooms.  I suddenly found myself surrounded by a group of six black girls who formed a tight circle and began to push me back and forth between them.  I was truly bewildered as I had never even seen these girls.  “Why are you doing this to me?” I cried out.  One of them mimicked me in response, but just before she spoke I saw a look of confusion cross her face.  Why was she doing this?  She knew she was supposed to hate white people but hadn’t figured out why.  Just then a friend of mine, who happened to be black, came down the hall.  “Leave her alone.  She’s okay” and the circle around me magically melted away.

People, both then and now, decry white flight, but really, did my parents have a choice?  After school,  fear kept me within a block of home.    There was always the danger of getting ‘jumped’ on the way to or from school.  It was unsafe to use the bathrooms at school, and forget about actually learning anything.  Education itself took a remote backseat to other more pressing concerns.

My family moved to Flushing the summer before I entered 11th grade.  I felt no sadness, only glorious relief when we finally moved.  I attempted to make up some ground in academics those last two years of high school, but there was really no way to replace the lost years of science and math.

I can honestly say that I bear no ill will to those people who caused me such grief during those years.  I imagine that like me they have grown and changed; I like to think they regret the foolishness of their younger years.

I became a Christian just before we moved to Flushing and being a follower of Christ has had immeasurably more impact on me than those few hard years in the Flint school system.   In no way do I compare what happened to me with institutional racism against minorities, but nonetheless, it would still be good to hear someone acknowledge that what I experienced was indeed  racism and it was wrong.




Are You Smarter than a Hadley Cow?

I was driving on a back road in Hadley when I spied a cow that made me laugh.  You would have laughed, too.

He was part of a gang of cows.  His buddies were pretty nondescript.  Munching contentedly on yellowing grass, they gazed impassively at the passing cars.  Standard cow behavior.  But the cow in question stood out from the rest of the herd.  He was grazing right at the edge of the field, very close to the road.  His forelegs were bent while his rump was raised high in the air.  He was craning his neck through the opening of the wire perimeter fence trying to reach a patch of grass just beyond his reach.

He looked so ridiculous that I actually laughed out loud.  There were literally acres of pasture land behind him where he could have munched to his heart’s content, but that one little clump of grass just outside the boundary of the fence was apparently irresistible.  Not only did he look silly, he also looked quite uncomfortable in his undignified posture.  I was wondering if he would need the cow equivalent of physical therapy when he went back to the barn that night.

That cow just didn’t have the smarts to recognize that he had all he needed right on his side of the fence.  Thankfully, the farmer had the foresight to install the fence so that his cows would be kept safe.   If he hadn’t, I am pretty sure there would be one less cow in Hadley tonight.

So, I’m wondering.  Are you smarter than a Hadley cow?

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.   Paul the Apostle, circa 60 AD

I Still Have a Long Way to Go

I have so many things for which I am grateful.  There are really too many for me to list, and even if I did, my list would probably look a lot like yours.  So instead of telling you about all the blessings in my life, I am going to let you in on a little secret: sometimes I struggle with discontent.

Oops.  Did I really say that?  Yeah, because unfortunately it’s true.  There is a part of me that tends to whine.  I really don’t want to, but there it is.  I can find fault with my job, my church, my family, my house, even the dog.  Nothing is exempt when it comes to my periodic episodes of whining.

Even in the midst of my grumbles, however,  I do know that the real problem is me.  I have not yet learned the secret of being content in every circumstance; it just doesn’t come naturally for me.  I wish I could learn it through osmosis. I would go to sleep at night under an osmosis gadget and wake up fully contented.  Why does contentment have to be learned?  And why does the lesson have to revolve around difficulties?  I have learned that trying to wiggle out of the lesson does no good.  Sometimes I feel like I am stuck on the equivalent of “See, see.  Oh see.  See Dick”,  but if I don’t master the simple lessons, I am not allowed to move on.

We really don’t take kindly to the idea that hard times can teach us contentment.   We prefer to think that contentment flourishes when our life is filled with sunshine.  But Paul, the great apostle, said he learned contentment during times of plenty and hunger, and abundance and need.  Did you know that Paul was shipwrecked three times?  Or that he spent a day and a night floating in the open sea? Receiving thirty-nine lashes from the Jews on five separate occasions is horrific beyond description, and yet at the end of it all, Paul said he had learned to be content.

I still have a long way to go in learning the secret of contentment, but I am definitely on the learning curve.  I am not where I want to be, but because I have a wonderful Teacher, I am not where I started.

I am learning that contentment gives birth to thankfulness.  The more I get that God truly is sovereign, and that His plan for my life truly is good, the more thankful I become.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Remember Show and Tell?

I think “Show and Tell’ is a brilliant idea as a safe introduction to public speaking.  You probably remember doing this yourself.  You would take something to school that you deemed special and hold it aloft while you gave your squirming, fidgety classmates a bit of  information about it.  I think it is safe to say that without that little prop in your hands, the attention span of your classmates would have been just about zilch.  First, kids don’t have great attention spans, and second, let’s face it, you probably weren’t a compelling speaker.

I mean, seriously, think about it.  Have you ever listened to a young child earnestly retelling an event from their day and you have NO idea what they are talking about?  You nod and say “uh huh” and “Really?” but you are still clueless.  But when they can show you something, along with their words, it begins to make sense.

I enjoy listening to The Moth Radio Hour on NPR.  It features live performances of people who, without notes or props, tell true stories of ordinary life  in such a way that the listener see life in a different way.    Unlike the young listeners of Show and Tell, these storytellers have no problem holding their listeners’ attention.   I think the strength of a good storyteller is that rather than making a bald statement,  they show a truth about human nature simply through their story.

I was reminded of this recently as I starting reading a novel set just after the crucifixion of Jesus.   The story started out well enough with the author showing how a centurion, charged by Pilate to find out the truth about the ‘stolen body’, goes about his task.  He eventually meets up with Joseph of Arimathea who tells him this:

But how did we respond to this gift?  We crucified him.  We all stand convicted, guilty of a crime so horrendous that the very heavens shook.  I was there that day, Roman.  I witnessed an astonishing event.  The curtain between the Temple’s inner chambers and the Holy of Holies, where our Lord God is said to dwell, was split from the top to the bottom.  Do you hear what I am saying?  From top to bottom.  This is impossible, for no man can reach that high. Yet it happened, without anyone touching it.  Why is this important? Because it means the division between God and man has been abolished.  Vanished.  How?  Because the great Jehovah, the One whose name may only be whispered once each year by the anointed high priest, had sent his Son to be crucified.

Really??  Why did the author feel the need to insert this little sermon right into the middle of a story? It’s not that what he said is untrue.  I just wonder, did he think that the story did not speak for itself? Did he doubt his ability to effectively communicate the story of a life changed by Jesus?   To be honest I can’t actually tell you the outcome of the story because that sermon was enough for me.  I closed the book and read no more.  It was too contrived, too preachy, too improbable that this kind of statement would have been made shortly after the death of Jesus.

Reading that book got me thinking about the trap some Christians fall into.  It seems that we doubt that our lives are showing the story of a life redeemed by Christ, so we resort to telling people.  When I say this, I am not at all referring to evangelism.  After all, Romans 10:14 says:

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?

What I am referring to is the way we sometimes communicate with other believers.  Christians are adept at saying things they think will enhance their ‘spiritual image’.  We want to look like we have a Thomas Aquinas/Martin Luther kind of faith, but we aren’t really sure that we do, so we resort to telling people what kind of faith we have.  Frankly, I think people are pretty astute about these things and we are only fooling ourselves about the quality of our inner life.

If we want people to see Jesus in our lives, He needs to really be there.  And we have the promise that the more time we spend with Him, the more our lives will show it.

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.  2 Corinthians 3:18

Happy Mondays!

I think I am in the minority, but I look forward to Mondays.  No matter how hectic the rest of life gets, Monday is an oasis of joy.  It is my Sofia day.

This week, as she draws near to her first birthday, I think back to the first time I saw her sleeping in her hospital bassinet.  As I leaned over and drank in the sight of the dark cap of hair on her tiny head, the perfectly formed little nose, the smooth curve of her soft cheek, my eyes filled with tears. I was overcome with awe at the amazing workmanship of the Master Designer.

I marvel at how much she has changed in one short year.  From a little six pound bundle of squishy softness, unable to lift her head or control her movements, there has been a transformation into a little dynamo of activity and intelligence.

Her ears are tuned to familiar voices and she turns to look when she hears her name.  Outside, she listens attentively to the chirping of birds and other sounds of nature.   It seems that daily she discovers something more about her vocal cords and how to make new sounds using her tongue and lips.  She delights in laughter and sometimes giggles just for the pleasure of hearing the sound.

Sofia also uses her hands to ‘talk’.  She points to express her wants, and claps to express pleasure.  We know her tummy is satisfied when she signals the end of a meal by signing “All done.”   Her sturdy little hands reach for toys but also have the more refined ability of picking up small objects with her thumb and forefinger.  She is enchanted by small bits of lint and fuzz and works diligently to get them into her mouth.

Stretched out legs, piles of laundry, or an odd assortment of toys and books are no obstacle to this little monkey/mountain goat child.  She takes satisfaction in conquering every mountain that she encounters during a day’s adventure.  When she takes off down the hall with a grin thrown my way, I know she is headed straight for the stairs…. which are theoretically off-limits.  Nani stands behind her to guard and protect as she makes her way to the top.  Once the summit is conquered she bestows a triumphant smile on me and crawls off in search of another adventure.  Such a bundle of non-stop energy!  I can get tired out just watching her escapades.

Evening brings a familiar routine.  Dinner is followed by a splash in the tub. Afterwards, she has taken to quietly cuddling on my lap as I sing to her.  I inhale the scent of freshly washed hair and sweet baby smell and want to linger forever in that time and place.

As I considered the changes in Sofia over the last year, both physically and intellectually, I wondered about myself and whether there have been any changes in me.  I know that at my age the growth spurts are not nearly as impressive as they are for an infant, but I want to think that I have grown.  As I was mulling this over I remembered something the apostle Paul said:

Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.  Romans 6:13

How have I offered myself to God this year?  Are my ears more tuned to hear His voice and do I respond more quickly when He calls my name?  Is He pleased with the way I use my words?  Are my hands, feet and mind engaged in missions of eternal importance or have I been distracted by ‘small bits of lint and fuzz’?  Have I learned this past year how to rest more quietly against my Heavenly Father?

Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me.  Psalm 131:2

For a child, growth is almost inevitable.  As an adult, ‘growing in favor with God and man’, takes effort.  It also takes effort to sit and rest quietly against my Father.  I’m still learning.