Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Cat’s Game

  

Cat’s Game

An original poem by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Scratch that game

It’s a cat’s game

No one gets fame

We’re all the same

It’s a cat’s game

It’s not that we’re lame

We played a good game

But the cat got it all the same

Who invited that cat?

Can we send it back?

It’s too hard to tame

The cat that got our game

No winner is proclaimed

And the cat is to blame

Here we are stuck with another cat’s game

Small Children Are Whole People -or- “What do you mean, ‘and a half’?!!!”

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A nearly-forgotten pet-peeve resurfaced for me the other night: It really bugs me when people talk about a baby as “half” a person!

This came up while my husband, son, and I were playing a family game. My son got a question about how many pets he would like to have. His answer was 5 1/2. Puzzled, I asked him about the “half” pet.

“Well, you know, like a little baby pet of some kind.”

And I think, or at least, I hope, I mustered a smile and an uncomfortable laugh before I gave my son my thoughts on the “half” verbiage.

I don’t think I would have thought quite so deeply about the “half a pet” explanation he gave me if, when he himself was a “little baby,” I hadn’t already thought quite a lot about how younglings are not “half” anything. When he was very young, I was keenly aware of how wholly there this tiny person was.

Back then, I always felt indignant when staff at restaurants would observe that we had “two and a half” in our party. Inside I was thinking, “What do you mean, ‘and a half’?!!!” My baby being only a fraction the size of a mature human did not mean he was only a fraction of a person!

I worked at being gracious when people referred to my son as “a half.” I didn’t want to be unkind, but I felt like I needed to say something. Quite often I used a little humor to make my point and would playfully mention that we think of him as a whole person.

On a strictly practical level, I can tell you that keeping up with the demands of an infant is no small undertaking! When sleep is scarce, showers get further apart, and conversation becomes increasingly child-related, it is clear that this small person is all there, all the time.

But on a deeper level, I’m big on the sacredness of life and part of that means that I honor and treasure the lives of even very young humans. Treating kids as whole people, respecting them as beings all their own, is really important to me.

I know that my son didn’t mean any harm by talk of half a pet, and restaurant staff don’t intend disrespect by referring to a babe in arms as “and a half.”

But how we talk about this matters. The words we use hold meaning.

It matters if we verbally discount another person (or pet, or any other living being). Even if that person is very tiny, that person is worthy of our full respect.

In fact, I would go further to say that especially if another person is tiny, or vulnerable in any way, the onus is on us to make sure that we honor the agency and dignity of that one.

So, I tried to explain some of this to my son. And I tried to do it light-heartedly enough, because it was game night, after all. I didn’t want to make it too heavy, but I do hope it gave my son something to think about.

If nothing else, my son got to hear about how his mom defended his honor when he was too young to do it himself. And I think, or at least, I hope, that matters.

When it Rains it Floods…and Makes Lightening

 

Scripture doodle art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Scripture doodle art by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Living in Texas has had its ups and downs for me. I’ve had the joy of getting better acquainted with my in-laws, and the honor of being with my mother-in-law in her dying days. I’ve enjoyed spending time outdoors more days out of the year. But I’ve also had the worry of drought, and the terror of lightening striking my house.

Lately we’ve had massive rains and severe flooding near us and my worry and terror leftover from past calamities have crept back up on me.

We were in Houston the other night with flash-flood warnings blaring from smart phones all night. The power at my father-in-law’s house went way down low–I guess you call it a brown-out–but it never went out completely. It was an eery and restless night.

The next morning, interstates and schools were closed all over the metropolis. I was supposed to go to a conference, but I was prevented from making the trip.

We were able to return home safely, and sleep in our own beds the next night. But more rains came that night too. And there were more flash-flood warnings. And there was lightening–violent outbursts of shocking, white light filling the sky, penetrating the darkness of my bedroom.

The lightening that Tuesday night took me back to that night of the lightening striking my house. My breath felt shallow, my heart was in panic mode. I got out of bed–sleep was not even an option at that point–and tried to outsmart the flashes interrupting the darkness by lighting a candle, and I sang and played on my ukulele until the sun showed up Wednesday morning.

The next few days remained edgy for me. The next couple of nights I defied the wet of rains and floods by lighting a fire in my backyard. This was my own little way of trying to take back some measure of control over elements that are actually far beyond my reach.

Saturday came and I needed to pull myself together to prepare a sermon. I had read and re-read the Gospel appointed for Sunday, and had given some thought to my message. But I needed to get to it for real, so I sat down and read all four of the scriptures that were appointed.

[Sidebar: The Lutheran tradition of which I am a part generally uses a 3-year cycle of scripture readings called the Revised Common Lectionary. Each Sunday has four readings appointed; ordinarily these include an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, a New Testament epistle (or letter), and a New Testament Gospel.]

And I tell you, I know that no cycle of readings can be perfect, but I am so grateful for the tradition of having a lectionary. It helps tremendously to stretch me to read parts of the Bible that I might otherwise overlook. I mean, favorites are favorites for a reason and worth reading and re-reading, so that’s often what I do when I approach scripture on my own.

But Saturday was a shining example of  how my faith, my life, are enhanced by having a lectionary. I would not have happened upon Psalm 29 by chance. But it was appointed for this past Sunday. And the words of that Psalm washed over me with peace and comfort.

Here are some nuggets:

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” –Psalm 29:3-4

“The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.” –Psalm 29:7

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” –Psalm 29:10-11

These words spoke to me in my uneasiness about the weather. For all of the out-of-control I feel, God is bigger yet than those flashes of flooding and of lightening. And I laugh at myself trying to defy the elements, lighting my candles and fires, for God is even above my vanity, my folly, my fires.

I don’t know exactly what it means that God is above all these things. I shudder when some attribute vengeance to God, suggesting that God sent floods to discipline God’s created people. I don’t perceive God as working that way.

For me comfort comes from knowing that God is steadfast. God is not shaken by even the most aggressive tempests. God’s love is a constant on which I can rely–rain or shine.

I am in awe of the work of brothers and sisters in the faith who have woven together lectionaries. I am thankful for this Psalm that spoke to me in the middle of the rain. And I am relaxing into the peace that comes from knowing that God is enthroned over the floods and lightening.

(Another) One Fallen Too Soon

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Last week my cousin died. Her name was Melissa Zygadlo Thomas. She was 40 years old and leaves behind a dear husband and two young children.

Cancer.

Damn cancer.

I was glad I got to return home to Ohio to be at Melissa’s funeral. It was good to be there, to be with the family.

This was the first death in my generation on my dad’s side of the family. My cousins Michael and Phillip, who both died in their twenties, were on my mom’s side of the family.

So it was important to be there with and for my dad and brother and the others.

“It’s good to see you,” everyone always says at funerals, and we mean it more dearly than ever for the present loss magnifies how precious we are to one another, “but I wish it was under different circumstances,” we are always quick to add.

Different circumstances…I wish the circumstances were different–that our restoration to one another was not at Melissa’s expense.

I hate death.

I feel no need to cancel out or console this hatred of death. My grief will not be undone by some supposed higher consciousness of “death as part of life.” No, there is weeping and gnashing of teeth–real, and raw, and painful–because death is the end of life as we know it. And life as we (I) know it is all I know in any tangible way.

Oh, yes, there is the here-after, there is the resurrection of the dead, and there are all of the great promises of something else, more, better in the time to come. These promises run through the scriptures I cling to, the faith I hold dear. Yet these promises are of little consolation in the actual here-and-now of living this life as we know it without Melissa as we knew her…or Elaine as we knew her…or Phillip as we knew him…or Michael as we knew him…or grandparents and great-grandparents and Amos & Opal as we knew them…

I think I feel this inconsolable sense of loss–this hatred of death–most keenly with these cousins of mine–Melissa, Phillip, and Michael–because they died so young. I think of these as untimely deaths.

But, truth be told, I wasn’t ready for any of them. The world doesn’t make sense anymore since Elaine died and she was in her 80s–not so very young, but still she is gone too soon.

And Opal…I have not written nearly enough about Opal…her passing was far, far too soon.

Opal too died of cancer.

Damn cancer.

I still hate that Opal is gone from this life as I know it…that loss was decades ago…but even all these years later, there is still an Opal-shaped hole in my heart, my life.

Opal and her husband, Amos, were like grandparents to me in a time when my grandparents and great-grandparents had either passed away already or lived too far away. I could ride my bike to Opal & Amos’s house…my brother and I would go there and play checkers with Opal and drink Coca-Cola, poured from glass bottles into Tupperware tumblers–nearly as tall as the bottles themselves–which we first filled with crushed ice from the mystical phenomenon of a freezer with an external ice-dispenser!

And I don’t remember stories about Opal so much as just the unconditional love that radiated from her. My heart knows who she was to me and that memory of her is so deeply a part of me. But I don’t know if I can ever, ever capture her importance in words.

This is the hole that death leaves. Ones so dear, yet nothing we can say or recall–even if we had kept detailed journals of their lives as we knew them–nothing can resubstantiate who and what they were.

I’m still in my mind and in my heart pondering the stories I want to tell about Melissa. If I’m counting right, she was closest to me in age of all my cousins (on both sides of my family)–Melissa was closer to me in age than even my own brother who is only two years older than I am.

There were “girly” toys we played with together–things my brother turned his nose up at. There were chats about school, and boys, and make-up. There was this extended family that we shared that we tried together to make sense of.

When we were both grown and had become mothers, we had a few occasions to talk about parenting. I admired how at-ease Melissa was in her role as a mother. With my son a few years older than her firstborn, I was still trying to recalibrate life as a mom, but she was a natural. She told me once that she didn’t see much use for a lot of parenting books, but that she would just trust her instincts. But oh, how I myself had poured over so many books!

Yet, Melissa’s instincts and all of who she was as we knew her are laid to rest.

And even as I try to remember what I need to remember about her, the memory of her is all there is.

I know there is something else, more, better for Melissa, Elaine, Michael, Phillip, Opal…

As the appointed leader of a congregation, I have had occasion to conduct two funeral services for members of the church where I’m serving. And in these times, it is my job to point the people to the life that really is life that is promised to us in Christ Jesus. And I believe it full well. It’s just that I’m not afraid of the hope and grief commingling–neither diminishes the other.

Hope isn’t some salve we put on our grief to make it go away. True hope in the God of the universe doesn’t fill in the grief-shaped hole. The hole remains. Hope doesn’t need to fill in the hole in order to function.

And the hole has plenty of its own work to do and is not at all interested in swallowing hope.

Really, if anything, the hole–holding that loved-one-shaped place in our hearts–can be for us a well, reflecting back to us the glimmer of light and life and love of the one we’ve lost.

I just wish it were under different circumstances.

Still, it is something–even if not tangible.

And even cancer and death cannot take away the glimmer–even if our words fail us to do justice to the life of the ones we have lost–the glimmer of their memory is as real as breathing.

Oddly, it is in hating death–in feeling it so hard and true and real and deep–in despising death I can begin to love life harder and truer and realer and deeper.

I hate death because it takes what is precious–life–the lives of those we love.

I despise these circumstances because I love life.

And if life is worth loving, and worth living, if lives are worth remembering (and they are!) it is because the Author of Life–the Creator of all things in heaven and earth has made life good.

And the Author of Life knows every story that I’m forgetting–and even those I never knew–about Melissa, and Opal, and Elaine, and Phillip, and Michael.

I may not have Melissa’s motherly instincts in which to trust, but I do trust in God–my God, the Lord of Life. And my hope in the Lord of Life abides alongside my grief.

I trust that Jesus is greater than anything we can experience in our living, in our loving, or even in our losing and dying. It is as Jesus promises, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Oh God, into your hands I commit life as I knew it, life as I know it now, and life as I can’t imagine in the yet-to-come. Into your hands I commend the lives of those I have loved and lost too soon.

You Can’t Kid a Kidder | Remembering My Mother-in-Law

 

Artwork by Jennifer Clark Tinker

Artwork by Jennifer Clark Tinker

One of the most surprising attributes of my Mother-in-Law, Elaine was her sense of humor. Part of why it surprised me was because before I got married I bought into a lot of the bad press that mothers-in-law get. But mostly why it surprised me was because she was kind-of stealth with her humor.

Here’s the thing, I’m a funny person. Hilarious really. And I love to give people a hard time. You can tell you’ve gotten in good with me if I start joking around with you.

So, you would think I would recognize it when someone else is joking with me, right?

Well, not with Elaine.

She was kind and gracious, yet she was very serious a great deal of the time. I mean, there were always meals to plan and grocery trips to orchestrate and chores she needed us to do around the house. We spent a good deal of time around the kitchen table planning our days together–all very serious and important planning.

So, every once in a while I would try to introduce a little levity into the seriously important planning. I might joke about serving a food my mother-in-law didn’t like, or I’d suggest adding something ridiculous to the grocery list.

Then, without breaking her serious demeanor, Elaine would respond. Her responses sounded like she took me seriously.

I would clarify, “You know I’m just messing with you, right?”

“I know,” she would grin, “I was messing with you back.”

And just like that she would get me every time!

She was so serious, you see. But that was all part of the craft of her stealthy humor. She would play along as if she missed my joke, all the while plotting to turn the joke on me.

They say you can’t kid a kidder. And maybe that’s my problem. I try so hard to be the funny one that I miss other people setting me up!

I miss laughing with Elaine, joking with one another, and sharing the hilarities of life with each other. She defied the stereotypes and became someone with whom I could enjoy spending time.

Maybe you can’t kid a kidder…but that never stopped Elaine from trying, and it turns out, she still has me laughing about it all!