Permanence

by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

In the interest of transparency–because we’re all seeking a place where we can be vulnerable, honest, fully Known–I want to begin by admitting that I watch “The Waltons.”

The Waltons

A lot.

Sometimes while knitting.

I’m very aware that this may be an unlikely occupation for a progressive, modern woman. Let’s just say that I’m not the target demographic for the advertisers whose commercials air during the episodes. But since the day a few months ago when I accidentally caught part of an episode, I have found myself peeking in on the life of that 1930s (by way of the 1970s) family. More than forty years after the show began, I’ve learned all the kids’ names: JohnBoyJasonMaryEllenBenErinJimBobandElizabeth. Forty years too late, I let tears roll when Grandma and Grandpa Walton died. Forty years–and more than eighty years since the pre-WWII setting of the stories–and I’m continually amazed by how contemporary the issues are. The relationship between races. The roles of women. The ethics of work. The stability of home. The practice of hospitality. The tensions and tendernesses among siblings; in fact, all the tensions and tendernesses of children learning to grow up and to love and to grieve and to let go.

And, especially, the life of the mother. Especially that.

There’s much about Olivia Walton’s life I can’t begin to identify with, owing to her rural setting and to her Depression-era context. But as a mother, there’s so much that resonates with me, it sometimes catches me off-guard.

Like, for example, the episode when Olivia was restless. Restless in the way I feel when the routines have become too… routine. She was crabby, the way I get crabby when every day feels like a broken record of school lunches, lost shoes, reading logs, arguments over tooth brushing and piano practice, doing dishes, eating dinner and thereby dirtying more dishes, and don’t forget to wash behind your ears, and “just one more story?” And forty/eighty years later, I am right there with her, restless and crabby and unable to explain it to anyone and just needing something–anything–to be new.

Olivia Walton, restless and crabby and just needing something to be new, got a perm.

A really, really bad perm.

Such a bad perm that when she came home, she tried to hide it. Unsuccessfully. And when the various Walton children saw it, each of them, in turn, burst into laughter.

And then, when Olivia Walton wept, so did I.

I know that feeling so well: the impossibility of explaining to those around us how any small change would at least be something different–even if it went wrong. The cognitive dissonance of focusing attention on ourselves, when the callings of our everydays are oriented to others–all the John Boys and the Mary Ellens of our lives, all the school lunches and dirty dishes and bedtime stories. And all the potlucks and parish council meetings, the hospital visitations, the pastoral prayers–the routines and traditions of life together in our faith families, too.

“Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” (Rev. 21:5) When I am unsettled and fidgety in my days, I yearn for that renewal. I know I need to toss away the outgrown, ill-fitting, uninspired habits I put on thoughtlessly every day. I need to rethink my choices, responses, routes and routines. I need to try on new looks, new colors; I need to taste new words in my mouth and let new thoughts roll around in my head; I need to break the chronic patterns of my days and of my mindset.

God, show me the new ways you would have me go; grant me bravery to take risks, especially those that may end badly; let me show my children–and my church–that it is blessed even to try.

Because not much is permanent, anyway. Hair grows out (thanks be to God!). Routines shift and morph as children grow older, as we accommodate loves and losses, follow callings and shape habits. The litanies of our days, once rote, may become the zones of comfort that we desperately crave, and from there we can safely reach out, seeking not just change for change’s sake, but the newness of life to which we are called. Together we can try, and fail, and try again. Then we can put our restlessness into words so that we can share in the tears that come when we feel most alone, and in the laughter that comes when we see ourselves as we truly are: badly permed, reborn, and beloved.

Nicole Finkelstein-Blair became a U.S. Navy spouse in 2000, graduated from Central Baptist Theological Seminary and was ordained in 2001, and became “Mom!” in 2004. She finds ministry wherever the military and motherhood lead: in four states and two countries (so far), as a parishioner and a pulpit-supplier, as a sometime blogger and devotional writer, and at countless dinner tables and bedtimes. She’s enjoying now… and looking forward to what’s next. Her essay “A Time for Every Purpose” can be found in A Divine Duet: Ministry and Motherhood (www.helwys.com).

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