Saturday, October 22, 2011

Heart of Welcome

Fall! A time for visits to the pumpkin patch, the apple orchard or the fresh market to pick out your favorite ripe pumpkin. For me it always brings to mind the “ooohs” and “aaahs” of five year olds, up to their elbows in a pumpkin, as they dig out the seeds and stringy pulp in preparation for making a jack o' lantern.

There's something welcoming about the briskness of the fall weather after a long summer of hot temperatures. The chill in the air takes me back to early mornings of October and the chatter of voices excited about our upcoming hayride and all the activities planned for our kindergarten field trip. Since most of my students had most likely never experienced a backyard garden like myself, I knew it would be a day filled with surprises. Pumpkins, apples, scarecrows... and if you're really lucky a hayride and bonfire!

My favorite classroom hayride took place at a family home on the fringes of my hometown when I was pregnant with my first child. Needless to say, I had to have some help climbing onto the wagon and descending at the end. At this point someone five years old might have wondered if I'd swallowed a pumpkin whole! A large bonfire welcomed us on our return where we enjoyed all the hotdogs and toasted marshmallows our hearts desired. All those that didn't find their way into the fire!

Then there was the late night hayride we planned for my son, designed to frighten and excite a group of 8 and 9 year old boys. We set off at dusk through the trees on our birthday excursion as the sun went down. You can imagine the fun and antics of a group of boys on a fall night with little other than the moon for light. Let's just say this mother felt a welcome relief when that tractor pulled into its final destination. Another bonfire and much laughter ensued and hopefully left a warm spot in the heart of the birthday boy and his friends.

Every season seems to have its mood and special ambiance. Fall is unmistakably my favorite! Catching a glimpse of a grand harvest moon, hearing the scritching of leaves while walking and watching the green slowly fade into a watercolor canvas of red, orange and gold seems to prepare me for the coming season of winter. The welcoming arms of a scarecrow standing in a field invite me to slowly let go of the lazy days of summer and make ready for the harsher temperatures of winter.

As a grandparent, we have the opportunity and gift of welcoming little ones into our homes. For a short time, like the season of fall, our grandchildren can let go of the harsher realities of life. Just as my students were able to let go of that which was routine in their lives to travel to the pumpkin patch, grandchildren can find a respite from the busyness and stress of their daily schedule when they visit our homes.

In my own experience, my grandchildren enter my home much like the students preparing to board the bus bound for a new destination. There's a burst of energy and excitement as they enter my home followed by a feeling of warmth and comfort as shoes are kicked off and book bags are cast aside. A sense of “anything could happen” seems to fill the room and for a time we forget the homework, the expectations and sometimes even the rules, as we gently let go. The expectations of daily life turn to expectations of surprises and laughter.

One has to admit the responsibilities of parenthood can leave one sharing my sentiments about the end of the dark night hayride. The road gets bumpy at times and its impossible to predict what lies ahead. Just as every season has its special mood and ambiance, every season of life has its challenges and parenting can certainly seem like the long, dry, hot days of summer. Who can think of the warm, fuzzy feelings of a fall bonfire when the oppressing heat of the sometimes seemingly endless days of giving yourself to children?

God in His wisdom and goodness has provided the seasons as a picture of our lives. As grandparents we have slipped gently into a season of life where we begin to let go of the expectations of youth. We stand quietly in the background, like the scarecrow standing watch in the garden, and not only wave away the cares of life for little ones but open our arms in welcome, leaving the warmth of a bonfire and the echoes of laughter deep in the hearts of our grandchildren.

Leaving our own cares of parenting behind, we hope to whisper back to the next generations the promise of new seasons of life. All too soon, the bonfires and hayrides become memories. Our greatest desire as grandparents is to see our children welcome every day with their own children as if they were going on an adventure to a new place, just like my kindergarteners heading off to the pumpkin patch. We pray they'd find the fun and expectation for surprising and fulfilling moments before the fire dies into slowly fading embers. Alas, it is God's way, that the wisdom gradually comes like the paintbrush of the Creator painting the landscape one day at a time.

Yesterday my son, grandson and I visited my eighty five year old father, affectionately known as Papaw Garden. I found myself looking out the window, remembering a bonfire in the garden for one of my son's October birthdays. I could see my father with his jet black hair, on one knee with stick in hand, roasting marshmallows over the fire. There was a large orange jack o' lantern hung on the back door ready for a game of pin the nose on the pumpkin. Lots of seeds have been planted in that garden and many seeds of welcome in the hearts of children and grandchildren at this home.

When we arrived yesterday, my father went out to welcome his grandson and great grandson with outstretched arms. I missed the moment with my camera but my heart will remember this picture for a long time. The three of them grabbed hands, father on one side and great grandfather on the other, the fourth generation welcomed to come inside. God, in His graciousness, provides welcome and beauty in all the seasons of life. It can even come in the handclasp of the elderly.

For a short time, my son and I let go of our cares as we filled a toy dump truck with potato chips and laughed at the silly willies of a two year old. My father sat quietly watching it all. No parties, no scarecrows in my daddy's garden. Just the memories of a father, now a great grandfather, kneeling in the garden, planting seeds and building fires, surely praying every day that we will embrace the seasons of life we are experiencing now. Certainly, we pray he will have no regrets, as we have watched him embrace every season, even the winter of his life, with a positive attitude. His life seems to echo back to me...

Let go.. .

Embrace the present...

Welcome with open arms...

Anything can happen!

One fall season when my first grandson was small, I was given a simply crafted scarecrow at a school where I was substituting. I hung this simple, silly scarecrow on my cabinet to welcome my grandson on his next visit. Each week in the fall, I tucked a surprise inside. I can still remember his excitement as he dashed first to the scarecrow upon entering the front door. It became a sort of “welcome to grandma's” tradition.

See a picture below and instructions for making this Welcome Fall Scarecrow....

Take two orange paper plates and cut in half

Using a hole puncher, punch holes about one inch apart around the outside edges.

Using brown yarn lace the plates together, attaching a handle of lace for hanging at the top holes

Using sponge and orange paint dab some texture onto the scarecrow's face (optional)

Sponge paint deep orange circles for cheeks

Add two one inch sized roll eyes from craft store, a triangle nose from orange craft foam and yellow and orange raffia strips for hair along top edge of paper plates

Using a glue gun, fasten a fall pattern bow onto the bottom edge

Finally, add a curvy horizontal line intersected by vertical lines to resemble a scarecrow mouth with black Sharpie pen.

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