Hanging Onto Every Word

We didn’t plan it. Actually it started as solution I came up with to help my husband gain some strength in his voice. More and more he was speaking at conferences on Technology and Ethics and almost every time, his voice would strain near the end his presentation. Being the fixer I suggested reading aloud might help. I grabbed a book I had on my shelf, and the metamorphosis began. I call it this because what started as a potential remedy to a problem actually grew into a lovely weekend activity that my husband and I have enjoyed together ever since.

We sat at the table with freshly brewed coffee and a copy of Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning. Kevin began reading the foreward, “When our children were young I would sometimes rise early on a Saturday morning and fix them pancakes for breakfast. It was great fun – the broken eggs, the spilt milk, the batter and the chatter.” The words cascaded from his mouth, gently, fluidly, all in his beautiful South African accent. I so love that accent. When he would call me when we were dating, I felt my knees go weak when I heard his voice on the other end. He continued to read, page after page, until the words were interrupted by the clearing of his throat, a sign of strain. He eventually passed it to me to carry on for a bit, and I gladly accepted. Back and forth, we handed the book to one another, taking turns reading. I don’t know where the time went. Two hours passed like it was a quick 15. Such a lovely morning it was.

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Sunday we decided to do the same, except this time our coffee would be accompanied by scrambled eggs with sauteed peppers and onions, sliced avocado, and toasted English muffins topped with real butter and locally farmed honey. After breakfast, Kevin took the lead, and I listened, sipping my coffee, hanging onto his every word. Something he read evoked a memory from my childhood, so he paused as I shared an experience from my adolescence, a painful memory that I hadn’t thought about in years. He listened intently to the details.

Then I read a bit, and he stopped me to discuss an idea presented by the author he had never thought of before. And this is how it went for the next 2 hours, the back and forth, memories, discussions, laughter, tears.

In those 4 short hours we spent reading that weekend, we discovered things about one another we had never known. We discussed topics that weren’t part of our regular dialogue. We were walking into uncharted territory and loved it.

Many months have passed and several books have been consumed and enjoyed by us both. I cherish our time. I love the unhurried tempo of our weekend mornings. I love that after spending over half my life with this man, I am still learning new things about him and myself as well.

But what I love even more is that I am still being read to in this season of my life. I find I am enjoying it every bit as much as I did as a child, maybe even more. I hope I never get too old for this.

Why Did I Stop Reading Children’s Books?

While I was visiting my favorite place in the whole world, Asheville, with my favorite person in the whole world, my husband, I walked into a quaint little shop filled with books, gifts, and what-nots. We wandered in not looking for anything in particular but just to soak in the culture and be together. Now mind you, all my children are grown, so picking up a children’s book is not my automatic go-to anymore, but for some reason, I reached for this book and read it from cover to cover. I was captivated. I was swept up in an illustrated world of color and whimsy. And I was challenged, really challenged by the words.

what to do with an idea

I wonder why I stopped reading children’s books. I guess as my children grew, I grew with them. I read to them in the womb, hoping that they would somehow absorb pieces of wisdom before they entered this overwhelming world. I continued the practice as they lay in my arms as infants, a cooing captive audience. In the toddler years, we read picture books, me pointing to the characters, the figures, the animals, asking them to tell me what the dog says or what color is the tree. Then we entered a season of the reader, you know the books – filled with simple words strung together forming sentences – tools to teach your children to read. Their reading was stilted, halting, labored, but with each word uttered, a small victory was celebrated. Once they became more fluid with their words, we graduated to the juvenile section of the library, devouring books like My Life as Dinosaur Dental Floss: The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, The Young Biographies of Famous Americans: Clara Barton, and The Dear America Diaries. We still read together, but the goal of literary independence was in sight. In High School, they begrudgingly moved onto the classics. I can still hear them complaining about the Brain Trusts who decide what should be considered a classic. In retrospect, I so understand their frustration.

I am proud to say that my four adult children can, and like, to read. Their tastes vary from Chuck Palaniuk to Donald Miller, from fiction to how-to. And they still read an occasional classic by Steinbeck or Wilde or Dostoyevsky, actually enjoying them. So the goal of literary independence for my offspring has been met, but I wonder what has been lost along the way.

I don’t read aloud anymore. I don’t wander to the children’s section of the Barnes and Noble or even virtually at Amazon for that matter. I only read books with words. I miss pictures. I miss simplicity. I miss the companionship of reading together, enjoying the words and discussing ideas.

Though I am grateful that I have four literate children, maybe the goal of complete literary independence was a bit ill-conceived.

Have to Believe

IMG_2881When I look out before me, past the sleeping rhododendrons resting on beds of graying grass, into the horizon where sky meets hazy mountains, I just have to believe there is someone bigger holding this all together.

When I see the rhythms of the seasons, the punctuality of the the sun rising every morning, and the dancing of the tides to the magnetic tune of the moon,I have to believe there is someone choreographing these timely movements.

When I hear the skillful duet of two little song birds generously singing their refrain to each other while the wind makes the noise of a shaker with the dry browning leaving hanging on their limbs for dear life, I have to believe there is a conductor behind this organic music.

When I feel the hand of my beloved grasping onto mine, feeling his love pulsing through my hand like a gravitational force holding my feet to the earth as my heart soars to the stars, I have to believe that a love like this has to be patterned by a skillful designer.

And when I walk the streets of the River Arts District and peer into studios of working artists, seeing countless expressions of creativity flowing from each one, I have to believe there is a Creator, an Artist, who is taking delight in watching His beautiful children expressing themselves, being just like their daddy, Papa God.

I just have to believe.

Looking but Not Seeing

31 Days The Create Experience 2

Looking up to the sky through the trees that hung over our heads like a veil of green, my mind landed on the phrase looking but not seeing. I paused and kept my attention upward. The leaves were an array of greens – parakeet, moss, sage, emerald – against a backdrop of cerulean. The cool breeze made the leaves rattle like a rhythmic rain stick. I knew in this moment, I was seeing, not just looking.

We look every day. We take in images, familiar forms, and we move through our life. Our minds don’t need to take in details to know that a chair is a chair. We take in the image and our brain tells us that it’s a chair. The work it takes to recognize common objects takes no perceptible effort on our part. In some way, this is a relief. If we had to study every object to know its identity then life might be a bit tedious.

But that’s a problem too. If we reduce our visual interaction with an object to just looking rather that seeing, then we are missing the object on some level. Here are the definitions of look and see.

  • Look: direct one’s gaze toward someone or something or in a specified direction.
  • See: perceive with the eyes; discern visually.

Do you see it? To look is to merely acknowledge the form visually, but to see is to perceive, to discern, to somehow understand on a deeper level. We can miss the subtle nuances by not really seeing what is around us.

I recently watched a YouTube video of a woman doing a watercolor portrait of Bono. I couldn’t believe the colors she chose to paint this man, purples to shade, oranges for the edges of wrinkles, blues for hair, and browns for the dark recesses of the nostrils. I was shocked at first, but then in complete awe. The colors were there, in the photograph she had of her subject, but because I am used to reducing a complexion to yellows, pinks and reds, I missed what was really there.

Looking but not seeing is an enemy of art, an enemy of life. Are we merely acknowledging the existence of what is around us, or are we really seeing? Do we see the leaves against the backdrop of the sky? Do we see the people sitting across from us at the dining room table? Looking is a necessary function for life, but seeing is art. Give me eyes that see God, and eyes that see, God.