Sunday, September 27, 2015

Feeling Like Mrs. America

It was a great day for playing at the beach. We set up and then headed down near the water to dig and make castles and a lake. We like to make our own little lake to splash in. Our lake was so cool it attracted other kids. One little boy’s name was Liam. Liam was older but he played with us for quite awhile. Then he asked, “What’s his phone number?”  I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly, but he repeated it, and sure enough, he was asking for my grandson’s phone number. I resisted. What was he? Some kind of a toddler stalker?!  Instead, I introduced him to my grandson, Kasen. But he persisted. He  wanted his phone number, and now, sounding a bit irritated, asked if I knew his phone number. Then he explained that he was from Riverside and wanted it so the next time he came to the beach he could call him to play. Ah! Finally it made some sense but still weirded me out a bit. I did not give in.  I told him Kasen did not live nearby and that he would have to call me if he wanted to play because I was the one who lived close by. He didn’t want my phone number.

Kasen wanted to go and play in the water so we left Liam and our little lake and went to play in the waves. Kasen started out pretty timid but gradually he gained courage and we went farther and farther out to encounter bigger and bigger waves. Trust me. I had a firm grip on both of his arms but we ventured out far enough for him to get wet up to his neck. His fear diminished and his delight increased proportionately. If not for my 60-year-old back we could have played in the waves for hours. But what the heart wants the back can rarely support. We headed back to the beach and our little lake.

We played there for quite awhile longer. No sign of Liam. And when I began to feel the effect of the sun on my back and arms we packed up to head home. Kasen did not want to quit but after a lengthy reassurance that we would come again next time he visited we headed home.

On our way down the beach trail we passed a young man standing at one of those work-out stations. He was not working out at the moment. But he was pretty ripped. Kasen saw him and stopped and said, “Hi.”  The young man smiled, but did not respond. When I caught up I smiled and said hello, but I still did not hear him respond. I pointed to Kasen and said, “Mr. Congeniality.” The young man just kept smiling. Kasen took my hand and looked right at the man and said, “This is my Cece.”  We started walking again, and as we left the young man still smiling and saying nothing, Kasen repeated, with more inflexion this time, “ This is MY Cece, my Grandma Cece.”Then he added, “I love you, Cece.”  I don’t care how ripped or young that guy was. At that moment my weak and aching back was greatly strengthened.  I felt like Mrs. America and the coolest person on the beach and crazy with love for this little guy who declares to young men on the beach that I am HIS Cece and that he loves me.   

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A Three-Year-Old Therapist

It was just after the first of the year. I was taking care of Laurel for the day, or so I thought. After shopping, lunch, and swimming and reading books we settled in to watch a movie--a children's movie. She picked "Tangled," the latest Disney version of Rapunzel. She told me that if I was going to be afraid she would hold my hand. How sweet! I thought this a rather strange reversal of roles, but I went along with it to encourage her sense of care for others. I am a pretty light weight when it comes to movies, but I knew I could handle a Disney movie.  But for Lolo's sake, when Rapunzel was threatened by her wicked imposter mother, I pretended to be afraid. Ok. I might have tensed up some. Ok. I might have been a little afraid. Anyway, Lo noticed and took my hand. Then she began a conversation that I still have trouble wrapping my mind around. My three and a half year-old granddaughter said to her fully mature grandmother,

"Cece. Don't be afraid. Self-talk."

I replied, "What?"

Laurel said, "When you are afraid, talk to yourself. Tell yourself not to be afraid."

So, I complied with my three and a half year-old therapist, and began to say, "It's going to be okay, Cece. Don't be. . ."

Laurel interrupted me. "No, Cece," she coached. "In your head. Talk to yourself in your head," she said while pointing to  her head  with a face every bit as serious as any counselor or therapist face I have ever seen.

I was speechless. Not because I was following her instructions to only talk in my head. I had quit being afraid or pretending to be afraid of what was going to happen to Rapunzel. Now I was speechless because I was just astounded.

"Where did you learn about self talk, Lolo," I asked her?

"At school," she answered without any sense that this was not normal run-of-the-mill preschool curriculum.

"Wow," I said, "How does self-talk work, Lolo?"

Laurel commenced to explain it to me. Of course. She said that whenever she is afraid or feeling sad, she talks to herself, in her head, and says things that make her not afraid or sad. In way more vocabulary than any three and a half year-old should be able to use I  was being coached on how to handle my emotions. She was counseling me. I was the patient and she was the therapist. Just one more piece of evidence of my certifiable residency in Gramasylum.

We finished watching the movie. Though there were other tense moments, Rapunzel was rescued from her evil captor and I made it through  with Lolo holding my hand and with intermittent self-talk. This little girl that has me crazy with love knows I am crazy and is willing to teach me how not to be quite so crazy. I can hardly wait to see what I learn from her when she starts kindergarten.

When did one of your grandchildren surprise you with an understanding of something you would never have suspected they knew anything about? Share your story by commenting below.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Gramasylum and a Funeral

I was honored that a reading club group at church chose to read my book and invited me to be their guest for their monthly discussion. The same day I ended up caring for my granddaughter so I arranged for her to be in the nursery at church while I met with the book club. As I carried her to the room she touched the necklace hanging around my neck and said, "Cece, will you tell me about this?" "This" was my cross necklace. What could I say?! What an amazing opportunity. My four year old granddaughter was asking me to tell her about the Good News of the gospel! I responded, "Lo, I would love to tell you about what this cross means!" But I was pretty close to being late for my morning book club invitation so I dropped her off at the nursery and told her that I would tell her when I got back.

I do not think LoLo knows that I am a pastor or what a pastor does. And she did not know that just a few weeks ago I had introduced  a sermon about the Good News using pictures of crosses--Madonna with a big cross necklace, a convicted murderer in prison tattooed with and wearing a cross, an arch entrance made up of hundreds of wooden crosses, and my own picture wearing this same cross she was now asking about. What was the meaning of all these cross displays? Who knows?! But now my wearing a cross provided me the opportunity to tell LoLo the story of Jesus' amazing love for her. I could hardly wait.

When I picked her up at the nursery she had not forgotten and was all ears. As best I could, in four year old vocabulary (hers, by the way, is pretty incredible!) I explained to her that Jesus came to the world to tell us how much he loved us. I told her that Jesus told everyone and especially people that no one else loved. It was very hard for me to tell her that religious people (like me!) did not like it that Jesus was loving these kind of people and that they disagreed with what he told people about God. Jesus was telling people that God had sent him and that if they believed in him they would never die and that even if they did die, they would live again.  It was really hard for me to tell her that religious people actually punished Jesus like a criminal. Criminals were hung on crosses to die. They hung Jesus on a cross to die. And he did. But he did not stay dead. He came alive again! And then he continued to love people and tell them that because he had died and lived again, the same would happen to them if they trusted him and believed him. I told her that I wear a cross to remind me of how much Jesus loves us. It all sounds a little crazy when you really think about it.

I told LoLo that this meant that some day she would get to meet my father, her great grandfather, the person I wrote the book about. I told her that even if Cece (that's what she calls me) dies  that she will get to see me again because I believe and trust Jesus. I told her that death is hard and makes us very sad, but that Jesus said not to be afraid, because he will take care of us when we die and one day we will all be together again. LoLo said, "I trust and believe Jesus." I said, " I hope you do, Lo. And I hope you will learn more about Jesus and how to trust him as you get older."

Wow! What a holy, crazy sacred, moment. A student of Christianity for decades and an ordained pastor for twenty years  and I was challenged by this request. I had read lots of books about Jesus to LoLo before. I have sung "Jesus Love Me" to her hundreds of times. But now she was asking. She was initiating the conversation. She was wanting to understand what the cross means.

Later that day I officiated at a memorial service. I had prepared a brief message based on I Thessalonians 4 where Paul explains that Christians do not grieve as others do without hope. He says that because Jesus died and rose again, we have hope and are supposed to encourage each other with this Good News. I knew I had a very mixed audience at this service and did not know many of them at all. All of a sudden I  realized that LoLo's question and the answer I gave her was exactly what Paul was teaching in this passage. My four year old granddaughter became a fresh example of the message I wanted to give this family and these friends of this man who suffered and died way too soon. The meaning of the cross is the only sure and hopeful word for people facing death and loss. And explaining this to even a four year old, maybe especially to a four year old, can bring great clarity to the truth. I told those gathered for the memorial that surely my granddaughter did not fully understand the things I told her, but then, neither do any of us! But there are all sorts of things (like electricity) that I use and live by and depend on that I do not understand fully or at all. It does not make them false, or any less dependable. Such is the meaning of the cross. Crazy!

I wear my cross necklace often. I will wear it with more sense of purpose from now on. Being a grandmother and being a pastor are not all that different at the core. Being crazy in love with my grandchildren reminds me a lot of just how crazy God's love is for us. Gramasylum is a great place for a pastor to live.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Gramasylum Dividends Take Two

I tried to write and post this blog when I was on vacation last week using my IPhone and skethcy internet connections. I could not get the pictures to load properly. So I am reposting this blog with the pictures that helped to inspire it.

I love it when my grandchildren are excited to see me. I love it when they ask me when I am coming to get them or when they are coming to my house. I love it when they do not want to leave my house and fuss when I am leaving their houses. I love that they like being with me. But there is another relationship that for some reason resonates even more deeply for me. It is their relationship with each other. Gramasylum is not all about me.

Laurel (LoLo) is four and Kasen (Kaso) is three. They do not live in the same community. Laurel lives an hour south of us. Kasen lives about two hours north of us. But we work hard to be together and they see each other at least once a month and usually for two or three days at a time. They know each other well. Whenever I talk to Kasen on FaceTime, first thing he always asks, "Is LoLo there?" And when I talk to LoLo on FaceTime it is the same. She always asks, "Is Kaso there?" They love being together. Oh sure, they fuss and fight over toys sometimes. And, they can be jealous when I give my attention to the other on occasion.  But the great majority of the time they are running and playing and laughing and making a full scale mess of our condo. And I love it. I love that they love each other. Kasen is a little more expressive of his feelings and so often initiates the love fest. Unsolicited and unencouraged by adults Kasen will just say, "I love you LoLo." And usually, not always, Laurel will reciprocate and say, "I love you Kaso." Even if her lips don't say it her tight hugs do.

Witnessing this cousin love stirs something deep inside my heart. Perhaps it is knowing that this relationship will likely long outlast their relationship with me. They will be together long after I am gone. I hope and pray they stay friends, playing and laughing together, fighting, yes, but also loving each other. I hope and pray that through the awkward preteen years, the challenging and oh so character shaping teen years, and whatever young adulthood brings their way, they will continue to ask, "Is LoLo there?" and "Is Kaso there?" I hope they will be friends and that they will always love each other. In this way my crazy love for them will live on way beyond my lifetime. My time as a resident of Gramasylum is an investment that will reap dividends for years, perhaps generations, to come.