Every day in our life's journey holds its own special treasures, if we have eyes to see...

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Magic of Children

I just returned from participating in the 48th annual Warrensburg Children's Literature Festival, and I want to say that it was an honor and a pleasure to get to stand before a classroom of youngsters and  take them on a journey with me.

...Imagine you're a cowboy.

 It's December, and you and your buddy are riding on the Colorado mesa searching for stray cattle.

And then it starts to snow...

I loved watching them dive deep into the scene. Loved introducing them to one of my most favorite places on the planet, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, and incidentally, the setting for my latest book for middle graders, The Flight of the Cliff Bird.

Their eyes were alight with the magic of imagination, wide with wonder, and for those few brief moments, we became cliff dwellers together.

The classroom fades, and it is just us and the scent of sagebrush and the comfort of sun-warmed sandstone at our backs. The cliff dwellings begin to glow with the light of cooking fires and a cool wind sweeps up from the canyon floor.

Don't let anyone tell you that this generation of children is somehow lesser. Somehow lacking. Yes, they're dealing with elements that we of earlier generations did not--electronic games, images, accessibility beyond belief.

But consider this: they are dealing with the challenges they have been handed. Denial is not a good option. Even if they were to live the electronics-free lifestyle of earlier days, when they emerge into the real world at age 18, they would be handicapped to deal with the freedom and opportunities of a world that is constantly progressing. Better, then, to help them learn to steward those freedoms.

They are not a lesser generation. I saw in these children the same intelligent wonder, the same innate questioning, the same ability to explore the unknown and unseen as that of children from earlier decades. I'm excited for them and for the world which they will in their turn curate for a generation not yet born.

Their eyes were full of wonder and hope, and although I was taking them on a journey back in time, they left me with renewed expectation for the future.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Fresh Christmas

I've spent the last month or more capturing Christmas--to try to feel once more what I felt as a child, and to help my kids, now almost all grown, capture it as well. But this Christmas morning, I find I have a new perspective. Despite what I've just been doing, I now realize that it's not about trying to relive Christmas past, as if those few fleeting years of my childhood or my kids' childhoods were the epitome of what Christmas should be.

This is the last year I'll do that. From this morning on, what I want to do is let each Christmas season unfold its own unique treasures. We can't always have everyone here. We can't always do exactly what we did that one year when it was perfect for me or some other person. But we can live in the now and treasure what's happening this day.

Of course we'll probably still have our traditional foods: grasshopper pie on Christmas Eve. Cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. (Why we use this occasion to slam ourselves with sugar, I have yet to define, and truthfully don't want to, because we literally only make these things once a year. Some things you just have to hold on to)!

But with the possible exception of food, I don't want to be looking backwards at Christmas except to reminisce. I want each December 25th from here on out--and I figure I've got at least 35 more to go--to be uncharted territory, as in reality, each new day is never and can never be a repeat of the one before it.

I want to add to my memory bank a newly-minted, one-off Christmas, vintage 2015, instead of trying to relive but never quite recapturing the magic of some other time time. Next year, besides God, who really knows how it will be? Who knows who will be here. Who knows what the weather will be, the dynamics, the tree.

We'll have to discover what unfolds. That's what we're doing today, and rather than feeling like it is less than other years because not everyone is here or no small child is present to add wonder, this Christmas is perfect because it is fresh and new and unexplored.

Let the celebration begin! 

Once everyone else gets up, of course. Me? I'm on my second cup of coffee :-)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Capturing Christmas

Christmas is almost upon us, but I feel as if I'm running after it, trying to capture its essence as if it were an elusive snowflake caught on a current of wind. So I play carols on spotify. I stare at the lights on our Christmas tree, and I ponder how to "feel" Christmas-y
  And I also wonder:

Where has Christmas magic      gone?

Did I leave it in the land of childhood where
We breathed the rare air
Of bigger-than-life hopes and dreams
All hanging on the happenings
Of one December night
When sleigh bells 
And angel songs 
Shimmered the air 
Like silvering of the veil between seen and not seen?

When did sleepless eves of Christmas past
Bright lights and starry eyes
Give way to growing up?

And when did suspension of belief 
Meld slowly into a surer and less sweet knowledge that magic,
Christmas magic,
Is fragile?

I don't have those answers,

But I do know this:
Christmas magic may be fragile 
And yet it endures

Preserved by the strong belief of children
And the strong love of adults who hold the stage curtains as backdrop

For a generation who in their turn will grow up and light the lights, 
Play the music,
Tell the Birthday story,

And keep Christmas magic shimmering
And alive for one more year.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

On Behalf of a Grateful Nation

The closing strains of the national anthem drown in the roar of the U.S. Air Force jet as it buzzes low over the line of veterans in their vintage cars. World War II. The Korean War. Vietnam. The Gulf War. POWs. Iraq, Afghanistan, and more. They're all represented here on the street of small town Shasta Lake where babies, teens, parents, and grandparents line the streets under the cool northern California sun. No one cringes at the thunder of the fly by. No one fears. And that in itself is tribute to the veterans we honor. They've won and preserved our safety. They defend us. They are the "good guys."

“What a great country we live in,” says a random man who strolls out to a convertible to shake the hand of CA senator Ted Gaines, “when a military jet flies by to commemorate a parade," and the Senator, just one of us, agrees and calls attention to the blue sky and the beautiful day. There's honor in the air.

Yes, it's tangible, the honor for these veterans and the ones they represent who have served and are serving in our great nation's military. With tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, I watch the cars pass, waving my flag and feeling so thankful. One old vehicle passes carrying a veteran of 35 missions on a B24 in World War II. He rides quiet and silver haired, looking like someone's grandpa dressed in military uniform: but there was a day--many days, when he was a young man in the belly or the pilot seat of a bomber, not sure he would make it back to friendly soil. Doing something he wished he didn't have to do, but proud on the behalf of a nation that depended on him and all those like him to hold onto freedom with their bare hands.

I see another WWII veteran--James Broack, 102 years old, with as brave a heart as ever beat, even though he rides quietly in the parade. Yes, the bravery is palpable today. I'm feeling the weight of it. Heritage and history strung out in front of me, and the weight of generations represented here. That's another thing that strikes me. Kids and grand kids ride police launches, Swiss ammo carts and firetrucks; middle school to high school marching bands blazoning out She's a Grand old Flag and Salute to the Armed Forces. Two-year-old baton twirlers; a tiny BMX rider with a pink helmet and maybe three years to her credit join soldiers, sailors, and special forces. These are the ones those military personnel held in their hearts in the jungles and deserts of their campaigns. And these are their reward.

My dad, a machinist's mate on a destroyer in the Korean War could have been in this parade, and how he would have enjoyed the quiet company of his fellow sailors. I want to run out and hug the valiant men and women I see passing before me, and I hope they know that all across the country in thousands of parades small and great, grateful people gather to say thank you and to give honor. 

Thank you veterans old and young, active or retired. It’s because of you and your fellow soldiers we sit safely by the sidelines in a little California town. May we who now run carry the baton in a worthy way, worthy of those who did and still do their best on our behalf, and remind those children twirling batons or playing the drums what it costs to be this safe and this free.

Happy Veteran's Day. And on behalf of a grateful nation, thank you!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Grit isn't just Something you put in the Bottom of your Birdcage

I'm pondering perseverance right now. This is partly because I need some, and partly because as I take a closer look at it, this particular commodity has all the earmarks of the legendary "silver bullet"--the one element that can move us toward success, toward our dreams, toward deeper connections in relationship. That's the amazing good news. The not so amazing news is that perseverance is not easy.
Not usually pain-free. And very rarely fast.

What good is a slow silver bullet, for heaven's sake?! Not much, if you want what you want and you want it now. (That would be me a lot of times). But it strikes me that hoping for that magic "suddenly" is not good policy for a couple of reasons. For one, if you don't know how you got somewhere, you won't know how to sustain that position. Think about it: if you "fall" in love, will you know how to stay in love year 5? 15? 25?

For another, human nature seems to assign less value to what we have not worked for. Whether it's a college education or a hamburger, if you have it handed to you on the proverbial silver platter, you may leave it half uneaten because you're unaware that someone, somewhere spent part of their life to put it in your hand.

And that leads me to this thought: in reality, there are very few "suddenlies." Whether it's parenting, personal achievement, or pretty much any other realm, a "suddenly" is but the culmination of a whole lot of time and effort and not giving up. You keep doing that long enough and "suddenly" the cup is full. The degree is in your hand. The relationship is solid and healthy.

Grit isn't just something you put in the bottom of your birdcage. It's that never give up stick-to-it-iveness that we reach for when all we really want to do is call it a day. Yup, I'm thinking that perseverance is worth the price, the closest thing to a silver bullet out there, and ammunition well worth carrying...

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Super-extraordinary Heroes

I saw a hero in action this morning. While on my run to drop my teens at 0 period (that unearthly hour before buses run and thus the period to which many parents must drive their students), a car pulled to the curb by the high school's flagpole. From the driver's seat a high schooler emerged, and a father exited the passenger side. The first waved goodbye and headed onto campus. The latter waved, walked quietly around the car, got into the driver's seat, and drove away. No fanfare. No "hey-look-at-you-rockin'-fatherhood" cheers from the sidewalk. Just a quiet departure like many other mornings. But it touched my heart because that father and a whole unnamed multitude of parents do these and uncounted thousands of heroic acts every day.

They seek to empower their kids, to help them rise beyond what their parents have achieved.

Parents really are extra-ordinary heroes. Whether they're still in the young stages--nighttime feedings, toddler meltdowns, food battles, everyday routines; in the middle years of elementary challenges,science projects and soccer seasons; to the last few years where parenting burgeoning adults is a delicate mixture of holding on and letting go--the sheer amount of love and nurture and flat-out endurance that millions of parents around the word exhibit is nothing short of amazing.

CEOs get award banquets. Sports heroes rake in money and kudos. But here in the trenches of parenthood, acknowledgments are delayed--often only in retrospect do those same kids look at us and see actual people--people who love and dream and sacrifice on their behalf. But that's okay because we're extra-ordinary heroes. Our reward is not so much that they would look us in the eyes and say, "You're an amazing parent," (though that is definitely music to our ears), but that they become who they were meant to be, climb the mountains that are theirs, and plant their flags at the summits. That is our reward. That is our mission. That is our joy.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

We Are the Ocean

We are the ocean, you and I.

The accumulated courage and gifts and incredible riches that lie within each of us overwhelm the sand in sheer weight and glory. Strange how we rarely understand this, how we can journey through our lives wondering--fearing--that we are not enough.

There's so many people in the world--sometimes I think about how each person, each dwelling has a whole life all its own--mothers, fathers, siblings, children, cousins--like waves going out and out and out. All across the country and the world, each life is lived in full color, Tragedies. Triumphs.
Precocious toddlers. Talented teens. Aging parents. It boggles my mind to ponder the multiplied millions of ripples going out from every person, but God knows us each one.

I love that.

He knows each individual "us" as if we were the only one He ever created. That intimately. He not only knows the names and the number of stars in the sky, or the sand on all the seashores, He knows the number of hairs on each of our heads. We are not "the masses" to him. We are known. Valued. Loved. He is not overwhelmed by the ocean of humanity that lives and breathes and calls out to Him in need and in love and in etremities often. No, not overwhelmed. Quite the contrary:

He is delighted with us!