Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Red Light, Green Light

Anyone with kids and a minivan knows how torturous red lights can be. Generally speaking, if you are in your van during the hours of 8 am to 7 pm (sometimes later!) you are likely the "taxi driver" and likely late for something.

I have been known to pray for lights to change when particularly strapped for time. My children even get into to action by chanting "green, green, green, green!" as we approach each intersection.

This is not to say that I speed, exactly. Although I have "pushed the limit" in the past, I try not to do so anymore. Still, I often wish I could drive with no pesky pauses!

My tendency to despise interruption has been tested repeatedly as a parent. Any mother knows that it is nearly impossible to do anything from reading to visiting the restroom without a little friend or helper appearing. Forget trying to paint something.

Recently, however, I have begun to appreciate the "red lights" in my life. Let me explain.

I first pondered this while nursing a baby. I am ashamed to say that in the beginning, I was frustrated at having to sit down and do nothing else but feed the baby. Some women are blessed to be able to read, etc. while nursing, but I am not physically capable of doing so. Let's just say that my situation requires two hands and total attention. At first I felt annoyed. However, I gradually learned to love and then to anticipate my alone time with each child. We shared quiet moments of gazing at one another. It was if the whole world stopped spinning for just that sweet time. Of course, it never lasted long as the toddlers always found just the right contraband activity while mom was occupied. But I wouldn't trade that time. I learned the value of a "red light."

Generally speaking, moms are multi-taskers (I help with homework while cooking, I mediate fights while scrubbing toilets). However, when it comes to really meaningful stuff, I have to be focused.

So, last week my oldest daughter, a thoughtful, poetic girl, told me she needed a monologue for her advanced drama class audition. I threw out some ideas that I thought would fit her personality, she googled them. When she found one she liked, she asked me to come watch it with her. I was running around, making dinner, driving people here and there, putting out fires, as is my daily routine. I avoided watching it for a long time, but finally, with rag in hand, STOPPED and watched it (I didn't even sit down, but at least I stood still).

The one she chose was "Emily" from Our Town by Thornton Wilder. Those of you who are familiar are likely nodding just now. I had forgotten the full message, I just remembered that my daughter reminded me of Emily in some way. As I took the time to really watch it ( a great performance by Penelope Ann Miller from 1989), I felt haunted. As if Emily could see right through me. A busy fake. But even more, I felt exposed to my beautiful daughter. She knows me better than anyone I think. One of her spiritual gifts is discernment. She can read people, people like me.

There I was, standing with dripping rag in hand, my eyes unwittingly filled with tears. I felt frozen as if I couldn't go back to where I had been before the "red light." I couldn't just "get back to work" because it suddenly seemed so hypocritical or even pointless.

Still, someone had to make dinner. Eleven people ain't gonna feed themselves every day. But I learned something. I realized that sometimes, gazing into each other's eyes really is important. Sometimes those pesky red lights are very, very special. Maybe one day, we'll come to realize that the "red light" moments in our life are actually the ONLY thing that really matters. It is during those pauses in our general pursuit that we find ourselves really "living," perhaps because when we pause, we are actually "loving."

About four years ago I had just had baby number eight. I was still in the newborn stage (baby was 4 weeks old) and I had no desire to go out anywhere much. My wonderful, spontaneous husband came home from work one day and announced that we were going camping. All of us. Even me and the newborn. Hmmm. Talk about a "red light." I couldn't imagine anything more time consuming, difficult and crazy with a baby. However, he had been to southern Utah with his work and wanted to share the beauty of that place with us. I really really really didn't want to go. Camping in tents, outside with a nursing newborn did not sound appealing. In any any way. He assured me that he would take care of all the food. This was the ONLY reason I agreed.

I watched as he single-handedly bought, prepared and packed all the gear and food. We loaded everyone up and headed south.

I don't need to go into any more detail, but let me just say that that experience has proven to be the single most memorable/successful family trip we've ever had. For years afterwords it was all the little children talked about. They loved it, they adored it. They drew pictures of us in the "desert" and shared it with teachers, friends, strangers. When asked about favorite destinations, they never say "Disneyland, New York, Washington D. C., Mexico" (the other places we've been), instead they always answer, "camping in the desert!"

As I pondered this lesson this week, I was reminded that so often in the gospel there are ironies. When we "lose" ourself, we "find" ourself, the "greatest" is the "least," etc. I have realized that often what I perceive to be "red lights" are actually "green lights."

Instead of waiting impatiently for the lights in my life to turn ("We got the loan!,""I graduated!,""I've lost 20 pounds!"), I have realized that I am missing it. I am missing all the beauty and joy of life, tapping my foot, engine revving in the fast lane.

I resolve this week to do some gazing. I want to ponder. I want to appreciate. I want to enjoy. I want to savor. I want to stop, sit, listen. I am grateful once again to my priceless children who teach me everyday to be a better person.

As I have been driving this week, whenever I come to a red light, it is an opportunity. I turn, I look at them, we smile, we giggle, we sing, I tickle toes. I tell stories. I ask questions. I listen. I love. I live.

Our Town
written by Thornton Wilder

Emily: Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I'm dead. You're a grandmother, Mama! Wally's dead, too. His appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it - don't you remember? But, just for a moment now we're all together. Mama, just for a moment we're happy. Let's really look at one another!...I can't. I can't go on. It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back -- up the hill -- to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners....Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking....and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLWewZO6z1w (part one)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnPx22NLWe4 (part two)


38 ¶ Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named aMartha received him into her house.
39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.
40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.
41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art acareful and troubled about many things:
42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath achosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

ST LUKE
CHAPTER 10

7 comments:

Katie said...

Thank you... just what I needed today!

Matthew said...

What a true point this is! I have really found so much value in being able to slow down and multi-task less. I have felt a lot of value from this idea as I have been able to integrate it into my meditation practice. There are just so many benefits to being able to stop the hubub!

Steffani said...

So beautiful! I LOVE Our Town. That is one of my favorite scenes--if only I lived it! I think the Lord is trying to teach something to me, however. Yesterday I spent 8 hours in the temple and my attitude toward pondering and stopping and being still to know He is God changed entirely. I am going to slow down. You literally CANNOT feel it when you don't. Thanks for being such an amazing friend and such a good example to me. I love your music on this blog, by the way. It really brightened my day. I love you forever, true friend! Steffani--One more PS, my word verification to leave this comment was "theless"--OK this is weird! I think I really have to live "LESS" to get more. Who knew angels were so computer savvy! Amazing!

Stacey Keller Thompson said...

Thanks, Steff. The music (as you might already know) is one of my favorites from the Narnia movie series. I chose it because Narnia is one of the series that we read to the kids when they were still small and life was so beautiful and simple (now it's beautiful and complex!). Anyway, my oldest four kids remind me so much of the four Narnia kids. They are queens and kings to me. We love the books, we love the movies. Whenever I hear this song, I think of how fast they're growing up and how being a mom starts out small, then turns into a huge unstoppable force as your children go on and have their own children, etc. Also, they answer their own "calls" and become who they are meant to become (the song always make me cry). Having said all that though, I should probably figure out how to put a new song on here!

Sundy said...

Thanks for your inspiration, Stacey. My dad forwarded an email with your blog site, so I'm a new follower.

In school I've been really impressed by attachment-focused family therapy, which at its most basic level says that moments of attachment, especially the times when an attachment figure (ie Mom) and a child of any age lock eyes and "gaze", the neurons in the brain actually get organized into a new pathway--we are psychologically changed by those moments. How dear to know that pausing to connect will literally change lives.

sara jensen said...

I love this post Stace! How much I need this! It reminds me of the old homefront commercial jingle "don't let the magic pass you by..."

Nathen & Terra said...

Can I just say WOW. I came across this blog while searching for the famous scripture of Martha and Mary. What a wonderful insight this post brings. Stop, and enjoy those sweet moments that go by way too quickly.

Thank you for sharing.