Can I turn "Can't" into Beauty?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I was thinking about Al Tozer yesterday...I'm not sure what prompted the thoughts. Al is a building designer here in town. He's a gentle, soft spoken man with a deeply thoughtful manner and a quick, genuine smile...and he's a really good designer. I always enjoyed sitting across the desk from him, and I remember asking him once about his education. It turned out his degree had nothing to do with design...not directly. He studied some sort of microbiology thing. I laughed, because I always think it's sort of sad/funny to see how unused so many degrees go. But he said his degree was actually quite applicable to the work he does now...something about how it causes him to approach his design with an awareness of systems and mircrosystems and what promotes healthy living...or something. It was a good point. And in thinking back, I actually can see how he applies it. That's cool

But that's not what made me think about him. We were introduced to Al when Dad and I acquired a piece of property in the historic district on Colorado Street. It was a great little lot...and I do mean little. 40'x100', I think. It had actually been the side yard to a classic bungalow that was now being restored and upgraded. It was hard to picture it being home to anything larger than the little grape hyacinths and tulips that still grew around the scattered bricks that had once formed borders and paths. But as any development goes, this lot had to turn a profit and so the tulips would soon give way to a commercial and residential mixed-use building. That's where Al came in. He was to design us a beautiful building that could house some sort of commercial use on the bottom...we didn't know...offices, store, deli, flower shop, coffee shop...any number of possibilities, and residential space on top. If that weren't challenging enough, it had to pass the architectural review of the National Historic Registry while it met all the new construction parameters that change a buildings appearance like fire and ADA codes. The enormous elm out front was "historic" and had to stay and the power lines outback were "grandfathered" and had to be avoided. Every time we gave Al one more limitation his design got better; that wall can't have codes, that space can't be that increases our parking requirements, that brick can't be used there...we need self contained drainage systems. Seriously, every time we said, "we can't", Al was able to somehow change his design to not only accomodate the "can'ts" but to make the building more beautiful and useful all at once. I remember so clearly the day we got our final permits and approvals. I went and bought Al a box of giant cookies from Great Harvest and sent them with a thank you note. He had pulled off what should have been an impossible, discouraging feat, and I remember laughing in awe at the approvals I held in my hand.

That's why I was thinking about him yesterday. I don't remember ever hearing Al complain about the limitations everyone was putting on him. I think, in fact, maybe he thrived on them. I need to find a way to be that person. I am looking around at so many shattered dreams, so many "can'ts". They are there, the fire codes and historic regulations and city codes. The reality is that half of them are nothing more than someone else's idea of how things ought to be and those only based on biases and opinions, not on truth. The other half are truths that cramp and clip like the truth that there is a useable backseat in a Volkswagen Bug...really? You can advertise that as a seat?

It doesn't matter why my limitations are there. They just are. There were times when we wondered if it wouldn't be smarter to just sell that little lot and let someone else figure out how to build on was a crazy task. But Al was never daunted. He turned his "can'ts" into beauty. He really did. Our list of "can'ts" that threatened and taunted us every day for a year is now the pretty blue and cream building on Colorado. It sold to a family that runs a personal training gym downstairs and lives in the sunny, luxurious aparments upstairs. What a fun dichotomy of modern day and old fashioned lifestyles for a building that had to balance the historic and modern in order to exist, huh?

My "can'ts" have to change me. I don't have a choice about that. Many times I want to answer them with bitterness. But today I want to be like Al Tozer and turn Can't into beauty instead.

Moments you don't forget

Friday, March 02, 2007

Some days go from bad to worse. Yesterday was one of those days. I'll never forget it.

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of a devastating betrayal in our know how those one year anniversaries can be...although I didn't realize it was "the" day until I was already knee deep in grief. The boys came home from school with a piece of news that related to that situation a year ago and innocently dropped it on my already raw heart. I couldn't hold it together and they saw my deep sorrow. What do 9 and 7 year old boys do with a mom's sorrow? Today I know that we should all be 9 and 7 year old boys.

Jordan, my "feeler" of course blamed himself and was certain that if he just went and had another conversation, he could fix everything. I told him that we have been trying to fix things for a year now and couldn't find anything that would work. His jaw dropped to hear that we had been trying for a whole year (that's like a lifetime in kid years), and then he stuck his chin up, looked me in the face with tears threatening his eyes and said, "then we'll just have to keep trying." He had no idea that this was the one truth I couldn't find the strength to tell myself today.

We sat on my bed. I had to convince Jordan that it was nothing he had done and that he wasn't going to be able to solve it (although somewhere in the back of my mind I sort of wondered if he might actually be able to pull off what we couldn't). I told them that nothing had changed between yesterday and today...that their news had just caught me off guard and I was already having a hard day that's all. I told them I would be alright and they didn't have to be sad and cry too. Jordy looks up into my face, giant alligator tears rolling down his cheeks and says, "Somewhere in the Bible it says that you should laugh with those who laugh and cry with those who cry, and I think if you're crying and sad, we should cry with you." I pulled him onto my lap, buried my face in his soft blonde hair and we cried. Caleb laid his head on the bed next to me. They stayed.

What do 7 and 9 year old boys do with a mom's sorrow? They stay...which is so much more than I can say for most adults. I learned a lot. I'll never forget those moments. I know when Job's friends first came and witnessed his devastation, they just sat with him in silence for seven days. There was beauty and wisdom in that. I'll never forget the strength of my 7 year old's heart yesterday. The strength to feel it all and then stay anyway. Thank you boys. Your mommy doesn't deserve you.

Raging Sea

Thursday, March 01, 2007

MW Smith

Sometimes the journey makes you weary
Feels like a long and winding road
Sometimes this life can lose it's meaning
But you might be surprised to find some hope
Maybe you're wondering where love is
You may feel it's far away from here
Maybe you're wondering where I am
You might be surprised to find I'm near

And when your life is tossed and turning
And you are on the raging sea
I'll come and pull you from the water
Then you will know that you are free

So if you're stumbling through the valley
Or if you're tempted to give up the fight
Reach out your hand and I will lead you
I will be your strong arm in the night

Boy do i get weary. I wrote on my shower door this morning, "What if there's hope you never dreamed of hoping for". It's another song lyric.

My friends can't understand the mountain I climb, the path I follow. That can make you feel like you're crazy. But if you know you're following the God of creation, it can't be all that crazy can it? Then again, maybe that's exactly what it is! Who else does this?!

We talked last night at youth group about the calling of the disciples. We don't know what made them drop their fishing nets so quickly and follow this Rabbi, but we do know that only these 12 (and really only 11 of them) followed all the way through the bitter finish line. John 6:66 says, "from that time on many turned back and no longer followed him." I was quite struck by the location of that verse...666?! Six in scripture is the number of man, 666 the number of "the beast". The question I left my girls with was...will you follow man or this Jesus? The latter is exponentially harder. There's no way to know right now which they will choose. When the others turned back, Jesus turned to the 12 and asked if they would go too. Was he discouraged? Peter's my hero. "Where else would we go dear Rabbi, God of all creation, friend? You have the words of life." I think Jesus was grateful for him in that moment. He had to have felt discouraged...he was well acquainted with suffering. And I guess I'm glad to know that Jesus knows what it's like to feel the way I feel today.

I don't understand this path. No one does. My friends advise me to walk away from the task put before me. "This is not worth your effort," they say. "Walk away. Put your love and energy into someone who deserves it," they say.

Maybe the path I follow really is crazy. Or maybe it's brilliant beyond measure. All I know is that I keep on lifting one foot in front of the other, following the small circle of light that my guide shines on the path in front of me, because what if there is hope I never dreamed of? I won't find it by giving up. If I give up I'll never know if there actually were answers, rest, life, beauty, riches...right around the next corner. Oh how I long for that to be this corner. sigh.

So for today, it must be only the seemingly tenuous ropes of "What if..." that I grab onto as I pull myself more time. Oh I hope it holds me.