Friday, August 31, 2012

the purpose of life

There's been quite a bit going on with us. The sudden move of Mark, Jill and Lily, keeping tabs on our ailing parents, the college graduation of our youngest, Katie, and helping her to figure out what's next. And she might be moving, too. You might say it's thrown me off kilter a bit.

I'd gotten away from reading My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, but I've picked it up again this week. Like root beer, there seem to be two camps regarding Oswald Chambers. He just doesn't "grab" the one group, but the other group is madly in love with his thoughts and meditations. I fall into the latter group. (Though I'm in the first group when it comes to root beer. Ha.)

Oswald Chambers was a powerful Bible teacher who lectured 100 years ago in his native Great Britain and abroad. Following his sudden death in 1917, his wife Biddy gathered his notes and lectures and compiled them into what became My Utmost for His Highest, published in 1927.

Chambers writings aren't scripture. But they incorporate scripture and interpret its precepts in challenging meditations. In this season of changes, I need to keep focused on God's ultimate purpose for me. From September 1, Chambers writes:

We must continually remind ourselves of the purpose of life. We are not destined to happiness, nor to health, but to holiness. (Not a popular concept, would you agree?) Today we have far too many desires and interests, and our lives are being consumed and wasted by them.  Many of them may be right, noble , and good, and may later be fulfilled, but in the meantime God must cause their importance to us to decrease.  The only thing that truly matters is whether a person will accept the God who will make him holy. At all costs, a person must have the right relationship with God.  " is written, 'be holy for I am holy.'" 1 Peter 1:16

So I need not be concerned about happiness or health or earthly desires, but instead drawing close to God and desiring what he desires. As I get closer to that end, everything will fall into place. In the meantime, the road may be bumpy. But God didn't promise a problem-free life. Just an amazing life in his love and care. Hallelujah!

Monday, August 27, 2012

it all begins with love

I see it, I feel it. Football fever is gaining momentum. We live about a mile from the high school and can always hear the band on Friday nights. It's a huge deal for the community.

When I was in high school and would head off to games, my dad would say, "are you going to see, or be seen?" I have to admit, he had a point. Go to any high school football game and you'll see little pods of kids wandering, talking, laughing, flirting. They rarely seem to get around to watching the game.

Anyway, the Haller kids pursued other sports. Baseball, of course, for David. Soccer for Dan and golf for Mark. And then, they discovered the best-kept secret at our high school: tennis. The program is run by two now-retired teachers, Dan and Bob. Dan coaches varsity boys in the spring and Bob covers JV. In the fall, they switch for the girls. As a freshman, our son Dan had barely ever picked up a racket. But coach Dan said, "wear tennis shoes and bring a racket. We'll teach you to play tennis." No drama, no politics. Just learning the sport in a relaxed atmosphere. Dan and Bob also demanded good sportsmanship and discipline, but their specialty was creating a welcoming and fun environment.

Dan, Mark and Katie all played high school tennis. They were never ridiculed or disrespected. The coaches were serious about tennis, but they were more serious about helping the players have fun and grow as young people. It was one of the best experiences of their high school years. And ours. A small but enthusiastic group, we enjoyed a comraderie with tennis parents, traveling to matches and providing snacks and gatorade.

Maybe there's a reason that tennis scoring begins with "love." There's plenty of it here in Delaware for the tennis team.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

welcome to customs

The other day I needed a half-yard of fabric for a little sewing project. It meant a quick stop at JoAnn's fabrics. Righhhhht.

Ok, so I'm a little indecisive and took some time to select just the right fabric. But glancing at the cutting table, and the growing line of women pushing carts of fabric bolts, I took a number. Yes, literally. Above the cutting table is a large sign: TAKE A NUMBER, yet several women thought it was a line-up deal and failed to get a number from the little red dispenser.

Anyway, #83 was up and I was #87. Not too bad, except only one salesgirl/fabric cutter was on duty. She called over the intercom twice: "assistance needed for cutting." When back-up forces arrived, the first girl took a potty break. Or some kind of break. Back down to one cutter.

I'm not judging, but why would anyone buy orange tulle in August? Or fake fur? Or cupcake-patterned fabric? These are thoughts I had while standing in line. But then, why would anyone decorate cotton diapers with cutesy fabric for mopping baby spit-up? Fabric stores are witness to endlessly creative minds.

Sometimes I chat with salesgirls, but I was all business once she called out "number 87!" because I knew I still had another stop before getting out. I scurried up to the check-out. JoAnn's is funny like that. You stand in one line for fabric, then another line to pay. The line was long and the workers few. One flustered employee was being hassled by two women who had selected unmarked merchandise: the gaudiest fake hydrangeas you every saw.

You know how it goes. Sometimes checking out is just so slow. And suddenly I thought of airports and international travel. It felt like going through customs. I said so to the women behind me: "this place is like customs!" We all chuckled. It's fun to make people chuckle, though I'd rather not be standing in line long enough for chuckling.

Anyway. That was that.

Monday, August 20, 2012

getting there

God not only knows where he's taking you,
but he also knows how to get you there. 
- Roy Lessin

It's been a rough week.
Mark, Jill and six-month-old Lily moved over the weekend.
All the way to Virginia.
I feel that a piece of my heart went with them.
I don't know where or how to stuff the longing for them.

When our oldest, David, left for college,
someone told me that the depth of my pain
was evidence of my love for him.
No matter that he was ready and he'd thrive and love college,
I would miss him, terribly miss our close relationship.
Before I experienced children leaving,
 I categorized moms in two ways.
Either a mom was clingy and too protective, unwilling to let her children go,
or she was so sick of them that she helped them pack and pushed them out the door.

I don't think it's so neatly defined.
Because if a mother - or grandmother - spends years building relationships
with her children, incredible bonds are formed.
A tapestry of memories, inside jokes, favorite foods, late-night conversations,
first days of school, broken rules and broken hearts
are woven like fabric over the years.
And no matter what a mother tells herself,
a child's leaving feels like a ripping apart of that fabric.
She can't turn off her mom-ness as she would turn off the kitchen faucet.
It's very hard to come to terms with this new season of life.

And that is where faith comes in.
There's a quiet, secure assurance that God holds us.
He sees the whole picture of our lives
while we see only a small piece of it.
He has a purpose for wanting Mark and Jill in Virginia,
a purpose that only God, in all his wisdom and love, can know.
Though I miss them terribly,
to trust God is to rely on him more than self and how I feel.
Feelings are so unreliable, says Elisabeth Elliot, but this I know:
 I can absolutely trust God's heart
even when I don't see his hand.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for
and certain of what we do not see.
Hebrews 11:1

with Lily, two days before the move

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

insomnia, popcorn and a daughter

It was late last night.
Very late.
Unwanted thoughts
rumbled in my head.
I got up, stepped over the dog
and tapped on Katie's door.
I love to curl up on her bed with its stuffed animals
left over from childhood.
I found Katie at her desk, and after a few minutes I yawned and felt so very sleepy.
Back to bed.
Wide awake 20 minutes later,
I padded back to Katie's room.
"Maybe I'm hungry."
"Let's make popcorn,"
her predictable answer.
And we agree on frugal microwave popcorn.
It goes like this:
Pour 1/4 cup popcorn in a paper lunch bag.
Roll the top down a couple of times.
Microwave for 2 minutes.
Salt and enjoy.
Absolute magic!
We are popcorn purists.
Katie's pops to perfection.
Mine burns and I run to the door,
afraid the smoke will set off the detector.
We watch a DVR'd show,
with our popcorn and apple juice.
And finally, at 2:30 a.m.
I say goodnight to Katie.
She's about to launch into adulthood.
For now, I'll enjoy
curling up on her bed,
giggling together,
and burning popcorn late at night.

Monday, August 13, 2012

humming babies to sleep

As babies, our four children had their fussy moments. Don't they all? The roughest time of day for me was 5 - 7 p.m. which I called the "bewitching hours." A baby senses everything. She feels tension when mom is exhausted at day's end and when toddler siblings are hungry and cranky. Then dad walks in from work. I would say to Bill, "it hasn't been like this all day!" 

I thank my lucky stars (if I believed in luck) I had a husband who would change his clothes and willingly join the fray of managing the chaos. Call me June Cleaver, but I think a husband who works hard all day shouldn't be "dumped on" when he gets home. He should have a few minutes to breathe. Yes, YES, she's put in a long day, too. You needn't remind me of long days: I had 4 children in 6 years. I guess I'm saying that parenting little ones is incredibly demanding but so is supporting the family. And I am thankful I had a husband who seemed to know just the help I needed and did it willingly.     

Anyway, one of his most endearing skills began when David, our oldest, was an infant. When I was trying to get dinner ready or just couldn't console David, Bill would hold him to his chest and begin humming. It was actually a soft, low, one-note hum, as you might imagine a monk's chan.! It was like magic for our babies. More often than not, they'd relax and fall asleep.

He hasn't lost his touch. Yesterday, Bill held Lily and began to hum: "hummmmm, hummmmm." And, though she's not one to fall asleep on your shoulder, she soon dozed off. So very sweet.

Lily Jane - August 12, 2012

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


In over 30 years, the only time I saw my mother-in-law cry 
was the night we moved away from her.
She cried as she said good-bye to my small sons in their bunk bed.
Her emotions took me by surprise. 
But now one of those sons is moving away with his family.
And I know.
I feel the impending ache of empty arms 
as a tall, strong son leaves to make a better life for his family. 
And I cry with sadness and wonder over the love that
knits the hearts of my daughter-in-love and me.
In church on Sunday I nuzzled my lips across Lily's warm, fuzzy head,
brushing her little bit of silken hair.
And I prayed.
I prayed for strength for the coming separation.
I prayed to have trust in God's promise to always care for us.
I asked for a confidence to push away my doubts, desires and emotions
and simply let God be God and do His thing.
It is the right thing to do, and what choice do I have?
But it's oh so hard.
Because I hate letting them go.
And letting go is a matter not of the heart, but the will.
I am at times a weak believer,
not strong in the ways of God. 

I remember the promise made to myself.
That I will not put selfish desires before the needs of my growing children.
When I sense they need to learn, I'll let them find a way.
When they need to try, I'll stand back.
When a failure will teach them, I'll allow them to fall.
When they seek God, I will not undermine their obedience to Him.
When I see Him working in their lives, I will thank Him.
And when they need to move away,
I'll stand aside
and encourage them to fly.
By God's grace, I will release them
so they can fly.

We know that all things work together for good
to those who love God.
Romans 8:28

The goal of faithfulness is not that we will do work for God,
but that He will be free to do His work through us.
- Oswald Chambers

Monday, August 6, 2012

Baba's big day

With Ashlyn and Ari at 8 a.m....
On Friday, I was with all three of my granddaughters, even though they live 450 miles apart. What a day!

We'd spent most of the week in Charlotte and left Friday morning about 8:00. We pulled in our drive at 5 p.m. and at 7:00 Katie and I went over to watch Lily while Mark and Jill went out to dinner: their first evening out since Lily was born six months ago.

What a fun whirlwind in Charlotte! Dan's working hard, super busy with his job. Jenny keeps many balls in the air including a part-time job, meals and laundry, the demands of a baby and toddler, and even making time to enjoy the Olympics with us.

Ari is two-and-a-half and Ashlyn is 13 months and they make a fearsome duo. Ari's speech has exploded and she didn't hesitate to offer opinions and directives to all of us. It's very cute, at least to a grandparent. She wasn't too interested in naps, though. Ashlyn's taking a few steps but still likes to crawl and melts you with her big hazel eyes.

Soon Lily will move to Virginia. More on that later. For now, it's good to be home. Grandmothering is wonderful ... but a bit tiring too.

... with Lily at 8 p.m.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Mary Lou Smith, my coach and hero

The Olympics! Who doesn't love them? I hope you're enjoying them. The gold-medal-winning Fab Five American gymnasts have especially caught my attention. These girls are amazing. I cannot begin to understand what they - and other athletes - and their parents have sacrificed to get to the Olympics. Some athletes move to distant cities to work under excellent coaches. It's a perfect symphony between athletes, parents and coaches.

I have never forgotten the one coach who made a difference in my life. In the 1960's and 70's, sports for girls were only beginning to gain momentum. While I might have become a high school athlete, no one ever encouraged me in a sport until Mary Lou Smith.

Mary Lou taught and coached swimming at my college, Virginia Intermont, for many years. Embarrassingly, I'd failed beginner swimming three - yes, three - times as a young girl, so I never really believed I could become a solid swimmer. As a college freshman, I brought my defeated attitude to Mary Lou's Lifesaving class. And that's when change began.

In August of 1973, I met Mary Lou and began a year-long journey with her at the Intermont pool. I'd never been around someone so skilled at teaching swimming. She was smiling and friendly, but dead serious about teaching people to swim. Whistle around her neck, Mary Lou dissected my strokes and bit by bit, class by class, taught me proper breathing, the crawl, backstroke and breaststroke. Within a month or two I felt comfortable in the water, strong and capable. The last half of the semester, I learned lifesaving skills and passed the final exam. In Janaury I registered for Mary Lou's Water Safety Instructor class and by May was ready to teach others to swim.

In the summers to follow, I taught girls to swim at Girl Scout camp and became a camp waterfront director. When a child would say, "I can't," I adopted Mary Lou's attitude and reminded her to say, "I haven't learned yet."

A coach passes along her skills and expertise. But a coach also believes in a student when she doesn't believe in herself.

Thank you, Mary Lou. You made me feel like an Olympian.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

happy anniversary, Mark and Jill!

My son Mark married his beautiful wife Jill
three years ago today.
I know of nothing better than
children who marry and
commit to
loving God, each other and family.

Mark and Jill will soon move
to northern Virginia for a new job for Mark.
I'm very proud of him and excited for them,
though my heart breaks at the thought of
their leaving.
I will miss dinners together, visits and errands out with Jill,
and of course seeing Lily frequently.

Then again,
it's my job as a mother to want the very best
for my children. If that means
pursuing opportunities that take them
away from us, then I trust God with the big picture,
to work in the details of all that lies ahead.

Love you, Mark and Jill. Happy anniversary!