Thursday, March 16, 2017

We Carry Each Other


A tiny child grows in a mother’s womb.  She carries him within her, keeping him warm and protected wrapped in her skin, within arm’s reach of her heart.  She runs her hands over the swelling curve and dreams of the life he will have, the life she will help make for him.  Her body grows slow and unwieldy as it expands to accommodate the sweet child.  She considers him in every breath she takes, every food she eats, and every drink she drinks.  She holds him in her mind until she can hold him in her arms.   
This is life—we carry each other.
A big, brawny toddler wakes in the middle of the night.  His forehead is warm against the cool of his mother’s hand.  She lifts him out of his crib and carries his weight, heavy and sleeping, down the long hallway to her bed.  His legs hang down below her waist—in the daylight he will refuse to be carried, enjoying instead his newfound independence, but in the dark of the night he is her baby once again.  Tonight he will sleep with his head against her chest, and she will wake often to evaluate the ebb and flow of his fever.    
This is life—we carry each other.
A bride, still in white, is whisked away from the wedding by her groom.  He carries her across the threshold and into their future together.  His arms feel strong around her, and although hers are not as firm, they circle around his neck in a reassuring embrace.  They look into each other’s eyes and silently repeat the promises made:  I will…I promise…I do.  They do not know what challenges they will face, but they have promised to face them together. 
This is life—we carry each other.
A group of six friends gather around a coffin, and each one takes hold.  They carry their friend to his resting place.  The coffin is terribly heavy, but the grief is heavier; it settles over the heart like a thick, grey fog.  Intermittently the fog lifts as the funeral party retells familiar stories of the departed, laughing together over their favorites.  The women carry tissues in one hand, ever-ready to wipe the tears that flow at increments like clockwork when the bell tolls and one suddenly remembers: he’s really gone 
This is life—we carry each other.
A widow carries on with her life, with motions slowed like someone moving through water.  Her daughters visit, her friends bring her food, and her village carries her to the Lord in prayer.  They carefully watch her countenance and try to protect her heart as she wanders on a long walk with sadness.  They all carry the memories of the departed, but she will always carry the most.
This is life—we carry each other.
Carry each other. 
“Carry each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  Galations 6:2

Monday, January 9, 2017

Children's Book Recommendations

I love getting books from the library to read to my kids.  I go about once a week to turn some in or pick up a handful more.  In case anybody else out there is looking for a great children’s book to check out or even buy for a baby shower, I’ll publish my list of top notch literature for kiddos under 5 here. 

In no particular order, my favorite children’s books we read in 2016:

Bill in a China Shop—Katie McAllaster Weaver

A rhyming book (I’m partial to those) about a bull who loves fancy china plates and cups, but faces the wrath of a snooty china shop owner and battles the impossibility of an animal his size trying to navigate the delicate world of fine tableware. 

EIEIO: How Old McDonald got his Farm—Judy Sierra

A modern spin on an old tale.  In this version McDonald is a novice urban farmer who’s looking for a way to use his backyard for something besides mowing grass…because he can’t stand mowing grass. 

Ugly Fish—Kara LaReau and Scott Magoon

Ugly fish doesn’t want to share his tank or his food or his toys, but he’s about to learn that being ugly won’t get you far in life…  WARNING!! (and spoiler alert) Ugly fish eats other fish and is ultimately eaten himself—this book could be upsetting to more sensitive children.  My kids…well…they laughed.  So there’s that.

The Gruffalo—Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

There’s no such thing as a Gruffalo…or is there? A tiny mouse with a big imagination and an uncanny ability to think on his feet is the hero of this story. 

Waiting—Kevin Henkes

Waiting is a quiet story, with soft pastel illustrations, but don’t mistake its softness for a lack of substance.  It uses sweet toys sitting on a shelf to softly explore concepts like seasons of the year, loss, introduction of new things, and patience.  A beautiful book.

Stick and Stone—Beth Ferry and Tim Lightenfeld

Stick and Stone are very different, but together their friendship can weather any storm.  A great book on the power of working together and using one’s strengths for good.

Blue Chicken—Deborah Freedman

The mischievous little chicken doesn’t start out blue, but after an accident with some unattended paint, lots of things turn blue around the farm.  Gorgeous watercolor illustrations help to tell this story—an ideal book for a little person who’s working on learning his/her colors!

The Nice Book—David Ezra Stein

Very few words in this book, probably most suited for children under three years old.  The nice book offers easy-to-understand illustrations of sharing and caring.

The Tree House that Jack Built—Bonnie Verburg and Mark Teague

Jack is imaginative, creative, constructive, and a lover of animals.  His treehouse is a masterpiece.  The story feels both adventurous and safe.  This book ends with a ‘goodnight’ and would be a great book before bed—it would inspire wonderful dreams.
 
Now go read!!

 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

For Ms. Penick


Dear Ms. Penick-
As you may know, I have returned to Abilene (not unlike a bad penny), and as a good Abilenian and Wylie graduate, I read the Wylie Growl Magazine to keep up with all the Purple and Gold news.  I was utterly unsurprised to read that you had been named into the Hall of Honor and hope you can find time in your retirement to read one more of my long-winded essays. This one’s about you—knowing your humble nature, I wonder if the subject makes this one harder or easier for you to read? (I suspect the former.)
It feels like just yesterday that I was sitting in your classroom.  I remember it so clearly—in fact even down to the position of the desk where I sat during my freshman and junior years (except for that one odious day when I was banished to the principal’s office for my disgracefully troublesome jeans with the threadbare knees).  More importantly than my physical location in the classroom, though, I remember the most profound lesson you taught us: words matter. 
Novelists and readers alike know that words matter, but high school students, generally, do not.  This is just as evident listening to the way they speak to each other in the hallways during passing periods as it is when you ask them to expound on a passage from a well-written piece of prose.  Yet somewhat like a writer crafting a novel, as you edited and corrected our papers and our speech, you managed to convince so many of us that words indeed do matter. 
They matter on a page, certainly, even worn Shakespearean pages, because they describe and decode the mysteries of life and love and lust.  They matter when spoken in a presidential debate for all the world to hear or when whispered quietly between a mother and her son.  They matter when painted on billboards and used to convince us to buy material things, and they matter when smashed together after a hashtag in the name of a social movement.  They matter when they provide a welcome escape for a mind too frequently assaulted by the facts and figures of the didactic portions of dental school.  They matter when they are ancient and grounding words that speak to our souls of things unseen.  Perhaps most of all, they matter because they outlive us now, more than ever before, these words we write down on paper or online.
Your lesson gave me an understanding of the weight that words carry, and that understanding has helped me in my interpersonal relationships, my marriage, and my parenting of two beautiful and frighteningly impressionable little boys.  It has given me an outlet for my emotions and an escape for my mind.  Your lesson provided me with an introduction to two of the greatest loves in my life: reading and writing.
Is it any surprise that I have rambled on and on?  It seems I may have been in the principal’s office during your lesson on being concise.  Here is the thesis statement, Ms. Penick: You taught me that words matter, and your legacy of teaching that lesson matters very much to me and to so many of your protégés.  Please accept my most heartfelt congratulations on your honors and your retirement.

Sincerely and ever-indebted to you,

 


Lauren Oglesby Edwards

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Things You Leaf Behind

The weather finally turned a bit cooler, and over the next few weeks the trees will respond by gently releasing their leaves to fall to the ground.  As we watch them float in the West Texas wind, rake them together, and crunch them beneath our feet, we hear the wise words they whisper: Nothing lasts forever.  It is a message that sounds ominous or hopeful, depending on the season of life your heart is weathering when you hear it. 

Abilene has been renowned for many things, but never for its trees.  Our mesquites lack the authority of the stately California redwoods, our scrubby red oaks lack the fortitude of the pines of Colorado, and our tallest elms are dwarfed by the heights of the sycamores in East Texas.  Nevertheless, the trees in Abilene grow strong and true, not unlike the people who grow alongside them in this dusty Texas town. 
For over 100 years now, Abilene soil has produced generation upon generation of tree, and generation upon generation of families, each one slowly unfurling new branches of possibility.  For some, Abilene is simply a starting point.  These folks soak up all the good this town has to offer, and then when a big enough breeze blows by, they fly like a dandelion seed in the West Texas wind to more hospitable soil (but a little bit of Abilene goes with them).  Others put down deep roots, stretching into the cool water tables that run below and drink steadily and deeply of all the quiet treasures Abilene has to offer.  These family trees become synonymous with Abilene, as much a part of the city itself as the skyline.  Some are like myself, leaves that have blown away for a time, only to return in a different season, bearing the fruit of new knowledge and new skills honed to improve our hometown. 
It is this idea of generations past and generations to come that has spurred the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council and friends to dream up a new park and sculpture garden, slated to open next summer near the Abilene Civic Center.  It will be vibrant and green and alive with sculptures from classic storybook tales like Charlotte’s Web.  Close to the center of this garden will stand a large metal tree, its tallest branches reaching up 15 feet to the sky.  On these branches, large oak-like metal leaves of green, silver, and gold will move with the breeze.  The tree represents all that is good and alive in Abilene, a town that knows how to grow happy and healthy families.  Each limb is a family’s journey to find its perfect place in the sun.  And each leaf, Abilenians, can represent you or someone you love.    
For a nominal price, you can be a part of Abilene’s past and a part of its future.  A donation of $100, $125, or $150 buys you a leaf of a certain color.  There will be a plaque next to the tree in a corresponding color, etched with the name of a person or couple you choose to honor through your donation.  For my part, I have chosen to honor my two children with a gold leaf each.  I imagine us going to play under this tree while they are young, watching as the metal of the sculpture grows cold and hot with the passing seasons, until their future children come to run their fingers along the names etched in the plaque. 
This is Abilene.  A town that grows greatness humbly, each generation embracing the next like rings of a tree encircling new growth to provide support and nourishment until it can stand alone.
Please consider donating to this project.  Consider whether you’d like to etch your name on this tree in this town that grew you and so many of the people you love.  Perhaps you would like to honor someone who gave keeps you rooted firmly in the ground.  Perhaps you’d like to honor someone who taught you how to let go of the safety of the branches and fly in the wind.  Maybe you simply want to be a part of something that beautifies this city and gives children wonder.  If nothing else, please take a moment to consider what you will “leaf” behind for the next generations in your town.  Because nothing lasts forever, except that which you give the next generation.   
Why did you do all this for me?' he asked. 'I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.' 'You have been my friend,' replied Charlotte. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

For more information, visit http://storybookcapitaloftexas.com/garden/ or comment on this link.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

That time we got locked in the zoo

A few weeks ago, Hendrick Hospital sponsored a 'Zoo Night' for all of its employees. The hospital paid for all employees and their families to visit the Abilene Zoo after hours. Being the zoo-lovers that we are, of course I knew that we had to go. 

We loaded up the boys and arrived just as it started. Skipping the train ride (the lines were just too long), we went directly to the nocturnal animal exhibit. As we passed through the doors I noticed a politely worded sign asking visitors not to use flash photography or bright lights in this particular building since all the nocturnal animals are very sensitive to light. Three feet away from this sign, I saw a grown man using his iPhone to see (and incidentally, blind) the ringtail raccoon. I shook my head and have a disapproving look, which neither the man nor the now-blinded raccoon saw, and went on my way. 

At the giraffe exhibit, the sweet zookeeper spent a minute going over instructions with Carter on how to feed the giraffe. He gave Carter the same spiel he gave everyone else: 'Hold the lettuce leaf out and the giraffe will take it from you. He might lick your hand even, and that's ok, but we ask that you please not pet the giraffes.'

Carter walked over and followed the instructions to the letter, as did most of the other children. However, suddenly I heard the zookeeper say sternly, 'Ma'am, please don't pet the giraffes.' I looked over to see a grown woman, nearing headlock closeness with one of the biggest giraffes, one arm around its neck and the other stroking its elongated face from top to nose. The zookeeper literally had to walk over to her and gently remove her from the giraffe to get her to quit. 

After those two instances of adult misbehavior, I wasn't terribly surprised at what happened next...

Jeffrey was holding Harrison and I was walking with Carter as we moved toward the exit to leave. Jeffrey and Harrison were a short distance ahead of us, as I was being forced to walk at 3-year-old speed, subject to the distraction of butterflies, gusts of wind, and random thoughts. I saw them exit ahead of us, but then as we arrived at the exit gate, a zoo employee hastily closed it in front of us. Confused, I went over to the zoo store, where I assumed we were now supposed to exit. An employee blocked my way into the store. 

I said, 'Can we get out through here?'

'No,' she responded, 'The zoo is on lockdown until further notice. We believe a bird has been stolen.'

The visitors had now been put into a situation uncomfortably similar to that of the zoo animals...literally caged in. The human animals, of course, did not take this forced incarceration well. I watched as patron after patron walked up to the gate and then were refused exit. Some paced angrily, like the leopards. Some looked despondent and tired, like the lion. Some chattered nervously, like the twittering birds. And adding insult to injury, we all watched as storm clouds began to roll in toward our makeshift, open-air cage. 

Carter, for his part, handled the delay quite well. As was the theme for the night, the children behaved much better than the adults. And after about 25 minutes of waiting, the lockdown was lifted and we made it to the car just as the first raindrops fell on the wild plains of Abilene. 

I never heard of the missing bird was found, if it was actually stolen or simply missing in action, or if they simply gave up looking. All I knew was that when they opened that gate, I had to get out of there before someone tried to stuff a rhino in their SUV.