We just finished school last Friday. Normally, I’d be posting our summer bucket list and sharing a list of places we planned to visit as well as lists of activities we planned to accomplish. I would have done this in early May but this year is going to look very different. Our governor extended the stay at home order for our area until June 12. Whether or not we agree with that choice, it has a major impact on our plans. Museums, zoos, etc., may not be open so this year there is no point in adding them to a bucket list. Many of these places offer virtual tours, but we haven’t been able to embrace those in the same way we can get excited about visiting in person.
In past years we’ve had the Summer of Go and Grow, the Summer of Adventure, the Summer of Exploring, and so on. How do I create a summer bucket list when there is no chance of adventure, exploring, or going? Well, after listening to our pastor’s sermon about Psalm 34 I decided to plan the Summer of Radiance. Psalm 34:5 says that those who look to the Lord are radiant. Radiant is defined as “(1) emitting rays of light; shining; bright: (2) bright with joy, hope, etc.: Jesus said he is the light of the world. When I try to be the light of the world I fail miserably. My lights power source quickly grows dim and I burn out quickly. But Jesus IS the light of the world. When I radiate His light I don’t grow weary because I’m no longer responsible to be the source of the light.
This summer our goal will be to radiate God’s love to the world. It feels like now more than ever we need to be a light in the darkness. Murder, violence, hatred are all too common. Although we all need a break now and then, the culture of entertainment is not healthy. Our days are not just about entertaining ourselves but we were created to fulfill a beautiful purpose. That purpose, what we call God’s will for our lives, cannot be accomplished if we focus on making ourselves happy. This summer we want Logan to see that there is satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy to be found in serving God by learning to care for the things God has provided for us and by learning to care for others.
So here’s our list:
Study logical fallacies critical thinking skills
Write letters to family and friends
Learn to plan and cook a dinner
Watch the Cosby Show
Build a river in the yard
Read the 100 Cupboards series
Learn how to wash the car by hand
Go for a hike
Build a bat house
Ride bikes to Rochester
Build a squirrel picnic table
Perform 5 random acts of kindness
Build a stand for Mikhail Gorbachev (the betta fish)
Finish Big Life Journal
Go (alone) to Ace Hardware
Learn to tie a tie
Plant a forest garden
As you may have heard, we are living in unprecedented times. Just kidding - I’m sure you’ve heard this 1,000 times. It’s mentioned at least five times during each press conference and at least twice during each news broadcast. These unprecedented times have us all scrambling and doing new things. I’ve tried at least 10 new recipes (several of which are winners). Kids are trying new home science and craft projects they didn’t have time to do before. Parents are realizing just how hard teachers work to educate their children.
Many of us are getting frustrated and antsy to get back to life while others navigate the phases of reopening. To some, staying home feels like a waste of time and every day begins to look like the day before it. Our days seem like anything but unprecedented. It’s all been done before. Sun goes up, the sun goes down. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time. Our frustrations begin to sound like Solomon in Ecclesiastes 1, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
How depressing! At the beginning of Ecclesiastes, Solomon sounds like he could sit and commiserate with Macbeth. I imagine them sitting languidly staring into a fire.
Macbeth: “All our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”
Solomon: “All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”
By the end of his pondering though, Solomon has moved on and left Macbeth behind. He concludes, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole duty of man.”
So that is it. As followers of Christ we are not promised freedom from trouble. In fact, Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) You will have trouble - not great words to put on a recruitment poster, but praise God the promise doesn't end there. Christ overcame the world and through him we are more than conquerors. There is so much debate about masks, reopening, social distancing, etc. We must research, ask questions, seek out reputable sources for answers, and responsibly share with our people. Our first priority should be raidating Christ's message to the world so we should be very cautious about alienating people with charged political statements.
Fear God and keep his commandments. Not exactly the easiest conclusion to execute, but that's what we've been given. Even if the days are looking the same and things become monotonous God is there. God is good and His way is perfect.
The baby that I nanny for has reached an important stage of development that is both challenging and fun - he’s acting independently. As babies leave the newborn stage and grow they are carried around and interact with the environments they are provided with. Slowly they realize they can do things even if they know they are being told no. I will NEVER forget the moment Logan realized he could act independently of me. He was crawling across my in-laws’ family room floor and he reached for their DVD player. I said, “No. No touch.” He looked at me, looked back at the DVD, touched it, then looked back at me. I could see him reasoning out, “Mom says not to but I really want to touch it. Ha! That was so satisfying. Uh-oh, look cute! She’s looking upset.”
Today, Luke climbed to the top of our pool slide. I was right beside him the whole time. I know it’s good exercise and the view from the top is beautiful so I let him climb and protected him from any harm. Then came the trouble. He knows slides. He has a little slide in his playroom at home. Slides are exhilarating and there is ground at the bottom. He KNEW that slide would be so fun. He’s a slide expert. But here’s the problem. He was wrong. At the end of this slide was a pool with 52° water. It was only 45° outside. He was wearing a coat, hat, shoes, along with all his clothes. I knew that him going down that slide would end in misery and could keep him from enjoying the pool when it was warmer and much more enjoyable. So back down the ladder we went. He screamed at me. He was mad. I hugged him and told him, “No slide.” Logan came out and he ran to Logan babbling and pointing at me and the slide. I imagine he told Logan that I was crazy. I was ruining all the fun he could have had.
I was immediately struck with the thought that just a few minutes before I had been contemplating our current circumstances. I was thinking about fall school plans and friends who were saying that their schools are already preparing for online learning to continue. I was saying, “No, no, no! I can’t do this. This won’t work! Things are just not going to work like this.” I wasn’t trying to problem solve as much as fight the circumstances around me. I was like Luke sitting at the top of that slide. I know what needs to be done. I KNOW what is best. I have experience as a teacher. I have experience as a parent. God was trying to lead me in the way that is best for me and yet I was kicking and screaming, “I know better!!!”
So now I’m back on the ground, but what do I do now? Bury my head in the sand or say, “No worries! Noting to fret about here,” with a maniacal smile while I slowly lose my mind? Hardly. I should bring my concerns to God. Pray for ideas that will help me help my son and the others who need help through the storms ahead. This could be a wonderful opportunity for the church to share the gospel with lonely, hurting people.
I don’t know what the future holds, but right now, I’m going to rest in the knowledge that God knows what’s at the bottom of the slide even better than I do.
I'm currently reading a book called Oh, Ranger! It is a collection of stories and essays written by National Park Rangers. I was moved by an essay written by Shelton Johnson, an African-American National Park Service ranger. While looking through photographs at Yosemite's research library he found a photograph of 25 African-Amerian soldiers who had protected the land from ranchers who were grazing their animals on park land. Their names are not recorded but these soldiers protected Yosemite until they were relieved by another regiment who noted their excellent service. Often African-American men would choose to serve in the military because it was one of the few jobs that provided a pension available to them. That said, they still failed to receive proper respect. Ranger Johanson wrote them a letter thanking them for their service and for allowing himself to be caught up in their story. I found the ending particularly poignant:
"Thank you for clearing the trail that I followed 100 years later. You cannot imagine how your passage has made my journey infinitely easier, as I hope mine will be for those who follow."
My heart hurts when I read stories about violence against others because of how they look. These stories go back for hundreds of years and involve all sorts of people. They are sad, dark, and full of hate. Do you hate these stories too? Perhaps, like those soldiers who protected Yosemite, we can do some things to make the journey of those who follow us a bit easier.
If you ran yesterday and posted about in on social media, good for you. Now keep running. Keep moving. Call someone in an elected office. Create a petition. Volunteer to help others. Look each person you meet in the eyes and see them as a life created for a purpose.
One of my favorite preschool memories is Jay asking Maddie what color her new baby was going to be, brown or white. Maddie, whose mom was very pregnant, was the only fair-skinned child out of my 10 students. She looked around the room and said, “I don’t know, probably brown.” They honestly didn’t know why our skin looks the way it does. It appeared to be about statistics to them and asking about it was as casual as asking a friend to pass the playdough.
Aging robs us of the innocence of youth but it doesn’t have to rob us of our curiosity. Below I’ve provided a list of books that have helped me get into the lives and experiences of those whose heritage I do not share. True these are fiction, but the experiences of the characters are very real. I, like Ranger Johnson, thank those who have come before me. I come from a line of curious and compassionate people. My wish is that my life will pave the way for future generations to share God’s love with the world as I try, yet often fail, to do.
Copper Sun by Sharon Draper
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1968 by Christopher Paul Curtis
Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper
Finding Someplace by Denise Lewis Patrick
Chains by Laurie Hase Anderson
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacquline Woodson
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
Underground by Jean Ferris
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."