“Red and Yellow, Black and White”

When I was a little girl, we lived in a big house that was built in 1860, in the middle of the historic district of our town. Catty-corner from our home, was the church where my sister and I spent our most formative years. It was very old with the facade built of stone, and sat facing the corner of the lot with its big wooden doors just a few steps up from both sidewalks that met that corner. I learned to ride my bike in the small parking lot behind the church, and my sister and I played with the neighborhood kids all over the grounds of the church….rain, shine, or anytime at all, except for after dark because that’s when children were expected to go home. On Sundays, we worshiped inside the church, with many of our neighbors. My parents sang in the choir, and my sister and I spent several years participating in the children’s choir. Our choir director, Mr. Smith, was animated and lots of fun, always employing his humor to motivate us to project our tiny voices during rehearsals, so that we’d be heard by all when it came time to sing on a given Sunday. Of course I didn’t know or understand it as a tiny child, but Mr. Smith was gay. He passed away several years ago, and to think of him now, I think it must have been difficult for him….to be a gay man in the early 1980’s, in a non-metropolitan town. But there he was, not only attending but serving others as the Choir Director in our church, pouring himself and his talents into that ministry.
I’m fortunate to have countless fond memories from that part of my childhood, and one of my earliest memories of spending time at church–both during Sunday School and in children’s choir–is learning and signing that well known song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Many of you can probably recall a similar memory of learning this song, somewhere along your path, or perhaps your own children have learned this song. It has recently come back into our home on a more regular basis, as our youngest daughter has found her sweet singing voice, and this is one of her regular favorites right now. If you are not familiar with it, here are some of the lyrics:
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world
These famous lyrics were written by Clare Herbert Woodson, and the composer of the even more famous tune is George Frederick Root, who quite ironically, was a composer who wrote songs, some with the purpose of rallying northern troops during the Civil War. So its of no real surprise, that since the events that occurred in Charlottesville last weekend, this song has played on repeat in my mind, and undoubtedly, on the minds of so many whose hearts are heavy laden.
In recent years, this song has taken some heat, as of course nobodies skin color is actually red, yellow, black, or white. However, the song remains ever popular and the message is clear, profound, and everlasting. “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.” The tune is catchy, its memorable, its simple, and it stays with you for a lifetime. You can not hear it or sing it for twenty-five years, and then recall it from deep within your memory bank, and it can transport you back to the little child you once were, singing to a congregation, in a big majestic, very old stone church across the street from the house that built you. And that fills you up inside and brings a smile to your face.
But this song, special to me as it is, even with all the sweet memories attached to it, both old and new, is not the reason why I love people of color. We are born fresh and new, with a God given capacity for loving others—anyone and everyone—all with the same unconditional love that God gives to us so freely. We learn from example, and most often, from the example of our parents or those closest to us during our most formative years. Catchy songs with profound lyrics are wonderful, but nothing can mold the tender heart of a child quite like the example and leadership of the ones who raise you.
Over the past week, I have given a lot of thought to this particular notion, and it has made me even more thankful than ever, for my parents and the way in which they raised us. The home and the life they made together, even before my sister and I were born, was blessed by God and His love. Their hearts and home have always been open to everyone–“red and yellow, black and white.”  Its not something that I remember “learning” but just simply witnessing over time. The capacity for loving others, that we are all born with, was simply guided…directed…encouraged by the example and leadership of my parents and grandparents. Its generational, and rooted in our faith. None of us are perfect, in fact, far from it. We all, no matter who we are, fail our teachings at one point or another. We fail in the midst of teaching the next generation. But the good news is that we have the Grace of God, and each day is a new opportunity to love and be kind, one to another.
My grandmother died in 1996, and her funeral was held at that same old stone church, where she and my Grandpa worshiped in for many years after my family moved away from the home across the street. Several years before her passing, she served as a Docent two days a month at the DAR Museum, here in Washington.  She and my Grandpa would make the three hour trip from their home on the eastern shore of Maryland, and stay with us for the weekend, she would docent on Monday and Tuesday, and then head back home. The head of security at that museum during those years, was a black man named Larry. Of course, throughout her long life, she had many friends of many colors, but Larry and my grandmother struck up a special friendship. She brought Larry a homemade pie every month, because he loved her homemade pies, and because he was special to her. When I was a teenager, a few times I went into the city with them, and Grandpa and I would drop Grandma off at the museum and go tour other museums, and pick her up when she was done for the day. On those occasions, I had the pleasure of meeting Larry, and he always told me how much he enjoyed my grandparents, and especially how thoughtful it was of my grandmother to bake and bring him a pie. Larry learned of her death, and he drove three hours to that stone church on the eastern shore of Maryland, to pay his respects and to help celebrate her life. I don’t remember everything he said when he stood up at the front of the church to share his remembrances of her….I just remember the first words he spoke, which were something close to, “I heard she had died, and I had to make this trip here, because she was my best friend.”
When I think of Larry’s kind words, it reminds me of the love of God, and takes me back to when I was a little girl singing about how God loves all the little children, “red and yellow, black and white.”  As Christians, we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ, and we are told to leave our burdens at the foot of the cross. It seems impossible to understand the type of hate displayed on the campus of UVA last weekend, and it seems even more impossible to imagine what our children must think of it. It is absolutely heartbreaking to think that people actually think that they are superior because of the color of their skin. I don’t have an answer to how we combat that kind of ideology, except with leading by example. One of my sticky notes (see previous blog post) says, “Teaching Precedes Understanding” which applies so strongly to what I’m talking about right now. We are all born with an endless capacity for loving others. So show your children how to love others, “red and yellow, black and white,” and by the time they grow old enough to even understand that their skin differs from their friends or neighbors, that love they are born with, has a foundation to stand on forever.
** The featured image for this post was taken last summer. It is my four daughters, standing in the children’s choir room, in the old stone church where I first learned to sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” I took this photo after the funeral of our former next door neighbor, Dorothy Hudson, who also served as one of my Sunday School teachers.

My Father’s Sisters

****I wrote this as a Facebook Note about four years ago, but always thought to myself that if I ever started a blog, I’d share it there. So, here it is.  🙂

 

For no apparent reason, during the night last night, I got to thinking about my father’s sisters who have passed. My Dad is the youngest of seven, and has six older sisters. Four of them have passed, which is hard to even imagine, especially if you are blessed to have a sibling, and share the love that often comes with that relationship. So for whatever reason, my four Aunts, were on my mind. So much so, that I felt compelled to begin writing a bit about my remembrances of them. Perception is a funny thing if you think about it…each one of us perceives a person in a particular way. We have experiences with a person, in certain settings, at different stages of our growth and maturity, over many years if you’re lucky, in good times and hard times, in different spots on our globe if you travel with that person, or sometimes always in the same little place in the same little town where you first met. Nevertheless, the experiences you share with a person, completely….wholly shape your perception of who they are. Of course you might consider what other’s perceptions of that person are, but truly, it’s up to you alone to truly know a person….to understand who they are and what they’re about.

All of this to say that the thoughts and remembrances that came to my mind about my four Aunts who have passed, when strung together, make up how I perceived them to be. I do think (and of course, hope) that others who read this, who also knew these women, will find commonality in their own perceptions, or at least that something written will spark a memory, shared or singular, and a smile to go along with the memory. Even with a profound faith, the promise of reuniting when your days here end, the only thing we truly have on this side of Heaven, is the memory of who they were, and what they meant to you…….

Aunt Gloriann. (Gloriann Lloyd Haitz)  She was good with her hands…..in the way that every food she prepared tasted so good, and was good in the way that just breaking bread with her formed a sweet memory for you to remember her by. She was good with her hands in the way that when she spent time with you, talked with you, embraced you, her genuine and loving spirit stayed with you. She was good with her hands in the way that the children she raised and the manner in which she raised them, caused them to grow into loving adults, to marry their heart’s other half, who raised another generation of our extended family tree….who grew to become beautiful adults, some of whom have begun to have and are raising her great-grandchildren….and she would be immensely proud, and would be overwhelmed by the joy they bring her children—the grandparents (and Great Aunts/Uncles) of this newest generation. She really seemed the part she was–the matriarch of the family. She was wise….tender…inclusive….beloved by the wives of her sons, which speaks volumes about a woman. She left behind a strong legacy of faith, family…warmth….the beauty of simplicity and a realness only few can achieve.

Aunt Linda. (Linda Lloyd Sappington) She was beautiful, inside and out. She was refined, sophisticated…well traveled….so smart, so cool, so chic. I always wanted to be like her. At times, she had a little curve to her smile….my father captured this in a photo during the wedding reception at my cousin Stu’s wedding, in 1986. It’s my favorite photo of her, as it truly shows her personality. When I see the photo, even in my mind, it makes me remember everything I knew about her. I’ve never said this to anyone, but that photo, even though I had no way of knowing it at the time Dad took it, I believe has played a significant part in why I am a photographer. The power of expression and eyes….in the nuances which make up your persona….these things come alive through photographing people, and that’s why I love it. So Dad, thanks for that photo of Aunt Linda.  She was inspiring…caring…had the sass and style every woman longs to have. She followed her heart her entire life, which is a more difficult thing to do than it should be, but she seemed to know how. She had an encouraging heart. She made a lasting impression…a beautiful and positive one, on those she loved. She touched more lives than she probably realized. She loved living, and being who she was….she was remarkable.

Aunt Joyce. (Joyce Lloyd Olson) She had a smile that lit up the room. She was a deeply passionate woman…she loved baseball and teddy bears….she loved her children and her grandchildren. I was fortunate to live in a neighboring town to my cousin Kevin and his wife Tracy, when they gave birth to Aunt Joyce’s first grandchild….a girl, who is now a beautiful grown woman. They didn’t live in this area long, but lucky for that new little granddaughter, they moved south, and she was blessed to grow up knowing the love and devotion of her Grandma. She had good stories to tell….she had a wonderful laugh, and was fun to talk to. She was fiercely loyal, and a hard worker. She was devoted. She took time to send cards and always, always, always sent photos in the mail, and always with a detailed account of the story the picture held. I can’t help but imagine how much she would have LOVED Facebook!  She made it a point to be there, in person. This was evidenced (among other times) by her coming to my wedding. It was 104 in the shade that day, she wasn’t in great health, and the heat was tough on her….but she came, she was there for us that whole weekend, and it is something I will cherish my entire life.

Aunt Delores. (Delores Lloyd Peterson) I was close to all four of these women, but particularly close with my Aunt Delores. I spent a lot of time with her in my young adulthood, which I didn’t get to do much with Aunt Joyce, and not at all with Aunt Gloriann or Aunt Linda, since they both died during my junior year of high school. She was, as I’ve always been told by family, the most like my father’s mother…my Grandma Elsie, whom I never had the chance to know. Heather and I are the youngest of the grandkids, so she and I are the only two out of sixteen who were born after Grandma Elsie’s death.

Aunt Delores defined strength…..fortitude….what it meant to live by faith. There isn’t an unkind word imaginable. When it comes to her, she was everything that is good and comforting…..everything you would hope to be as you grow old, and as revered as “regular” person could be. She was an extraordinary human, and I miss her. I learned so much from her…..I have countless memories of time spent with her over the years, good and happy memories, and sad memories too. Sitting around a table with her, just visiting, just listening….sharing…..what a gift. She was staying with us at the time when Jorn asked me to marry him, and for the time we were engaged, and for years after we married, she’d greet me with “Well there’s my little bride-to-be!” We drove 15 hours through hard rain, from Texas, to her home in Colorado…..she waited up until after 1 in the morning for us to arrive, and spent another thirty minutes that night playing with and snuggling a three-month old Adelaide. A few days later, as we headed out of Colorado, she learned she had ovarian cancer…..I still thank God that we had the opportunity to go see her that day….that we hadn’t left Colorado yet, and that we’d had such a nice visit together. She loved her children, her grandchildren, and her great grandchildren. She had fun with them…..she knew the value of laughing together….of praying for one another….she knew the power of forgiveness, and handed it out regularly. There just aren’t enough words to describe the good, of this special woman……

That Sticky Note Life

Yesterday, I watched my second born girl as she jumped off of a spring-board, into the deep end of the pool. She is a decently strong swimmer, but it had been over a year since she had jumped into such deep water. I reminded her that when jumping in so deep with a spring-board giving you a boost, you tend to go further toward the bottom, and it takes more effort to swim back to the surface. She assured me she would be fine (and she was), so I watched as she jumped off the board with a spirit of confidence, made a nice splash, but quickly popped back up to the surface. I noticed that even though she made the jump with confidence, she seemed to have a keen awareness of the deep water, so she adjusted herself quickly in order to not sink too far, too fast. Nevertheless, she claimed the deep end as hers, and jumped right in.

With this, my first ever blog post, I will try to approach it with that same spirit of cautious confidence that my Sylvie showed me yesterday. This is something I have wanted to do for quite some time, so I’m finally going to claim it as mine, and jump right in.

In recent months, I have been listening to some great podcasts, mostly about parenthood. After the first few, I found myself hitting pause in order to stop and grab a sticky note. Every time I heard a “nugget of wisdom” that really applied to my motherhood, I wrote it down with a Sharpie and placed that sticky note on my kitchen wall, above the toaster and our pet beta fish, Bob.  I currently have nine sticky notes on the wall, and they serve as a daily reminder of the wisdom of others, who have walked this walk through parenthood. A few of the sticky notes are taken from our own family treasure chest of wisdom, and I’m going to share of few of my sticky notes with you, in hopes they might strike a chord in your own motherhood, parenthood, or otherhood.

  1. WHERE’S YOUR AMEN?  This is something we say in our family, and it began when our youngest, Elin, began to talk. After saying grace before a meal, or bedtime prayers, we would prompt Elin by asking, “Where’s your Amen?!” We did this mostly because once she learned how to say AMEN, we all thought it was the cutest thing ever, so we wanted to hear it as often as possible. One evening during dinner, she said her big AMEN, and it hit me that we should apply this as a family mantra, focusing on the deeper meaning behind the question, “Where’s your Amen?” A commonality among the average human, is the quickness we have to complain, even when things are going well for us. I often remind my girls to “have gratitude on your breath” which is another way of saying, “Where’s your Amen?” When you find yourself complaining, stop and recognize it, and ask yourself that question. Where’s your Amen…..what can you shift your focus to, and be grateful for in that moment? Find your Amen.
  2. ONE BASKET LIVING. The story of Sylvie’s birth is long, profound, JOYFUL, but a bit difficult to share, and will likely be done in a future blog post. I will say that the notion of One Basket Living comes from our walk of faith through that time in our lives.  Since we said “I do” we have walked through our marriage in faith, and with Christ at the center of us. It wasn’t until one singular moment during my traumatic labor with Sylvie, that we fully understood what it means to place every ounce of your faith directly in the hands of God. To truly and fully rely on Him takes focus and effort, and above all else, FAITH. It is, put another way, One Basket Living……placing your every proverbial egg into one singular basket, turning over everything you have, to God. 1 Peter 5:7
  3. RESPOND IN GRACE. I heard this during one of the first podcasts I listened to, and this was my very first sticky note. It is one of the hardest things to do sometimes, especially in the thick of mothering my girls. I am learning that unless you were born with an outrageous gift of patience (I was not), achieving the ability to respond in grace, just takes time and practice. Responding in grace, means putting your own gut response/reaction ON THE SHELF, during those tougher moments of parenthood, when that gut response is to react badly, shouting, “What on earth are you thinking, child?!?!” God gives us the gift of grace, readily, easily, and repeatedly. Why not extend a similar grace to your children, or those around you? The older we get, the more we become set in our own way of doing things. It is so easy to be quick to harshly judge…to reprimand….to correct….to scold. Those things are all meant to destruct, rather than to construct through encouragement. Sometimes all it takes is a handful of grace. Can you think of a time when someone offered you a bit of grace? Be the one to give grace freely. Of course, in the heat of motherhood or otherhood, this is easier said than done. But try it! Practice makes (not at all perfect) better.

I want to close this blog post by saying thank you for reading it! Please share it with someone you know who might be encouraged by my words. What does your sticky note life look like? What are some nuggets of wisdom that have carried you through a time? Please feel free to share yours in the comments below!