Sketchbook, circa 1971

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“I’m not having a porch prom!” my granddaughter protested when she learned her high school graduation celebration had been cancelled.

She had a porch prom. We attended by Zoom. Her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins praised her dress, her taste, her beauty, her intellect, her perseverance, and her attitude. Except for taking screen shots and cell phone shots of the computer screen, and the absence of any escort, friends, or fellow graduates, it was like the evening of her father’s graduation. We praised him, celebrated him, and took photos of him on the porch too. Then we waved as he left to pick up his date for the prom.

But her grad ended on the porch. No ceremony. No sitting in the sun in a stiflingly hot gown while some minor dignitary issued platitudes about adult life on a glitchy sound system. No diploma in hand, no hat in the air. No discovery that friends in expensive formal attire are still the same imperfect people they were all year.

I sympathized with her disappointment as I dealt with my own. We were unable to travel to see a very precious person cross the stage. I remembered my grad. I sang a solo at the ceremonies, but I wasn’t allowed to attend the prom. My parents forbid me to go to a dance. That was disappointing.

I dealt with more disappointment this week when a faucet burst and water poured out, unobserved for too long. My back was killing me by the time I moved the last crate in the storage room to higher ground. It looked then like I would have to toss out the empty frames and old sketch books it contained. It looks now like the frames can be salvaged, but not the sketch books. They were old anyway.

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I turned the wet margined pages of a sketchbook/journal I used when I was a teenager about the age my granddaughter is now. It felt like an archeological uncovering of my own history nearly half a century ago. I took photos of some of the less damaged yellowed pages. These quick cartoons were observations from my teenage point of view.

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1971 was a year of shift too, particularly in ideas of what it meant to be a woman, which, of necessity, included adjustments in the ideas of what it meant to be a man. I was, in equal parts, angry, enthused, confused, determined, and concerned.

In 1971, sexual harassment was called “Boys will be boys.” (that story for another day) I received one third less pay for the same summer job boys working beside me took home. One of my brilliant female classmates with a 98% average failed to get into pre-med in university. She was told, apparently without shame, that since she would probably drop out of medical practice when she had children, the spots were reserved for those most likely to benefit society. Another classmate, male, who I knew was not particularly brilliant since I helped him with math, was accepted. His father was a Member of Parliament.

In 1971, my pastor suggested I go to seminary, not to study and become a pastor, but to meet a pastor because he thought I’d make a good pastor’s wife. I looked at the lives of pastor’s wives I knew — and ran the other way.

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In 1971, many women wanted to be able to choose to have a fulfilling job where they would receive recognition in the form of a pay cheque. Now, many women happily pursue careers that fit their talents and interests, but the other side of the story is that many women feel they have no choice but to show up for less-than-fulfilling jobs to meet expenses. Not all, certainly, but some women long for the seemingly unattainable luxury of nurturing and teaching their own children at home themselves. I suspected in 1971, and finally knew in 1986, after leaving a sick child behind to fulfill a contract for rehearsals and concerts, that I was one of those.

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When I was growing up, my mother had a job. I had a house key. I wanted both and I wanted neither. As a teen, I didn’t know what it meant to be a woman, and I often resented what I saw, but it never occurred to me that I could choose not to be a woman as some of my granddaughter’s friends have done. I never foresaw that foundation crumbling.

So I tell my granddaughter not to let these circumstances break her stride. She is an exceptional person with impressive insight in spite of  “unprecedented” times. I wonder how she will see her journal in half a century?

In the meantime, here are some pages from mine.

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Don’t Hit Bye: Prayer Without Ceasing

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It’s been a long time since I fit in the secret hiding space under a blanket-covered coffee table, but my youngest granddaughter brought me along as her special guest recently. She read to me from her first I Can Read booklet, then introduced me to all her Lego people by name and personality characteristics. She has a marvelous imagination.

It didn’t bother her in the least that I attended via Facetime on Mommy’s phone. She just propped me up between sweet Emma with the yellow plastic hair and charming Benjamin with the miniature bow and arrow. We played until the phone batteries ran out.

This week she called to show me – with great excitement — the space where her baby tooth used to reside. Its new residence was an empty Doritos bag, because she was munching chips in her car seat in the van when the great moment arrived. She dug the tooth out and proudly held it up to the screen so I could see the little spot of blood on the bottom – her red badge of courage.

My family is spread across the country and as much as I complain about being techno-challenged, I love modern technology that allows me to be a part of the lives of people I love so much. On the other side of the continent, in the Maritimes, another granddaughter also lost her first tooth on the same day. She shared her joy as well.

Later in the week, when a storm closed schools and took out power on the island, she and her brother called me from their safe place snuggled with two cats and a dog under thick blankets in a dark cold house. We talked about feeling afraid and what we can do when things we depend on don’t work and that Jesus is always with us. Suddenly the lights came on! There was much rejoicing and plugging in of devices.

When my oldest granddaughter started staying at home by herself instead of attending her brother’s “boring soccer games,” she Facetimed me as well. Sometimes I help her with homework and sometimes she just props me up near the computer while she works on an essay and I putter around on my own projects. Sometimes we don’t need words to say I love you. Sometimes being in the presence of a safe person is enough – even if that presence is only via a cell phone. She jokingly told me she simply wanted someone who could hear her scream should the occasion arise.

Once one of the kids put me in the fridge to see if the light stayed on when the door was closed. I was able to advise. Another time she smuggled me into a room where an adult conversation, that clearly neither of us was meant to hear, was taking place. Awkward. I started singing a silly song – loudly, very loudly. And then she had to go to bed and we couldn’t play anymore that evening.

One chat with my little granddaughter made me think. During one of our Grandma-babysits-by-long-distance-so-Mommy-can-shower play dates she said, “Grandma, I’m setting you down for a minute. I’m just going to the bathroom so don’t hit bye, ok?”

I’ve often said I wished I could pick up a phone and talk to God. I have questions. I have things I want to show him. Sometimes I get scared in a cold dark world with no sign of order or light being restored any time soon, and I need him to just be there in case I feel the urge to scream.

That’s what prayer is – talking and listening to God, with a variety of subtler forms of communication. Sometimes prayer is pouring out my heart and sometimes it’s simply being in his presence. The thing is, I realized I am the one who “hits bye” when I am distracted.

Some place along the way I picked up ideas about prayer that formalize and complicate hanging out with someone who loves me and enjoys being with me as much as I enjoy my grandchildren. Somehow, I thought prayer was like sending God a formal business letter. It needed a salutation, words of appreciation and respect, reminders of previous topics discussed, and an information download leading to the real reason of the letter – the request, followed by more compliments and a closing assuring sincere intent.

Prayer in public meant making an extemporaneous speech addressed to God but delivered for others to hear and judge with appropriate confirming murmurs. Frankly, the process was just about as intimidating as standing up before my fellow tenth graders and talking to them about civil responsibility and my intent to vote when I was old enough. These speech prayers usually have sign-off endings as well, sometimes with an over-and-out “amen” by each speaker and sometimes in “a closing prayer” by a person with authority to wrap things so we could get on with the more relaxed talk in the foyer. (By the way, Amen doesn’t mean The End. It means “I agree.” In current vernacular it might be the equivalent of a thumbs-up like.)

Sometimes a prayer can be written with thought, like a poem. Many passages of scripture are prayers we can voice ourselves, but they do not need to be the end of the conversation. They may be the beginning of a deeper intimacy.

My granddaughter made me question why I “hit bye” at the end of my prayers. What if God wasn’t finished? What if he was puttering around holding the universe together while he waited for me to get to the point or ask a better question and then when he had something to say I hung up on him?

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (who were experiencing some pretty severe bullying) that they would find God’s way for them if they continuously practised expressing joyful, thankful attitudes and didn’t stop praying.

How do we stay in continual contact with our Maker? Call out to him. Talk. Listen. And don’t hit bye.

Allaylloollah!

Photo: grandparents

I was with my daughter when the doctor who performed emergency surgery to save her life, in a tiny hospital on a tiny Caribbean island, told her she would probably have a lot of difficulty having children. She had been hemorrhaging from a ruptured cyst. The lining of her womb, that which should have been sacred and set apart to nurture new life, was growing throughout her abdomen and damaging other organs like some blasphemous invader.

My heart ached for her. I had difficulty conceiving myself and I remembered weeping month after month, year after year as disappointment flowed out of my body.

Four years later she called me after a fertility specialist delivered his final verdict to her and her wonderful husband. Too many blockages, too many malformations, too much damage from surgery. A baby conceived by natural means was extremely unlikely to happen. The best he could offer was powerful medication that put her into menopause to slow down the course of the disease and gave her respite from the intense pain. Perhaps someday she might be well enough to try in vitro.

I cried.

She didn’t.

Somehow the two of them had faith that God would hear their prayers. In fact they treated the specialist’s report after exploratory surgery as proof positive that when God gave them a child it would be a miracle. It was officially documented.

A few weeks later while at some meetings in Florida, five different men spoke to her over a period of several days and told her God was giving her “the desire of her heart.” One (named Bob) said he saw “sperm meetin’ egg” and another (named Bobby) even nudged her husband and joked in a Texas drawl, “You know faith without works is dead.” These were not the kind of ministers I was used to.

I had heard about people who were supposedly prophetic and seen reports of those said to be endowed by the Holy Spirit with healing gifts from God, but it was all theoretical. I believed God could do it in His sovereign will, but He didn’t seem to want to much. I have been attending a decently-and-in-order mainline church and some of the stuff she was telling me about witnessing was so far out of my comfort zone I ran up to the hills to pray that they would not be hurt by deception. I was the one who needed prayer that I would not allow my own cultural blinders and judgmental attitude to limit faith in the goodness of God.

Within a month she was pregnant.

The fertility specialist was shocked!

So was I!

Our precious, extremely unlikely granddaughter was born almost exactly one year after the doctor’s pronouncement. There is no doubt in our minds that she is a miracle.

My daughter had hoped she was healed, but the old pattern of severe pain and ruptured cysts began again when the baby was weaned. Her doctor cautioned her against getting her hopes up, saying conception again was unlikely, but suggested that they not postpone trying to have another child if that’s what they wanted. Within two weeks she was pregnant. Our precious highly unlikely miracle grandson will be two years old later this summer.

A while ago our daughter had surgery again to routinely “clean out” more patches of endometriosis. They found none.

Today she and her husband officially announced the expected due date of the arrival of their third child – New Year’s Day. She gave me a gift last time I visited — a pregnancy test with a + sign on it. Attached was a note: I guess you could say we’re addicted to miracles!

It’s the best gift I’ve ever received that somebody peed on!

God is good –and He is still in the miracle business.

As our little grandson would say, “ALLAYLLOOLLAH!”