Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Little Jewel

On Christmas Day, 1914, a little girl was born to a family that already had two half-grown daughters and a son. She was born at their home on the plains of West Texas, and once the neighbors in that farming community heard the news, some came on that Christmas morning to bring food and offer congratulations. One lady leaned over to see the tiny little girl and exclaimed, “Why, she’s just a little jewel!” So they named my mother “Jewell.”

Those who know me well, realize that I always have fond stories to tell about my Dad, but few hear the stories about my mother. I loved her just as much as I loved my father, but she was a quieter presence in our home, and fewer people in the community knew her very well. But Mother was a wonderful mom, so I want to pay tribute to her this Mother’s Day weekend.

When I remember my mom, one of my first thoughts is that she was so involved in the lives of her two daughters. She rarely missed PTA meetings, she served as Room Mother, Girl Scout leader, FHA sponsor, Band Booster, Sunday School teacher, and carpooler. I can’t recall a missed band concert, basketball game, school play, or anything else in which we were involved.

Mother wasn’t a shopaholic, but she knew how to find bargains and look for good value, and she taught me to do the same. I learned how to shop wisely, make careful choices, and think carefully about what was a good value.

She was not just a good cook and housekeeper, she was a good homemaker, which is not always the same thing. She was a full-time homemaker and kept our house clean and beautiful. Mother cooked three nutritious and delicious meals everyday, and each summer found her helping Daddy with the garden, canning and freezing vegetables for the winter. She was a creative and skilled seamstress who not only kept us in well-made clothes, but she also made curtains, bedspreads, and all kinds of things for our home. She loved beautiful things and had a good eye for color and fashion. Although we were not wealthy, Mother knew how to keep us, and our home, looking fashionable and colorful.

Even though my mother was shy, she knew how to be hospitable. We often entertained people in our home for meals, and she frequently took food she had prepared to others who needed it. Mother had a great sense of “family”, and loved having our relatives over. Any given Sunday, it was not uncommon to come home from church to enjoy dinner with aunts and uncles—I can still taste that delicious roast and gravy in my mind! Holidays were almost always spent with family. There was nothing more important to my mom than being with those she loved, and she enjoyed not only her own family but my dad’s family as well. There were all a constant part of our lives.

Not many people saw my mother’s sense of humor. But she loved a good laugh, and at home with the family she had a very silly streak. We had some good times, and she made it possible for me to learn how to enjoy laughter and not take myself so seriously.

My mom was a good neighbor. We were surrounded by families from the community, people who played a significant part in our lives. Mother visited with most of them on a regular basis, shared vegetables from the garden, and occasionally walked next door to borrow a cup of sugar. She and Daddy sat out on the lawn on summer evenings just passing time with the neighbors, and laughed and wept together over all that happened in their daily lives.

One last thing that I remember about my mother was how she really listened to me. In high school, I would have said that was not so ~ but in retrospect, I know it was. If there was something I really longed for, something I truly hoped to get for Christmas, more often than not it was under the tree Christmas morning. If there was something I was distressed over at school, she paid attention, and tried to help me find a solution. If I had a favorite color, it was not unusual to find that she had purchased fabric in that color to make me a new dress.

My mother lived a long and happy life: content with the simple things, not expecting that the world owed her more than she had already been given. She was humble and grateful, generous and thoughtful. She didn’t do everything perfectly, but she taught me all the most important things I needed to learn. She left this earth for something better sixteen years ago, but on this Mother’s Day, I miss her still. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

True Cliches

“Don’t fight it; just accept it.”

Those words were quoted ad nauseum by Marian Stewart in my Freshman Algebra class in high school. Algebra was like a foreign language to me, and my logical mind needed to understand it, not just do it! Many of us who struggled in her class questioned things like, “What IS X? What does it mean? Why do you call it X and Y?” And often, when there was no logical answer that would satisfy us, she just looked at us with her usual patience and sense of humor, shrugged, and said, “Don’t fight it; just accept it.”

Later, the Serenity Prayer expressed some of the same truths that Mrs. Stewart understood. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

Still later, my son-in-law often theorized, “It is what it is.”  

An even earlier wise person, King Solomon, wrote in Ecclesiastes: “I have always tried my best to let wisdom guide my thoughts and actions. I said to myself, ‘I am determined to be wise.’ But it didn’t work. Wisdom is always distant and difficult to find. I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things.” (New Living Translation, Ecclesiastes 7:23-25)

All the wise people I have quoted were striving to understand life, to get a grasp of what they needed to know. Yet each of them understood that we have our limitations. There are some things we will never understand. Some things are beyond our ability to fix. We can change some things to make our world better, but much of it is beyond our ability to control, and most of us hate being out of control and not fully understanding where we are headed.

There is probably more anger and frustration generated from our helplessness than almost anything else. We want to know! Most of us want to direct the course of our lives and navigate our way to a safe harbor where everything is peaceful, plentiful, and comfortable, where we know exactly what is coming and we have no surprises in store. When we learn that we aren’t the ones at the helm, we generally are angry and fearful, grasping for whatever particles of our lives that we can manage to control. We have little patience with issues that don’t have a concrete answer or solution. I quote the proverbial “we”, but really it is the literary “I” that is under discussion, for these are all things that bring me anxiety.

The quotes I mentioned at the beginning are probably best summed up with the Serenity Prayer. The balance I need (and probably you do, too) comes when I can look at my circumstances, discern the areas where I can improve or make things better, and then pray for the courage and discipline to make those changes. But beyond that, I hope and pray God gives me the discernment to “pick my battles”. I want to be wise enough to see what is beyond my ability to change, and to follow Mrs. Stewart’s advice: “Don’t fight it; just accept it.”

Copyright 2012