Monthly Archives: May 2022

Graduate Words

The time has come. You’re excited over your child’s achievements and the future they’re stepping into. But you’re scared, too, and sad even if you do joke about the thrill of having an empty nest. As that beloved child winds up his/her high school career, you may try to think of the very best things to tell him. And then as he/she actually gets ready to drive away, you almost choke in your eagerness to say all that is in your heart. You want your child to leave with wise, strong, good advice–but your mind goes numb and you can’t think of anything.

Do any of the words from your parents still ring in your ears? “Do your best,” “Keep your nose clean,” “Remember who you belong to,” “Mind your manners,” “The grass is not greener on the other side,” or maybe “All that glitters is not gold.”

My dad died before I went to college. But I can hear his voice in my head reciting all four stanzas of “If” by Rudyard Kipling. Even though the poem was written to a son, I always thought the challenges in the verse pertained to women too. Of course, as all life challenges are, they are unattainable but reaching for them will make for characters of integrity. Surely Mr. Kipling would not mind if I give you a few of my favorite lines from his most well-known poem, a poem printed in many congratulations cards for graduates: “If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on youIf you can dream–and not make dreams your master, If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim…If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”…If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

My mom said “Always remember where home is.” She, like my dad, recited many poems but I think her favorite quotation was Psalm 46:1 and I carry it in my heart wherever I go: “God is a refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

What did I say to my children when they left? I’m not sure. I simply wanted to cling to them and borrow one more year. But of course I couldn’t. Maybe I said, “Be yourself” or “Don’t forget to brush,” some inane helpless advice like that. I hope I told them to remember Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths.”

What can you say? Warn them against dangers such as drugs and smooth talkers. Caution them to stay with a safe crowd of friends and to stay clear of doubtful situations, late night walks, and texting strangers. Urge them never to let instructor or anyone else convince them that their skin color means they are either oppressed or an oppressor. And, by all means, tell them to think for themselves and to sift all new ideas through the lens of the Holy Bible.

But when all is said and done, what our young people take with them is as much what we did, how we responded to crisis and everyday life, as it is what came out of our mouths. It is the total fabric of their growing from cuddly babyhood through Little League, tumbling, hormonal pre-teen time, braces, crazy haircuts, and learning to drive. It’s drying tears time, peroxide and bandaid time, listening and sounding off time. It’s the way you encouraged them when they failed, rallied them on when they wanted to quit. It’s the little things. Like birthday sleepovers, ice cream stops, playing board games, laughing at silly jokes, soothing their fears of new experiences, riding the highest coaster with them when you were scared to death. It’s not fainting when introduced to a pet snake. It’s telling them one more time to clean up their room. It’s ball practice in the back yard. It’s vacations at the beach, camping in the rain, catching fireflies, and working as a family team to clean up after a hurricane. It’s just being there.

Words for the graduate? Instead of trying to come up with a wise and forever quotable line, just say “I love you.” That will cover everything.

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A Mamma Memory

Eggs were very important in our large household. We needed every single one the hens could produce. Every evening someone collected the eggs laid that day by various yard hens (we always had at least a dozen hens) in several different nests. I remember well one of my experiences as the egg collector.

One late afternoon when Mamma called me to go bring the eggs in, I put her off. I was deep into a book (“Little Women” or “To Have and to Hold”) and I just had to read one more page. I lay on a bench by a western window unmindful of the fading light as Mamma called me again and again.

When I finally started out to do my job I realized it was almost dark. One hen laid her eggs in a cozy nest far back in the stable. I’d better go there first before it turned pitch black. But it was already dark when I entered the stable. The rhythmic munching of a cow finishing her hay comforted me only a little. I crept toward the back of the stable hoping not to step in anything slippery. As I reached down to pick up the egg I knew would be there my neck prickled. Something wasn’t right. Yes, it was dark. But, still, I should be able to see the egg’s white shape in the dark straw.

I drew in my breath and pulled my hand back. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I could see that the nest was especially dark. It was black. There was a movement, a slithering movement. There was no doubt about it. A snake was coiled in the nest.

As I ran for the door I didn’t worry about stepping in a cow pile. I screamed as I dashed through the gate heading pell-mell for the house. I hadn’t even reached the top of the hill when I saw her coming. Mamma was armed with a hoe which she clicked against the rocky path like a shepherd’s staff. She had to have been on her way before she heard me screaming.

Mamma hated to kill anything. She even went to great pains to rescue spiders that rode in on a log and found themselves in the fire. But she picked that snake up on the crook of her hoe, hauled him out where there was still a little light, and chopped his head off.

Mamma was a lady of deep resolve. She expected her children to do the right thing but if we were disobedient she was always there for us anyway. And she didn’t hesitate to kill a snake who dared to swallow one of her precious eggs.

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Safe Dwellings

Birds’ nests fascinate me. They are so skillfully made, custom fit for each bird, large or small, so carefully situated. Whether a house wren who feels safe cozying near humans or an osprey constructing its penthouse dwelling above all the bustle, birds make their homes to suit their very different needs and preferences.

As children, we were elated when any of us found a Carolina wren’s nest, a neat little cave hidden amongst leaf mulch under low huckleberry bushes. At our dear old place we called “Lane of Palms” I’ve observed with wonder a mourning dove pair build a house of sticks on a palm tree branch. From a north window I could see them walk nimbly up and down that palm frond “ramp” and then teach their offspring to do the same.

A major concern for a bird’s choice of nesting place has to be security. But sometimes, in the interest of beauty, convenience, or romantic location, they choose to build in highly insecure places. Like the wren who built her nest in our door wreath one year.

It was a very pretty wreath for ushering in Spring. A few yellow forsythia sprays were wound into a coil of grapevine. There were three bird house fronts, each a different size and style, with a bright angle of roof and a perfect round hole for a bird to fly in and take possession. But they were false houses, just decorated cut-outs fastened on the wreath.

One day when I went out to sweep cobwebs out of the corners of the front porch, a little brown wren swished past my face. At first I thought she was building a nest in a nearby shrub. But it didn’t take long to realize she had chosen one of those false birdhouses for her home! While she was out choosing fine twigs and grasses for her nest I peered behind the wreath. There was no room for a nest, yet she was building it anyway. I was amazed it was clinging in place, so precarious it was. One vigorous swing of the door and it would fall. I warned everyone in the family about our new “renter” and we agreed not to use the front door until the babies hatched and flew. We did slip up the front steps a few times just to peer in at the eggs and then the babies.

My daughter-in-law, Christi Graham, gave me frequent enthusiastic reports on a cardinal pair who constructed their nest on a limb right outside her kitchen window. The human family could enjoy the development of the cardinal family in full view.

Sadly, some of the nests in the safest places are the ones ravaged by an enemy. One spring a house wren built her nest on a high shelf in our barn. We thought it was a pretty smart location for her until one day we found the nest demolished, nothing left but a few eggshells. We deducted that one of our cats had leaped to that high shelf and made a meal.

I am reminded, thinking about those feathered parents, of how hard we try to keep our young safe. Yet we and they make unwise choices sometimes. The world is full of unkindness as aggressive as a leaping cat, and horrible things do happen. Snakes take advantage of secluded nests, hawks attack fledglings, storms throw nest, babies, and all out of their safe place. There is no total safety this side of heaven for any of us. But–we can look back and recognize many, many times when God protected us in our foolishness, as we did the wren on our door. We can trust that, just as He knows where each mourning dove and every cardinal makes its home, He also knows exactly where we are, what dangers we face, and what are the longings of our hearts.

I love Sidney Lanier’s poem “Marshes of Glynn.” He writes: “As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod, Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God: I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies In the freedom that fills all the space ‘twixt the marsh and the skies.”

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