Sunday, May 11, 2014

Xanna's Web

“One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.” (Psalm 145:4)

This will be the first Mother’s Day I’ll be celebrating without any living grandmothers. I know that’s the way of the world, but it does cause you to think about where you’ve been and where you’re going.
Each of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers had special ways of serving (I was blessed with wonderfully diverse experiences, from very traditional homemakers to very non-traditional career women). But beyond all the practical things they did, each woman served as the family hub for her generation. They were the ones who drew us together, negotiated truces behind the scenes when there was a tiff, told stories of our ancestors, bounced the new generation of babies, prayed us through crises, encouraged us to keep close to God and to each other.  And when one of those hubs passes from this earthly life, the mantle must be passed to the next generation.

Five generations: My great-grandmother, Valeria Jackson; my grandparents, Vernon and Ruthe Jackson; my mother, Xanna Young; and baby Katie. Taken in 1988.
I’m blessed to have a mother who takes these things seriously, along with many other members of our family.  They are connectors, hubs in their own right, determined to keep our family intact regardless of how the winds blow.  My mother’s been showing me all along how it’s done, just as her mother and grandmothers showed her.
One of the most beautiful things about my mom is to see how she sustains the web of relationships she has woven over the years.  When I was five, we moved to Brenham, a place where Mom knew very few people – but she marched in there with her gravity-defying beehive and began her magic. I remember being outside with kids from the neighborhood as she, the former cheerleader, taught us to do cartwheels. Those kids had mothers, too, and coffee was shared and friendships begun that would be important in the years ahead. 

Many of those same cartwheeling girls became members of the Girl Scout troop that Mom led for twelve years. Over campfires and cook-out food and a living room full of cookie boxes, she blessed each one with a listening ear and a ready laugh.  
As my brother got older and started playing baseball, my dad was the coach … but that was just another place where relationships were built. She knew all those boys’ names and still sees them around town, where she’s greeted by a “Miz Young” and a smile.

Mom built similar webs at church, Washington County Electric, Brenham High School, Mt. Vernon Mills, State Farm, Faith Mission – a host of people who freely exchange love and friendship, kids kept up with, deaths mourned, encouraging words spoken. Those Girl Scouts and band kids and baseball players and  grocery sackers and co-workers still feel the connection to her after all these years. She was recently honored for 20 years as a volunteer reader at the elementary school – it’s hard to imagine how many lives she has touched. And I can’t even fathom the size of her birthday card list! If you’re celebrating, struggling, or ill, count on a card from her and a prayer behind it. 
This same love for deep connection has carried through to her grandchildren.  Mom and Dad made a commitment early on to be part of each birthday celebration for their grandkids – and I can only think of a time or two when they didn’t make it.  Six grandkids … that’s over a hundred road trips to Abilene or Missouri or Grand Prairie or Houston or Dallas, not including graduations and concerts and plays!  And just like Boo Boo did, she's still sending birthday cards to all of the great-nieces and great-nephews, aunts and uncles and cousins, showing that you can still stay connected, even if separated by location or age.

If you measure wealth by relationships, Mom is a millionaire! And those of us who have been touched by her are grateful recipients of that wealth, entrusted with passing it on, just as it was passed on to her. So, happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I’m so glad to be part of your wonderful web.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 “You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing...after all, what's a life anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die...By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.” – E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A southern wind

A southern wind has stretched the clouds as thin as filament,
threads intricately woven into the stark blue fabric of the winter sky.

A swaying tree lifts her branches
in thankfulness and expectation that change is near,
even now budding within her branches,
pressing to escape the bonds of dormancy.

Hints of the tropics are borne on the stiff breeze,
reminders of a sloop setting a tack across the wind
with the melody of laughing voices as the backdrop,
the smells of summer and sun and the sea
calling us from winter into spring.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Great is Thy faithfulness!  Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Born for adversity

Nineteen months after I was born, my brother, Jay, came into the world. It’s safe to say that our relationship had its ups and downs. We spent many happy hours swimming, playing, and concocting mischief (it’s a wonder we didn’t burn the house down). On the flip side, my parents endured endless squabbling (He’s on my side!  She’s breathing my air! He’s looking at me! He touched me!), pranks (Jay loved loved loved to scare me), and physical poundings on our way to adulthood.

However, no matter our differences, there was an intrinsic desire to protect each other from whatever threats the world might throw at us. My grandparents told of a time where Jay got in trouble for something and they were reprimanding him.  I apparently told them to “stop talking to my brother that way!” I also remember mutual plots to overcome the evil empire of babysitters – the wig incident comes to mind (sorry, Miss Harbert).

As we grew older and didn’t have the physical proximity needed to continue our sibling feuds, things smoothed out between us, and I was glad. It was the start of getting to know each other all over again. Who knew there was so much to learn?

I’ve watched Jay live a full and beautiful life. It has not always been easy. As with many of us, he has fully experienced “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Through it all, I’ve seen a man clinging to God, growing with God, loving his family, serving his church, doing his best to be a man of integrity in his workplace. Jay has a lovely creative streak that he shares in art, music, and craftsmanship – you haven’t lived until you’ve received a hand-drawn birthday card from him or seen his hand-crafted woodwork.

So today, as Jay celebrates 50 years of God’s goodness, I am thankful. Thankful that he has refused to let hardship define him forever, but is instead taking the lessons learned and looking forward with hope. Thankful that he is pouring the best of himself into Caleb, Sidney, Ethan and Katelyne. Thankful that we survived our fractious youth and made it to this time of friendship. Thankful that I can always know he has my back, and he can always know I have his.

Happy birthday, Jay! I love you.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Magnificent Boo Boo

Lora Ruthe (Thompson) Jackson was born Oct. 29, 1920, the eldest daughter of John Lyle and Florence (Ector) Thompson, one of four girls and a boy who died in infancy. As the oldest, she was often called upon to do some parenting as a youngster. She described the year when she was 12 or 13 that her working parents asked her to be in charge of Christmas gifts for all the kids. She was given a budget and told where to hide everything. (Surely this was the beginning of her role as the Christmas Fairy for so many years!)

Life wasn't easy. The Great Depression hit her family hard. Struggling family members would often come to live with them. One of her sisters went to live with relatives in East Texas for a while. She remembered delivering payments to the loan sharks in Dallas so they wouldn't give her daddy a hard time for being late. But there were wonderful times, too. Imagine living in a household with four very lively girls! Ruthe, Mary, Doris, and Laura laughed and danced and made the most of what they had.

As she grew into adulthood during the thick of World War II, Boo Boo experienced the joy of motherhood alongside the grief of broken relationship. As a single mom, she worked as executive secretary to the night shift manager at North American Aviation, known for her typing skills (>100 words per minute on a manual typewriter) and her creative response to the privations of war (when her requisition for pencils was turned down, she re-worked the request with the description "wood-encased lead cylinders" and was approved).

Vernon and Ruthe Jackson on the tarmac at North American with a P-51 Mustang.

At the plant, she caught the eye of a handsome fella supervising sheet metal work on the line. He eventually proposed in the parking lot after shift one night; they woke her parents up from a sound night's sleep and found a Justice of the Peace to make it official. Thus began the love story between Vernon and Ruthe that lasted for so many years. One time on the phone, Bun Bun said, "She's crazy about me." Boo Boo replied, "I'm crazy when he's about me." That pretty much sums it up!

Boo Boo was a modern woman. She worked outside of the home all of her life and was an entrepreneur, both in the sign business with Uncle Ernie, and as partner in her husband's vending business. Her gifts in organization and public speaking propelled her to leadership roles in local and national PTA, Keep Texas Beautiful, and Dallas County School Board. Her ultimate public service was to the City of Grand Prairie, where she served for a combined 28 years as a member of the city council, with many of those years working as Mayor Pro Tem. She was still in office at her death Aug. 9, 2013 at age 92!

However, these aren't the things I'm thinking of most today. I'm thinking of the time she was in Austin for a meeting and decided to surprise us with a visit - she came down to school and took us out for the afternoon for fun. Riding through the Robo car wash for entertainment. Going to Cicero's or Kip's for hot fudge sundaes. Playing board games like Monopoly or Pollyanna (she was so patient!). Enjoying our favorite foods when we came to visit, because she always stocked up - maraschino cherries, grape juice in tiny bottles, cheese in a can, etc. (Didn't your grandmother let you eat cherries from a jar with a spoon?) Trips to the warehouse for jewelry or candy. Going to feed the ducks with her special duck food. Tea parties with the girls at Luby's with the little teapot of hot tea.

I'm thinking about the way she used words to build people up. Today I've looked through birthday cards from her and Bun Bun to see the phrases and pet names she used for me: "Love to a princess of the Lord..."; "Darling 'Ren-Ren'..."; "lovely lady..."; "what an inspiration you are...!" The thing is, I was just one recipient of her encouraging largesse. We always loved seeing what would be written in cards to the girls, including "genius," "princess," "brilliant," or "magnificent." The way she rolled her R's and used unnecessary quote marks and multiple exclamation points for emphasis. Her funny sayings, like "bigger than Dick Tracy" and "big as Dallas," or "everybody ought to go to Sunday school." When we were out in public, it was obvious that she had that same way of knowing what people needed and giving that encouragement.

Boo Boo loved kids and was loved by them! As a child, I would sit next to her in church and she would put me in a trance by lightly tickling my arms. She always had our favorite Life Savers and gum in her purse. She would dance babies around with her special baby song (doot-doot, a-lotta-doot-doot-dooty), and she offered up her costume jewelry to keep little ones entertained. For years she taught Bible class at Burbank Gardens. She's one of my role models as a minister to children. Every grandchild and great-grandchild who came along was drawn into her love and bounty.

More than anything, Boo Boo loved God. She was the prayer warrior, the keeper of the prayer list. Rain or shine, sickness or health, she managed to be at prayer breakfast 99% of the Saturdays since it began, and this was just an extension of her daily life of prayer. This was her quiet ministry. There's no telling how many people all around the world have been blessed because of her faithful prayers, and that includes me.

Go big or go home. That might be one way to describe my grandmother's approach to life. She really lived! But I think I like this description better:
Extravagant in love. 
Extravagant in life. 
Extravagant in faith.
Rest in peace, Boo Boo. I will miss you so much...but I know you'll have everything  organized when we join you and Mr. Jackson in heaven.
Boo Boo with all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Christmas 2012

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The fellowship of the garden

The strains of Psalm 22 quietly sung by the choir –  "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" – began the soundtrack for the increasing darkness.  There was no more sunlight to illuminate the stained glass; the clergy changed from white robes to black; the lights were turned off one by one as the altar was stripped of all decorations and the cross removed.  The priests slowly and deliberately washed the altar to prepare it for Good Friday, and a crown of thorns was laid in the center.

Then almost all of the lights were extinguished, until only candlelight remained.  We slowly left the sanctuary, singing the haunting chant, "Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray."  The shadows on our faces from the candlelight seemed like torch light in the Garden of Gethsemane.  After a final reading, we left the church in silence.
I couldn't help but think about that day for the disciples.  They woke up to a beautiful spring day, expecting to celebrate the Passover with their friends – a solemn enough reenactment in its own right – yet they had no clue of what was able to happen to them.  Jesus woke up to that same day, but he knew.  It staggers my imagination.

The garden is where the rubber hits the road in terms of fellowship.  It's the moment where the veil is lifted, where unbelievers see what we're made of.  Sometimes it's a moment of failure like the disciples experienced:  "Fellowship?  What fellowship?"  At other times, it is where the best of redeemed humankind is revealed.  Someone sits and holds the hands of the dying; another cleans a kitchen or brings food to their neighbor in distress.  Some wait with Jesus, watching and battling in prayer for the soul of one who has wandered from the fold.  In darkness, in distress, in disappointment, in death – in these times, the fellowship of the garden comes alongside.

This is fellowship both given and received.  As a young person, I simply had no idea.  It wasn't until I faced my first true crisis that I understood what it meant to be cradled and cared for, to be loved with the same love Christ had for the caring one. And though I would never wish tragedy on anyone, the garden of suffering is where Christ in his fullness is revealed through His people.

The closing prayer of Maundy Thursday captures my hopes and prayer for me and for you:

Holy God, source of all love, on the night of his betrayal Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment: Love one another.  By your Holy Spirit write this commandment in our hearts through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  And now let your servants go in peace, to watch and wait with the Lord Jesus, in prayer and divine affection, in silence and endurance.  May God's blessing abide with you, through the darkness this night and into the glory of the dawning of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This is the third in a series of three reflections on Maundy Thursday.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The fellowship of the table

As the Maundy Thursday observance turned to the last supper, the symbols of Eucharist foreshadowed the grief that was to come.  Walking with the stream of men, women, and children toward the altar, I found myself surrounded by people I did not know, but who were connected to me.

In The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien brought together a cast of characters with different ethnicities, allegiances, and even languages, who shared a common enemy.  Their fellowship was based on an epic mission requiring epic action to succeed in destroying their enemy.

The fellowship of the table shares some similarities to this story.  We, too, are of many tribes and nations, and we share a common enemy. However, what draws us together seems so very ... ordinary. Jesus calls us to the "one anothers" – loving one another, serving one another, forgiving one another, building one another up.  He calls us to take up the towel and join at the table.
We sang a hymn that night that was not familiar to me, but it truly spoke to our part in the fellowship of the table – a fellowship that will come to fruition one day.

Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face;
here would I touch and handle things unseen;
here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,
and all my weariness upon Thee lean.

Here would I feed upon the bread of God,
here drink with Thee the royal wine of heaven;
Here would I lay aside each earthly load,
here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.

Too soon we rise; the symbols disappear;
the feast, though not the love, is past and gone.
The bread and wine remove; but Thou art here,
nearer than ever, still my shield and sun.

Feast after feast thus comes and passes by;
yet, passing, points to the glad feast above,
giving sweet foretaste of the festal joy,
the Lamb's great bridal feast of bliss and love.

          (Horatius Bonar, 1857)

This is the second of a series of three reflections on Maundy Thursday.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The fellowship of the towel

As a woman who grew up in a "low church" tradition – with no official liturgy, very little emphasis on the church calendar, and skepticism about the use of icons and symbols – I've never celebrated Maundy Thursday.  Millions of Christians set aside this evening –  the night before Good Friday –  to somberly reflect on the washing of feet, communal meal, and the going out in darkness that Jesus and his disciples experienced on the night he was betrayed.  This past spring, my daughter invited me to attend with her at the Church of the Heavenly Rest, where we've been celebrating holy days for the past couple of years.  Heavenly Rest is a beautiful old stone structure, where sound echoes and silence can be tangibly felt.

It became clear to me as we began that the evening was designed to be a sensory experience that immersed us in the story.  We participated as re-enactors – not the cheesy kind wearing uniforms that were too small, anachronisms in this modern world, but participants in fact ... for we, too, are part of the same story that will continue until Christ comes again.

After the homily – a beautiful reminder that this night is, at its root, a community story –  the time for foot washing began.  All present were invited to participate in one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever witnessed.  Even though the clergy washed the first feet, it quickly became a free-for-all service of love one toward the other – parents and children washing each others' feet, spouses one to the other, lay members washing the feet of their priest.  My daughter washed my feet and I washed hers –  so humbling, both as receiver and giver.

I wept as I watched this act of love continue until all were washed, thinking about the words from John: "Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." (John 13:1"Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another's feet.  I have set you as an example that you should do as I have done for you." (John 13:14-15)

I can only imagine how everything that happened to Jesus that night was heightened by the sense of last-ness – the last touch, the last word, the last meal, the last hymn.  And I am reminded how often I go about life as though it will last forever, putting off acts of service and fellowship until tomorrow or next week or next year, until the finality of death closes the door and the moment is gone.

Jesus had this amazing ability to engage his whole being in the moment of service, secure in his purpose and identity, never feeling the act was wasted – even an act as lowly as washing dirty feet. And he invites us today to join him in this fellowship of the towel, cementing our relationship to him and to each other.

This is the first of a series of three reflections on Maundy Thursday.