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You know that expression, right? The one about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes? I think (based on extensive internet research that took about 30 seconds) the proverb originates from the Cherokee tribe, who reportedly said,

Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.

And, of course, there’s the famous line from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (which, honestly, I read for the first time this past year), where she wrote,

You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around it.

Which is a cool thought, but, you know, impossible.

I get what these quotes are talking about. They’re talking about cultivating empathy, about not judging others about things you don’t understand or haven’t experienced. And that’s a worthy sentiment.

But, you know, impossible.

I have three kids. They’ve been raised by the same parents. They’ve had the same “shoes,” if you like, but not really. They’ve had similar experiences but because they are different people, their experiences impact them in different ways. If they each told you what it was like growing up in our family, you’d hear three very different stories.

I remember the first time I went to Mexico to help build a school. I tried really hard to see where the folks there were coming from. I took pictures of falling down shacks and I heard the common – they don’t have much but they are such a happy people – that we often say when we visit these kinds of places. I tried to talk to the moms and I smiled at the kids and I thought we were so alike in some ways, but really I have no clue. I have no clue what it’s like to be a mom in Mexico. We were in and out of there in under a week, and the first thing we did when we crossed the border was to stop at In-and-Out Burger and order all the food we wanted and pee in their clean bathrooms with toilets that flushed.

I can’t walk in a Mexican woman’s shoes and she can’t walk in mine.

I can’t walk in a Central Regina woman’s shoes and she can’t walk in mine.

I can’t walk in my husband’s shoes and he can’t walk in mine.

I can’t walk in your shoes. You can’t walk in my shoes. But we can share ourselves with each other, can’t we? We can share our stories and our lives and our coffee and muffins with each other.

We can’t walk in each other’s shoes but we can walk together, each of us slipping on our own Nike’s or Birkenstocks or flip flops, and won’t that be a beautiful journey.

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I’ve been teaching this Women and Story workshop for the past couple of years. Me and a couple of super talented friends have travelled to be with a bunch of different women’s groups, and we’ve talked about our stories and how important it is to share them. The workshop has changed over the years, and we don’t do this introduction exercise any more. But I kind of loved it when we did.

We’d ask each woman to stand and introduce herself by sharing her name and then the names of her grandmothers. It always touched my heart when it was my turn to offer my introduction, and it was interesting to see the reactions of the workshop women as they did the same.

I usually got a little choked up. Bad workshop leader.

The women had a variety of responses. Some couldn’t remember the names of grandmothers. Some were conflicted in who to name as mother, depending on their circumstances. Some offered mini histories with the names they spoke.

It’s important, I think, to stop from time to time and remember who we come from. To remember the women we come from.

My mom was the oldest girl in a large farming family in southern Saskatchewan, which translated into lots of work and very little money. I’ve seen the house she grew up in. Very small, very crowded, very few luxuries, but extended family coming out her ears. Aunties and uncles and cousins galore, and a little Lutheran church in which to gather for Sunday sermons and summer weddings and funerals. You couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a Norwegian in those parts. Uff da.

I knew her mom, Gladys, as Grandma, and by the time I was aware of her, her face was lined with her years. She was widowed young, and moved off the farm when I was a baby. Her tiny house was the gathering place for family dinners of KFC and goulash, and lefse-making each winter. She was a constant in my young life. When I moved back to my home town, when my own boys were babies, Grandma and I spent many hours in her little nursing home room, looking through photo albums and talking about the good old days.

My dad’s mom, Pearl, was something else. I remember marvelling at her long, white hair and her little flirtations with my grandpa. They were old, it seemed, but they still had fun together and I knew there was something special there even when I was a little girl. She gave me a white bible with a zippered case when I turned eight, and she taught me how to tat, and I thought she was amazing. I grew up surrounded by Norwegians, and her American background and accent made her seem exotic.

Each of these women had a harder life than I have had. They had fewer opportunities, less education, tougher financial situations. They struggled in ways I’ve not had to. I hope I’ve learned the important things from them. That God loves me. That family matters. That even when life is hard there is joy.

I’m grateful to be the daughter of Shirley, and the granddaughter of Gladys and Pearl.

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I’ve been thinking about gifts for a while. Since my husband gave me this amazing copper cooling tray for Christmas, actually. Because when he gave it to me, it wasn’t a cooling tray at all.

My husband and my youngest son created this kitchen-art out of plumbing material – copper pipe – for me. Out there is the cold garage they took the most humble of materials, meant for the most humble of uses, and they made this beautiful thing.

It came in a huge box, awkwardly man-wrapped, and when I opened it on Christmas morning I had to ask its name. I knew it had a story, but I didn’t know what it was. Turns out it was intended to be a bathroom tray, a place for shampoos and lotions and such but what I really wanted, I told my husband, was to put it on my kitchen table and to use it every day to hold the hot loaves of bread and the supper casseroles.

So that’s what it became. A gift given for one purpose but destined for another.

A story can always change its mind, you see.

It’s hard to measure a lot of things. How do you measure love or pain or silliness or the power of a smile or the strength of friendship? Not easily, I can tell you.

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It’s like this with births and beginnings, too. How do you measure such things?

The birth of the world. The birth of an idea. The birth of a child.

A few days ago a friend brought her new baby home. A baby much longed for, much prayed for, long waited for. I’m thinking it’s hard to identify exactly when her precious baby was begun. The first hopeful tear? The first prayer? The blue line? The first labour pain? The push, or the catch, or the latch?

Beginnings are like that. They are eternal, an unknowable moment stretched into a story, and conception and pregnancy and delivery are a part but they are not the whole.

This season of Advent, this pregnant season of hope and hush, is part of the story, too. But it is not the whole. The story is eternal, and who can say when the beginning began, really?

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Hello, Friends!

I have a new post up over at How to Homeschool High School, where we are discussing the question, Should you buy your kid a car?

Hope you’ll pop over and join in.

Just click here, to go there.

I love hearing an old person talk. I love the wavery, quavery, whispery quality of an elder’s speech. I love the direct, no-nonsense approach of so many of them. Like, time is short so let’s get to the point! I appreciate the wisdom of their years. I enjoy the back in the day stories they tell.

my beautiful grandma, Gladys Hanson

my beautiful grandma, Gladys Hanson

I remember conversations with my grandmother in her nursing home, me on the edge of the bed trying to keep track of two busy little boys. She in her big chair by the window, her mighty geranium plant on the table beside her overshadowing the room.

How many blooms does it have this week, Grandma?

She loved to drag out her old, bursting-at-the-seams photo album. She would page through it while we talked, sharing bits and pieces of the past. She told me about her Ma, and the old farm. About  the way things used to be and about the way things had changed. She had opinions about women and relationships and money and church. I loved that she was open to sharing her thoughts.

In the last few years, she was interested in the recording of things. She taped my mom and others singing with her. It seemed important to her to leave something vocal behind. Something more than the photographs.

As I grow older, I am recognizing how priorities and interests change. The farther I go, the more I treasure life and desire to live it well. I am thankful to older men and women who are willing to share their stories, their journeys, with me.

I am like my grandma in some ways. I, too, am interested in the story. The sound. It is important to voice things. To say them out loud. Stories are the glue of community. Being able to tell your story is a gift that you give. It is an opening of the door to others. It’s an invitation to relationship.

Johnny Cash is a good friend in our home. We all love his music and his story. Recently, we bought his last studio cd, American VI. It always moves me to tears to hear an old Johnny sing about how the grave wouldn’t be able to keep him down, and how death wouldn’t have victory.

In an old man’s voice, he sings out his faith and his confidence.

He gets to the point.

Ain’t No Grave … Johnny flips us off at one point in this montage. But, this is part of his journey. It is part of the truth of who he was, which makes the story of who he became so beautiful.

This is a repost of something I wrote a couple of years ago. Still love stories. Still love the sound of old people talking. Still love old Johnny singing his heart out.

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I’m packing up the notes and the clothes and the hairspray, laundry on the go and a list running through my head, and I have twenty minutes, barely, to sit down here and scatter a few words on the screen. And all I can think to say is … help.

I know you know what I mean. I know you’ve been there, too. Maybe you are there right now?

It’s one of those times when there is more to do than there is time to do it, but I still want to do it all well.

There are women giving up their tomorrow, their Saturday – a day of doing whatever else they could be doing – to come and hear my two friends and I share a message of story and community and women working together, and I’m feeling a little scattered.

It’s not like I haven’t shared this before. I’ve stood behind other microphones in front of other rooms full of women, but this weekend, can I say, it feels a little stale.

I’ve said these words a thousand times already, is what it feels like.

And I don’t want a bunch of women giving up their Saturday for stale.

And my husband is sick and the yard needs to be raked and there are a pile of things that will be waiting for me when I get back home on Saturday night. A busy, busy Sunday and a Monday class for which I’ve not finished my reading, and the kids have their big drama performance in Regina on Wednesday. And to borrow an expression from my UK friend, Fay, the house is a tip. And, and, and …

I know you know what I mean. I know you’ve been there, too. Maybe you are there right now?

Might I ask, if you have a minute, that you say a little prayer for me? And I will say one for you.

A prayer for fresh words, fresh life, fresh ministry.

A fresh breeze to blow away the stale. Sounds nice, yes?