“The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny?” (Annie Dillard)
My husband hatched a plan at dinner one night many moons ago. He had been reading Annie Dillard’s book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and was captivated by an anecdote about a game she played during childhood. She tells how she hid her own “precious penn(ies)” in nooks or crannies in trees or sidewalks, drawing chalk arrows to them so a stranger would find the surprise penny and pick it up. Many times, she would lie in wait to catch a glimpse of the excitement in the finder’s eyes.
Dillard reminds us that, just like her game, there are “unwrapped gifts and free surprises” straight from the heart of God, just waiting for us if we open our eyes to see them. Our family mission was born: find these pennies every day and tell us about them at dinner.
What started as a conversation starter for the table ended up literally changing our lives. Each one of us searched and found many things each day that we believed were “strewn by the generous hand” of God Himself, “surprises” just for us He had hidden along the path, many times with “big arrows” signaling where we might discover them. We had things like flowers, actual pennies, frogs, the best parking space at the mall on a rainy day, butterflies, a kind word from someone, a goal scored on the soccer or field hockey field, etc. Sometimes, we would joke that what we had been given was a “nickel,” a “dime” or even a “quarter,” depending on the magnitude of what it meant to us.
My life (and mostly my head) is filled with negativity from the news, struggles in my home, animosity on social media, work-place uncertainty, sickness and even the death of those I love, all things that consume me by what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right. Truth be told, doubts creep in about this God and I question if His love and care for me and this beautiful, but hurting planet.
Sticking my head in the sand and pretending the “bad” does not exist is NOT a good idea, but being swallowed up by it is worse. I am wise to navigate the tension between the bitter and the sweet of life, allowing them to sit side-by-side, both having their rightful place in my day, compassion rising within me in the bitter and joy enveloping my heart in the sweet.
I would still venture to say, however, that I don’t have to look very far to see the bitter. I am bombarded from sun up until sun down. I must open my eyes to search for the sweet, find it, and name it. Those “pennies” are just what I need. They quiet those doubts and remind me of a God who is fully alive and loves little old me, a God who has put special pennies all throughout my day, surprise “pennies hidden” just for me.
“As you go through this day, look for tiny treasures from God that have been strategically placed along the way. God lovingly goes before you and plants little pleasures to brighten your day. Look carefully for them and pluck them one by one. When you reach the end of your day, you will have gathered a really nice bouquet.” (Sarah Young)
From my heart to yours.
P.S. My penny already this morning was the sun streaking through my window, casting its rays across the floor. How about you? Any pennies?
A smile crept to my lips as I woke this morning.
It wasn’t because the sun was shining (finally) through my window, although that didn’t hurt.
It wasn’t because I had finally gotten a grocery store pick-up time around 12:30 am, although I am beyond grateful for that.
It wasn’t because Lysol wipes magically appeared in the back of a closet, although I almost kissed the package right there in my bathroom.
It wasn’t because my daffodil bulbs are just about to burst open, although spring and the beauty it brings are my all-time favorite.
A smile crept to my lips as I woke this morning.
A sound I hadn’t heard in months pierced my ever-longing ears.
THE SOUND OF A LEAF-BLOWER IN OUR NEIGHBOR’S YARD.
This would have annoyed me on April 1 of 2019.
After all, it was only 7:30 in the morning.
I might have even made some snarky comment about them being a “little inconsiderate.”
I might have spent the next half hour stewing in my cereal.
But today, a smile crept to my lips.
It was the sound of normal, ordinary.
A gift straight from God’s heart to mine.
“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure that you are.” (Mary Jean Irion)
I’m headed to a place this morning where pain is shared, joy is celebrated, grace is abundant, hope is plentiful and love looms large.
This is a place I can’t live without. Everyone should have one of these.
It’s my refuge, my anchor, my lifeline.
You see, where I’m going, there’s…
…one who is wisdom that makes my “self” smart.
…one who is joy that brings a laugh to my heart.
…one who is gentleness that reaches deep in my soul.
…one who is peace that guides me to be whole.
…one who is light that counsels my spirit to shine.
…one who is faithfulness that connects me to the “Vine.”
…one who is grace that keeps me looking “Up.”
…one who is generosity that fills up my cup.
…one who is goodness to help me feel truly blessed.
…one who is kindness that allows my spirit to rest.
This place is going to look a little different this morning, but it’s going to feel exactly the same. Warm. Safe. Love. A Beautiful Mess (#ourfancygroupname).
This morning, we will share our pain, celebrate our joy, grant grace in abundance, muster our hope, and lavish our love.
I can’t wait.
P.S. There are some who have scattered and I miss you terribly. You will always belong to us. Never forget that. You are light and love and hope and joy and peace right where you are today.
Dear Brand-Spanking-New Mama,
Today has changed your life forever. You will never be the same. Your beautiful baby girl has been born.
Feelings have bubbled to the surface that you didn’t even know existed, the very first being
LOVE unimaginable, unexplainable.
But I can promise you that won’t be the only one. You’ll be pummeled by ALL. THE. FEELINGS. every day for the rest of your life.
FEAR that your house will catch on fire or that no one will invite your new 5th grader to sit with them on the bus.
LONELINESS in the middle of a room full of other moms or in the middle of a sleepless night.
CONFUSION about how to feed your baby the right food or feed yourself the best information.
JOY over the first wobbly steps taken across the family room or the last confident steps taken across the graduation stage.
ANGER at the unfair teacher, your sassy toddler, her phone, your out-of-control self, the mean girl at lunch, every form of consuming media, the unhelpful doctor, on and on and on.
GUILT about not being enough or being too much.
SADNESS when the bus pulls away with your kindergartener or when your teen pushes you away, leaving you a heap on his bedroom floor.
THANKFUL for the smile laced across your middle-schooler’s face at the Holiday Chorus concert or the smile on your bride-daughter’s face as she dances with her groom.
28 years later, you will be in the middle of a three-way kiss between your baby and her baby, and that very first feeling,
LOVE, unimaginable, unexplainable,
will swallow up all the others, multiplying itself once again, which you never thought possible.
From my heart to yours,
Filled-to-the-brim-with-love, Old Mama
I went to Zumba at the Y. I was a little cranky when I got there. Okay. A lot cranky.
I stood in the back corner, hoping to just endure the work out and not do any damage to my after-the-holidays body.
The instructor came into the room, all bubbly and shouting things like, “You’ve got this! We’re going to have fun! New Year! New You!”
I stayed a little surly, hoping no one would notice my secret eye-rolling and “hmph”ing.
She continued with her cheerleadery excitement, smiling and sharing about the exploits of her holiday with her grandson while we kept pace (or at least tried to).
My grouchy lady bug self slowly began to become a little less crusty. Layers of irritability peeled one by one as she continued spewing her ever-hope-filled words.
At one point right in the middle of it all, this brown-haired, pony-tailed, encouragement in bodily form asked the 10 sweaty women to form a line with our arms around each other’s shoulders and do a little Zumba stepping in sync.
WHAT? This was a little over the top, even for my not-so-cantankerous, new you” self. I didn’t want to touch anyone else, but what was this people-pleaser to do?
We came together and fumbled our way through her directions, smiles and laughter erupting, along with clapping and high-fives before we went back to our respective lonely corners.
The last several minutes whizzed by and my crabby heart melted into a completely new form. I felt like the transformed Grinch of Christmas lore. Yes. A “new you.”
As I skipped out of class to meet my weight-lifting husband and son to venture back to our home in the woods, I stopped and expressed my thanks to this beautiful soul, “You just MADE my day.”
I will be back at the Y for that class and this time, I might arrive with a spring in my step instead of a pout on my face.
As the year ends…..and the New Year begins.
…reflections on Kahil Gibran’s “On Children” 31 December 2010 at 20:52 @ Copyright 2010 by my friend and fellow mom, Mary Cypher
I’ve always thought that Janus, the Roman god with two faces was an appropriate metaphor for this time of year. It is good to look back and then forward at the same time, to take stock, to adjust expectations, establish objectives. This can be a time of celebration, of sadness, a taste of the bittersweet. It is so for me.
My Facebook status early last month was “My youngest greeted me with the words ‘This is your last day with a 6 year old!'” It struck me that I’ve been a mother for 30 years and I am at the end of a season in my life.
I smiled as she spun and danced celebrating growing older, as only the very young do. Quickly, a lump formed in my throat as I grasped that she really was quite big! My baby was no longer so little.
In an age in which most people have 2.5 children, I chose to have a dozen. I had tots and teens for a long time, and truly reveled in the experience; the delight of their discoveries, the pleasure of their innocence and guilelessness.
It has been my unadulterated joy to give my children love AND to share my love of knowledge, of language, literature, history, art, music, & nature with them. Because, thank God, they too developed similar passions, we have had wonderful conversations and I am awed by the depth of character and the understanding that they have.
Now, I am forced to acknowledge that part of my life is over. Having shoved that realization to the back of my mind, even though it was still there percolating, Kahil Gibran’s poem,”On Children” came back into my thoughts during a quiet moment.
I smiled wistfully as I remembered how, as a 17 year old, I read these words with such a wash of relief:
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
I remember feeling justified in pulling away from my immigrant parents and seeking my own identity, indeed, my own nationality. These words particularly resonated within my 17 year old Self:
“You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”
” Yes!” I thought then.
How little I knew at that time that I would need the traditions, the values (if not the identity) of the heritage for which I had little use. Little did I realize how sad it must have made my parents.
It’s a painful part of parenting, releasing the son or daughter that your heart still calls “my child”. As a mother whose children range in age from 7 to 30 now, I think how true the words from Gibran’s poem really are.
Their souls DO dwell in the house of tomorrow. As much as I love them, they stretch their wings, reaching for the sky, seeking to go forward, upward — to a place I cannot go.
Half of my offspring are young adults now, and I have come nearly full circle as I truly begin to understand the last stanza of Gibran’s poem:
“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”
The sheer pleasure of having very little ones in my home is now a thing of yesterday. A wonderful, special season, that I will always remember, but which belongs to yesterday. I look at my youngest, who looks so much like me, and think,
“I must still be a stable bow for her and the rest who are still in the nest, that they may grow to be men and women who also will freely bend to the Archer’s Will.”
I sit by my fire alone.
It’s strange here.
A year ago, my third-born was bursting through the door, overstuffed college laundry bag in hand, ready for a week of “rest” in the “best bedroom ever,” along with eating the ultimate “Taylor ham and egg on an everything bagel” sandwich every morning of his time with us.
This afternoon, I was driving him to the airport. He is off to see his younger sister 2,726 miles away on the left coast.
A year ago, I was picking up my exhausted college baby girl up at the same airport, joy filling my heart as we chit-chatted on the way back to a house filled with family.
Today, my phone buzzes. “Can you send me Josh’s flight info? Also, can I have the famous jello salad recipe? I’m going to make it for Thursday.” She is headed to buy the ingredients to make her favorite Thanksgiving dish at a grocery store I don’t even know the name of.
A year ago, my oldest fed her baby our family-secret sweet potato casserole in the same booster seat we used for her, surrounded by oohs and aahs from cousins and great-grandparents.
On her commute home from teaching second-graders earlier, she chatters away on the phone. “When do you leave, Mom? I’m hoping to get my grad school papers done on Friday. We are just going to eat out with my mother-in-law on Thursday. I might make the family-secret sweet potato casserole just to have leftovers. ” Her two-year-old babbles in the background, “I want to go that way. I have a raccoon sticker. I see a tractor.”
A year ago, the second child of my heart was on his way home from a land far away, new puppy in tow, ready to cuddle up on his favorite sofa, eat his favorite NJ pizza, and see his favorite friends.
“Just landed in Florida. I hope you have a wonderful week” lights up across my laptop screen on Sunday morning. He’s with his girlfriend spending the holiday with her family. I can’t even tell you what town he is in. Maybe somewhere near Palm Beach. Not sure.
I sit by my fire alone.
It’s strange here.
Feelings bubble to the surface, unlike any I’ve had before. I’m not sure what to make of them.
Thanksgiving has been together for 27 years. The three of us. Then the four of us. Then the five of us. Then the six of us. PLUS, a whole bunch (and I mean a WHOLE BUNCH) of other family and friends and anyone who wanted to join the mayhem.
Pies. Parade. Mashed potatoes. Dog show. Family-secret sweet potato casserole. Puzzles. Turkey. Football. Ham for those who hate turkey. Cousins. Gravy. Games. The famous jello salad. Beer-tasting. Pictures (the one at the top of this website being last year’s).
I sit by my fire alone.
It’s strange here.
No overflowing shopping bags filled with cranberry sauce and giant foil roasting pans. No beds being prepped for guests. No Costco runs for last-minute hors d’oeuvres. Not even one decoration in sight except a pumpkin candle burning slowly behind me.
My husband, away on business, calls in the middle of all the feelings. “You’re alone. How are you?”
“I’m okay.” I say. “I like it in many ways. I am glad for tonight. But I’m glad I will see you soon.”
Tomorrow, I hop on a plane myself to spend a few days with my parents. My man hops on his own plane the next day to join me. I won’t be alone for long.
But right now, this alone thing gives me space. Space to sit with my Savior and sort out this new normal I find myself in.
This new normal filled with sorrow that I am not seeing ANY of my four children. To shed the tears that need to flow.
This new normal filled with thanks that I am seeing my parents, my groom and a grieving childhood friend. To allow a warm smile to curl to my lips.
This new normal filled with bewilderment that this is actually where I find myself on the journey (I think Costco might send a search party). To sit quietly, a questioning “hmmm” filling my thoughts.
This new normal mostly filled with hope that I might have just done this mom thing okay. To embrace the idea that my kids are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing: building lives of their own, going on new-found adventures, loving those they are with and best of all, making family-secret sweet potato casseroles and famous jello salads.
I sit by my fire alone.
It’s strange here.
But it’s really good.
I am grateful.