Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Meditation XVII~John Donne

As part of our Great Books study, Artist Son and I read and considered some works by John Donne last week, works that I first read with Oldest Daughter and Active Son four years ago. So moved was I by Donne's poetry and prose that I looked forward to reading and discussing these works again with Artist Son. And though I didn't plan our study schedule so, I found that Donne's works offered timely meditations during this Lenten season. I thought to post some favorite poems and sonnets here in the coming few weeks before Easter but it is Donne's beautiful Meditation XVII which has been coming back to me as I think of God's children, particularly in Japan, Egypt, and Iraq, where many brothers and sisters are suffering, so I will begin with it. Today I attended the funeral of the father of a dear friend and it was on this poignant occasion that I recalled in community Donne's words, "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

John Donne

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him. And perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does, belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingraffed into that body, whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me; all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again, for that library where every book shall lie open to one another; as therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come; so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

There was a contention as far as a suit (in which, piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell, that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours, by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him, that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute, that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? But who takes off his eye from a comet, when that breaks out? who bends not his ear to any bell, which upon any occasion rings? But who can remove it from that bell, which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath afflicion enough, that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current moneys, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction, digs out, and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another's danger, I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I Am a Quilter

I've wanted to be a quilter for a long time. I was so sure of it that I took a quilting class 24 years ago in which I learned to pick fabrics and piece a small doll-sized quilt. I machine pieced the quilt but never quite got the hang of the hand quilting and repeatedly ripped out my uneven stitches. I set the quilt aside to "finish later"and when we moved to Jordan 22 years ago I packed up the small quilt, my cutting mat and and rotary cutter, because I was sure that I would be a quilter. Other projects that came along (remember counted cross-stitch?) as did four children, and then we decided to home educate those four children. Evenings were now spent reading and educating myself, not sewing and crafting.

circa 1987 doll quilt, not yet quilted

About two years ago, when Oldest Daughter began her second year of college, I made her a simple quilt from recycled denim and through the process of creating this quilt, realized that I had been a quilter all along--I had just to discover what kind of quilter I was! I was not a traditional quilter, choosing coordinating calicoes to cut into intricate, traditional patterns and hand quilt with patient precision. (That is my friend, a true quilting artist, Renae of Renae's Quilts, now a machine quilting industry innovator. Check out the amazing quilts in her gallery.)

Searching the internet for a binding tutorial, I came across Crazy Mom Quilts' site and my quilting imagination was awakened. This was the kind of quilter I wanted to be--on a more basic level, of course--making simple, modern, bold quilts which could be machine quilted. Ever in need of keeping it simple, not to mention affordable in Jordan, I decided to limit my quilting--at least the tops--to recyclable materials.

Next up would be a denim quilt for Active Son to take to college with him. It wasn't finished when he moved into the dorms last fall, but I was able to give it to him before we left the States in early January. And though I had purchased a couple of inspirational modern quilting books:

it was to Crazy Mom Quilts' site I returned, using her Fair Square quilt pattern and tutorial.

Active Son's Quilt
The top of the quilt is made of recycled--or upcycled, as they now say--denim shirts. I used jeans for Oldest daughters quilt but it was tied. As I planned to machine quilt this one, I thought I'd better use a lighter weight fabric; is a good thing I did. When I chose oh-so-soft minky fabric for the back of the quilt to please oh-so-tactile Active son, I didn't realize, having never machine quilted before, how difficult I had made things for myself.

I used a walking foot for quilting but I didn't have a proper quilting table/extension on my machine which made the machine quilting laborious and less than perfect. Thankfully, Active Son has no hints of sewing perfectionism in him and he loves the minky backing, so all was good.

Next up will be a quilt for Artist Son but I'll not be starting that one right away as I've been smitten with another recycling/upcycling crafting project...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sweet Memory

Today was Monday, March 21, a school day, a laundry day, and Jordanian Mother's Day. We happily set upon the day's studies and activities without much notice of the occasion. Dear Husband was in in the north of Jordan and didn't return home until about 8pm. Out and about, he learned somewhere along the way that it was Mother's Day and told me so late this evening. I told him that I knew and that Oldest Daughter had sent me a Facebook greeting this afternoon. And then Dear Husband reminded me of a sweet memory that I had forgotten: "Remember when I wrote a song for Oldest Daughter to sing at the Mother's Day program at the Baptist School when she was in first grade?" How could I have forgotten?!

Oldest Daughter with Tayta, 1997

I don't recall all the details of how it came about, but when Oldest Daughter was in the first grade at Amman Baptist School (Arabic school) a Mother's Day program was planned for all the mothers and children and the children were invited to present something at the program. Though I wasn't in on the planning, I knew when I accompanied Oldest Daughter to the program that afternoon in March, 1997, that she was prepared to sing a song that she had been working on with Dear Husband. Approximately 100 children and their mothers were at the program which was loud and chaotic. When it was Oldest Daughter's turn to sing her song kids were still running around and lots of people were talking, even as she took the microphone. I, of course, was at full attention, amazed that my quiet, shy daughter was actually going to sing this song in front of so many people.

As Dear Husband recalled the story this evening he remembered that it was his idea to write the song for oldest daughter to sing. She wasn't too enthusiastic about the idea but she dutifully agreed to do it and performed it boldly and unflinchingly before a noisy crowd of peers and mothers. Kind of makes us wonder if this was a foreshadowing of her performing lifestyle (see a few posts below.)

And you know I kept the words to the song. Oldest Daughter memorized all three verses.

Oldest Daughter's Mother's Day Song
March, 1997

Who serves our meals and bakes our bread
Mom is the one, Mom is the one.
Who cleans up our mess and puts us to bed
Mom is the one we love.

Chorus: Mom is the one, Mom is the one
Who loves us a lot and makes life fun.
Mom is the one, Mom is the one
Mom is the one we love.

Who teaches us things and picks up our clothes
Mom is the one, Mom is the one.
Who combs our hair and wipes our nose
Mom is the one we love.


Who hold us close and kisses our cheek
Mom is the one, Mom is the one.
Who's the greatest mother you'll ever meet
Mom is the one we love.

Dear Husband still remembers the tune--well, you can guess that it's not that complicated--and he sang it for me tonight. Thankfully, the children now pick up their own clothes and wipe their own noses!

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Damascus or Bust--Bust

It looked to be a promising weekend: While Artist Son and Tayta joined the youth group for its annual retreat in the hills of Ajloun, Dear Husband and I planned to visit friends and colleagues in Damascus. Though the trip to Damascus, a fascinating ancient city with a famous souq through which runs Straight Street (Acts 9:11), is only a four hour trip from Amman, we have not visited there for many years as the Syrian government has made it difficult for American passport holders to do so; visas are expensive and the state of cold war that exists between Syria and Israel makes if difficult to visit Syria if one has first been to Israel or the Occupied Territories.

Last year, during a time when Syria began granting inexpensive visas to Americans at the border, Dear Husband attempted a trip to Damascus, only to learn upon arrival at the border that the law had been changed just the day before. So, while we were in the US we sent our passports to the Syrian Embassy and received Syrian visas--for the fee of $120 per visa. Full of anticipation, we packed our bags, and boarded a bus for Syria.

Unfortunately, we were not careful enough in our visa/passport preparation. Dear Husband had some months ago obtained a second "clean" passport for crossing borders of countries that are still at war with Israel. I didn't have a completely clean passport; when I visited Jerusalem last year I made a common request of the Israeli border officials: please stamp a piece of paper and not my passport. They obliged. But, the Jordanian border guards stamped my passport, so while I didn't have an Israeli stamp, one could deduce that I had entered Jordan from Israel. We naively thought that since the Syrian Embassy had granted me a visa (stamped in my passport) that I would be able to enter Syria. When we reached the border control station we found out that wasn't the case. Dear Husband would be allowed to enter but I would not. We had only seconds to decide what to do as the bus attendant was hurrying us on.

Dear Husband, I said, must continue on to Syria and I would return home. Our friends were expecting him and he had work to do. With in two minutes I repacked his duffle bag with the gifts I was carrying, Dear Husband handed me the house keys and a bit of cash and the bus attendant informed me that there was another bus at the border headed back to Amman. I could board that bus if I hurried. As we parted, I must have looked pretty forlorn because Dear Husband's last words to me were, "Don't cry." He knows I'm pretty wimpy when it comes to tears, though at that point the thought or emotion hadn't even crossed my mind. It would later.

The bus attendant kindly escorted me to the new bus and advised me that I could find a seat in the back. When I boarded, everyone was seated and every eye was on me, the only foreigner, besides two young French-speaking tourists, on the bus. I wondered by their sober stares if they had been told they were waiting for me and if they had been told that I had been refused entry at the Syrian border. As soon as I reached the top step of the bus the bus driver began driving, and not only driving, but turning, so that I feared I might topple over as I negotiated the aisle to the back of the bus.

The only seat I could see was in the very back between a young mother with her infant and her mother. They had used the extra seat for their things and they didn't look too happy about having to shift around so that I could sit between them. We momentarily disembarked to have passports stamped on the Jordanian side of the border and I had to be escorted to a office for a special signature since I was simply having my departure stamp canceled rather than receiving a new entry stamp. Humiliation was added to my feelings of disappointment and frustration.

When I re-boarded the bus, the mother directed me to another seat in front of them, advising me that it was vacant and would be more comfortable for me. On the seat were a number of bags of food so I confirmed that this was in fact a vacant seat. She assured me it was, so I moved the bags to the adjoining seat and sat down. When the owner of the bags, a women just a few years older than myself, returned, she was surprised to find me in the seat which she had been using to store her things. By now I was fighting back tears so I got out my book to read, realizing that this would make me look even more foreign and that I was, at least for a time, putting up a barrier between myself and my new seatmate. I felt I needed a few minutes to regain composure.

On the way to the border I had been reading truths about the sovereignty of God and while a border crossing refusal isn't the weightiest of issues, these truths were a comfort to me just then. As I inwardly fumed about all the injustice and bitterness in the Middle East I also realized how, as an American, I have a deeply ingrained sense of personal freedom and rights. How many millions of Middle Easterners had suffered much more severe injustices at the hands of their own rulers and governments? And, I also came to understand in a very small way, so small I almost feel that I shouldn't make the comparison, the feeling of colleagues who have been shut out of various countries they weren't just trying to visit, but where they had lived for years.

After I regained my composure I set aside my book and discovered that my seatmate was a lovely Iraqi women, a widow who had four children (two boys and two girls, like me!) scattered around various countries. Adding further perspective to my own very small trial, she told me that she was from Baghdad but had fled when their surroundings had become too dangerous. Her husband had been a dermatologist and she told me with pride of her brother who was a physicist who studied at Oxford and now worked in California. The kindness of her pleasant conversation was a balm to my stirred up sensibilities.

It's been a little strange to putter around an empty house for two days. Thus, the unprecedented two blog posts in a 24 hour period! I'm off to meet my kiddos at our International Church fellowship and Dear Husband will be home late tonight--much to look forward to!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Lessons from Miss Suzy

As a parent and educator I am ever thinking about how I might help my children love what they ought to love and in the proper degree. I wrote a little about that some months ago. Recently an online friend wrote about books being one of the most effective tools to help our children develop this moral imagination. And though I am usually thinking about literature and the ideas it embodies, developing the moral imagination of my children, this week, as I neatened up a bookshelf in our home and came across a favorite childhood book of mine, I pondered how it had influenced my moral imagination.

"Oh I love to cook, I love to bake, I guess I'll make an acorn cake!"

I thank my mom for introducing me to good books. Miss Suzy was one of a number of books she purchased for me on subscription from the Parents' Magazine Press. And while Miss Suzy may not be classic literature it was a beloved story of my childhood, of my sibling's childhoods, and my children's childhood.

When I was young, I loved the idea of coziness and Miss Suzy's existence was, to me, the epitome of coziness. Her home was fitted simply but cozily with homemade acorn cups, a maple twig broom, and firefly lamps, and sat at the tip, tip, top of a tall oak tree.

"At night Miss Suzy climbed into her bed and looked through the topmost branches at the sky. She saw a million stars. And the wind blew gently and rocked her to sleep. It was very peaceful."

The picture of Miss Suzy, snuggled under her thick comforter, looking out her window, is etched in my memory.

Unfortunately, a band of marauding red squirrels ran Miss Suzy out of her home and she escaped to the attic of an old house. In the attic she found an old doll house, elegantly fitted with flowered carpets, china dishes, and gold chandeliers. As the house had been vacant and everything was covered in dust, Miss Suzy set about cleaning and putting everything in order.

Next, she found a box in the attic and upon opening it discovered a band of toy soldiers. Set free by Miss Suzy, they came to live in the doll house where she cared for them, cooking their meals and tucking them in at night with a story.

As time passes, Miss Suzy became increasingly homesick for her little house in the oak tree; she told the toy soldiers the story of the her home and how the red squirrels had chased her away.

"Late that night the captain woke his men and gave them their orders. There were only five of them, but they were very brave, and their hearts were full of love..."

The toy soldiers chased the red squirrels from Miss Suzy's home so she moved back in and made the soldiers promise to come for dinner once every week. Miss Suzy then went to work setting her little home in order;

"she had to work very hard to make her old home as neat and cozy as it had been before, but she didn't mind."

I chuckled to myself as I reflected on this story, which was formative in my life, as today it would definitely not be considered politically correct: a female protagonist finds contentment in cooking, baking, and caring for her home. She then devotes herself to caring for a band of male toy soldiers, who in turn fight for her when she needs them. Interestingly, I noticed on Miss Suzy's Amazon page that this book has received 133 reviews--132 readers rated it with five stars and one rated it with four. Maybe there is something to this homemaking business? I'm buying a copy of this book for each of my children to take with them into their future homes.