The Stepping Stone in the Journey

Minnesotans … We’re a people known for our extended goodbyes. We start saying goodbye in the living room, lumber through the dining room remembering missed conversations, progress slowly to the entryway discussing plans for tomorrow, follow the guests out the the driveway while providing armfuls of hugs and ample driving advice, and then wave unceasingly as the guests drive out of view. Eventually we walk back inside and turn off the lights, resigning ourselves to the fact that our guests have left.

I’m in the process of saying goodbye now and it is tough. Incredibly tough.

I’ve had the same neighbor for over 20 years now. Rob has been a friend, a confident and quite often a role model to my children. For 18 of those 20 years, he has consistently beaten back the cancer monster. He would go into remission time and time again, only to have it rear it’s ugly head in some other form, but Rob was a fighter and no one ever thought that cancer could overcome him.

As I sat inside Rob’s living room, perched on the couch next to his bed, I made light conversation with him, hoping that he was able to hear and process at least some of the things I spoke to him. Occasionally he would open his eyes and I would see him in there, looking at me, wanting to talk but unable.

“The Cowboys won last night. It was a close game, but they pulled it off in the end.”

“You’ve been the best of neighbors. I couldn’t have asked for better.”

“Thanks for always being there when we needed you. We appreciate you.”

“We’ll be here to help JoAnne out. Don’t worry about her at all.”

“It won’t be long now and your body will be restored; healed.”

“I love you. You will be missed.”

While Rob slept on and off, I gently held his hand and talked to his wife seated across the other side of his bed.  We talked about his childhood memories, his kind nature, his football allegiances, his squirrel-shooting hobby, the length of his illness, and his incredibly valiant efforts to survive his odds.

“He didn’t deserve this.” she said.  I nodded in agreement. He so did not deserve this.

“This isn’t what it’s about. Life is just a stepping stone for what follows.” she continued.

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Bird’s Feather Stepping Stone

Amen. I could not have said that better myself. A stepping stone … intricately designed before being carefully set in place, then lovingly positioned into just the right spot, placed to   provide both direction and confidence of footing on the journey. Once established in its given path, it quickly becomes dirty with use and time, yet is easily restored to its initial beauty with one sweeping motion.

A stepping stone … just a small part of a journey along a much longer path. Over time it wears down. Through the hot sun, the brisk winds, and the seasonal storms, it gradually erodes – an unavoidable process that begins at the exact moment it is laid in place. Amid the dirt of life and the inevitable erosion, the One who laid that stone is enthralled with its beauty while understanding its very temporary nature.  Quite often, time itself will cause that stone’s mere existence to cease. Other times, there will be situations that expedite the process.  One day there may even come those that have never known of the stone’s existence.  And yet, fragments will continue to be carried along in the sands, leaving an indelible footprint; proof of its time here on earth.

It looked painfully obvious to me that Rob needed to be moving on from this life. His stepping stone had been well-utilized, but was now wearing so very thin.  Even though Rob wasn’t a Minnesota native, he (not unlike myself) had mastered the long goodbye – both in everyday life and in leaving for the next life. Now, however, was my turn to linger. In my heart, I knew this was probably my very last earthly goodbye to my friend and walking out his door was extremely difficult. I kissed my dear friend on the head, gently hugged his frail body, and told him I loved him one last time.

Today Rob’s stepping stone has served its purpose; his earthly journey complete.

A light has gone out indicating that one of earth’s guests has gone home.

God speed, my friend. You will be so very missed.

Romans 8:38-39

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Math Word Problems (Or Forcing a Square Peg in a Round Hole)

My nine year-old has more homework than usual this week. That’s OK. Since I homeschooled my oldest sons, I know all too well how to teach a third grader, but every once in a while the explanation seems to elude me.  His weakest (and therefore most detested) subject is math, so I wasn’t surprised that he balked when we began the two pages of word problems. The conversation that ensued while we worked through the problems was actually quite comical.

Me (reading from the assignment): Write and solve a word problem in which you must find an unknown partner.

Aidan (a little confused): You mean like I have to do in gym?

Me (containing my smile): No, Honey. This is different. The teacher is asking you to create a word problem similar to the nine that we just worked through. Finding an unknown partner means you’re only given a portion of the information and you need to use math to find out the portion that you weren’t given.

Aidan: Does it need to be a subtraction problem?

[He sees no useful reason he should ever have to do subtraction, especially if it involves borrowing from the *neighbor*.  Wait until he opens his first checking account!]

Me: Let’s assume the answer is YES since the previous nine problems all involved subtraction.

Aidan (enthusiastically):  I know! There were 15 kids in costumes. Six kids wore ghost costumes.

Me (excitedly thinking he’d caught on quickly): Good, Aidan! I’ll write that part down for you. Now you need to end the word problem by asking a question. What would your question be?

Aidan (very confidently): The question part is really easy, Mom!  How many kids wore werewolf costumes?

Me (mental face palm): Ummm.  No. How could I answer that, Aidan, since there are still nine kids that I don’t know about?

Aidan: Easy. I could tell you.

Me (growing more confused than HIM!): Tell me what, Aidan?

Aidan: I could tell you that eight of the kids wore werewolf costumes!

Me: But eight werewolves plus six ghosts only equals 14 kids. I thought there were 15 kids in costumes.

Aidan (more than ready to make his word problem work):  OK. So let’s say that the other kid dressed as Darth Maul.

[sigh]

It’s fun to hear how Aidan processes things. He’s not a neuro-typical third grader since he navigates life with high-functioning Autism, but he is very academically adept. That said, our math lesson gave me reason to pause tonight to explain to him that somewhere in our conversation, he went off-course. It wasn’t about werewolves at all when we began the word problem, but once he introduced werewolves into the picture, he was focused on  making it work.

How often do we find ourselves doing the very same thing, whether it be with a school assignment, a work situation, or a life circumstance? After using a half page of paper on one algebra problem, it becomes obvious that the direction in which we are headed is not right. But who wants to rework that entire problem? It seems more time-efficient to chalk it up to a great, albeit failed, attempt and be thankful it was only worth five points while moving on to the following problem. At work, we find that the implementation of  a new product did not provide the company with the long-term benefits we anticipated. Rather than giving voice to this fact, we force the new product to fit into the business while we listen to our peers grumble under their breath. In life we find ourselves accumulating debt. As the interest becomes higher than the principle, we begin to realize that our credit card debt is too high, but it’s so much easier to open a new credit card and start with a zero balance than to reign in our spending habits and pay off the balance on the first card.

As we worked through Aidan’s math word problem that evening, we had to return to the base problem to ascertain how to best address it. Avoiding the problem, or simply adding new factors, was not working – no matter how hard he tried forcing that square peg into the round hole!

What are the square pegs in your life? Are you working through issues where you’ve introduced too many factors? Or are you simply ignoring that the issue exists at all? Unfortunately, the issues that are not dealt with remain, needing correction and seeking closure. Left open and uncorrected, they haunt us unceasingly.  Face the issues in your life; correct them; bring closure. It will feel fa-BOO-lous!

Philippians 3:13-15
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

One of my greatest passions is practicing the Martial Arts.  Soo Bahk Do, a Korean Martial Art founded by the late Hwang Kee, integrates the philosophy, culture, and language of Korea, creating both an academic and physical aspect to the practice.  We are located in all six of the inhabited continents. Come give us a try. It’s definitely addicting!!

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/weekly-photo-challenge-foreign/

It CAN Always Get Worse!

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How was your week? Mine felt unbearably long and there were many times I was sure Friday evening would never arrive – or if it did, I would somehow miss it amid the chaos of life. The proverbial nail was driven into the casket this evening as my six year old spilled his milk on the peanuts I had just spent two hours shelling while our four month old puppy pounced excitedly between his rawhide bone and the sweet, dripping kitchen table unsure which way to run in the 1.5 square feet of space available. Admittedly, bedtime could not come soon enough – if not for the young ones, for me.

OK. It can always get worse. When I’m tempted to feel tapped, I try to remind myself of that fact. For example, Rasputin, the iconic Russian religious advisor to the Romanov family, definitely dealt with greater grievances. Hated by many in a country where he held significant influence and power (not an unusual feat in and of itself), he experienced trials and tribulations beyond what I’d wish on my worst enemy. Rasputin was stabbed, poisoned, shot three times, clubbed, and drowned – and with the exception of the stabbing, it all happened in one evening!

I can’t top that. More importantly I don’t even want to try! Incomplete homework assignments, piles of laundry, sticky floors, dinner dishes, spilled milk, and puppy poo all plague my week, but I can tackle those consistent challenges that attempt to derail my days. And much like Rasputin, I don’t go down without a good fight. But his life, and subsequent death, serve as a stark reminder that it can always get worse!

So how did you say your week went?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette

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This picture was taken at Franconia Sculpture Garden in Franconia, MN. I’m a martial arts junkie so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’d strike a pose from Jin Do Hyung!  Soo Bahk! 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/weekly-photo-challenge-silhouette/

I’m Normal. What Are You?

After a full day of playing with Legos, Matchbox Cars, Wii, and various outdoor toys, the time had come for Owen’s best friend, Alex, to go home. As we  entered the van for the fourteen mile drive, Alex chose to sit in the far reaches, the very back seat – because providing additional challenges in a conversation can make it extra interesting, right? As I chatted with Alex over the expanse of empty seats, our conversations flowed easily, especially considering Alex is only five years old and doesn’t really know me very well. We were, however, trying our best to listen to each other over the noise of both the engine and the road.

When Alex told me he was learning Spanish, my curiosity was piqued.  See, Alex is Asian – but beyond knowing THAT, I have no idea what Alex’s heritage is, so the following conversation ensued:

Me (trying to peer into the rear view mirror to occasionally establish eye contact):  That’s really cool that you’re learning Spanish, Alex.  What is your ancestry?

Alex (pausing, not quite sure of the meaning of the word):  Ummmm ….. I don’t know.

Me (trying to help him out with both an explanation and a prompt): Ancestry means lineage or where your parents and grandparents came from. Are you Korean?

Alex (quickly): No.

Me: Are you Chinese?

Alex: No.

Me: Are you Vietnamese?

Alex: No.

Me (now floundering as I was running out of options): Japanese?

Alex: No.

[Since Alex was so sure these options were not part of his ancestry, it struck me that Alex might KNOW his ancestry and I need only quit prompting him. So I continued my line of questions in a new manner:]

Me: If none of those are part of your lineage, then what ARE you, Alex?

[Alex’s reply was quick as a wink and sure as a boy could be, causing me to really hear his answer.]

Alex (simply):  I’m normal.

Touche, Alex.

Pause for consideration, Reader. How do you see YOURself? It occurs to me that we all too often view our differences in a manner that set us apart from others, in both a positive and negative manner. If you’re seated across from a potential employer in a job interview, that may be a necessity to secure employment.  More often, however, we need to look for commonalities that enable us to be ONE with each other.  At the tender age of five, Alex seemed to understand that commonalities make for both a confident person and a more peaceful community. Additionally, it is what Christ calls us to do.

1 Cor 12: 24-26:  But God has so composed the body … 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Are you normal, Reader? It IS a more excellent way!

Knee-Jerk Notions

Gorilla Glue is probably one of the best modern-day inventions.  It seems to be an oft-thought of solution for a vast number of situations that occur in our household based upon it’s ability to create a permanent bond between an almost limitless variety of items.

When the top of my coziest slipper found it’s way free of the slipper’s sole last year, my first thought was … Gorilla Glue! Without any hesitation (or much forethought), I placed an ample supply of the product in between the two surfaces of my slipper. My second thought wasn’t far behind … Pressure! Knowing this product worked best under pressure (just like me), I decided to place my foot into the slipper and apply that pressure while I navigated through my Facebook messages that evening.

It worked like a charm. Really, it did. But it did MORE than intended. While it did, in fact, stick the sole to the slipper top, it ALSO stuck my foot to the inside of the slipper proving that this was probably not my most brilliant moment! So what went wrong? As I pried the outer epidermal layers from the skeletal remains of my right foot, I realized that there were definite drawbacks to swift solutions, even when the issue at hand was of minuscule magnitude.

After initiating my knee-jerk notion of using my foot to apply the pressure required of Gorilla Glue, these were the lessons learned:

  • The first solution is not always the best;
  • Some solutions can be more painful than others;
  • Planning for all potential outcomes is always wise.

Often I learn lessons without the loss of body parts. Other times valuable lessons are somewhat elusive, albeit more permanent than Gorilla Glue bonds themselves when they come with a cost. While I quite liked the sole of my foot as it was, I must admit … I enjoyed the softer, callous-free foot while it lasted.

Knee-jerk notion: Could Gorilla Glue double as a spa treatment?