Those Romantic poets, especially Wordsworth, got it right.

We do arrive on this earth trailing clouds of glory!

For the last eleven months, Stuart and I have had a front-row seat as Lydia exuberantly shared with us the

trailing clouds of glory she brought with her from birth.

Today neuroscientists are using the term “celestial openness” to describe how

baby brains learn to connect meanings with sound.

On June 18, 2017, Lydia and I were just getting started. She was five days old.

Newborn Lydia and happy grandma.

Newborn Lydia and happy grandma.

Almost exactly eleven months later:

Lydia is wearing a Hess family heirloom dress at least 100 years old.

Lydia is wearing a Hess family heirloom dress at least 100 years old.

The last month of our sojourn in Pittsburgh was a month of sadness underneath joy for Stuart and me.

But for Lydia, there was only joy –the glory is still with her.

We grandparents have been saying good-bye to friends.

Lydia only knows enthusiastic greetings and nonchalant farewells.

We are so grateful, however, that we have witnessed a miracle.

Lydia has broken through in the last week to language.

We jaded adults forget how it all began.

In the movie The Miracle Worker, the story of Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan,

we are taken inside the miracle as Helen “gets it,”

the human drama of connecting names and things.

The drama may be less traumatizing when a hearing child learns to speak, but it is no less exciting.

Saying “ball” is one thing.

Saying “grandma” is quite another. At least, to Grandma. 🙂

On our last Sunday in Pittsburgh, as we were leaving for church,

Lydia looked up as I came down the stairs, broke out in a radiant smile,

and then said, clear as a bell,


In searching for an explanation for this miracle, we can remember Jesus’ words:

“Of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

If we prefer science to explain our miracles, we can watch this fascinating TED-X talk from Patricia Kuhl.

Our Pittsburgh sojourn comes to an end on Friday.

We feel sad about all the learning we will miss in the months ahead.

But the primary emotion of our leave-taking will be gratitude.

Lydia has given all of us a great gift.

We will forever carry with us celestial openness — clouds of glory — the kingdom of heaven!

What evidence of celestial openness are you celebrating today? Don’t limit yourself in any way in your answer!

Shirley Showalter


  1. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on May 29, 2018 at 12:37 pm

    I am thrilled by the sounds coming from a bush that is about as tall as me; a pair of mockingbirds scoot in and out of the bush bearing morsels of nutrition for baby birds. The baby sounds get louder each day.

    Thanks for sharing these moments of Lydia’s first year and the wonderful phrase: “celestial openness.”

    • Shirley Showalter on May 29, 2018 at 2:21 pm

      Dolores, I can only imagine how thrilled you are to participate in a miracle with the mockingbird family. You remind me of Mary Oliver. I am reading through the recently published Devotions, her selected poems from all her previous books. Hope you get a chance to read it too.

      Celestial openness to you, now and always.

      • Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on May 29, 2018 at 2:25 pm

        Ah yes, Mary Oliver, who stands at her door each morning to listen to the world and writes from what she hears. Thank you Shirley.

  2. Melanie Springer Mock on May 29, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    Wow, Shirley. What a beautiful gift for you to hear your name–or at least your name in Lydia’s eyes. I’m glad you’ve had this year with them, and imagine any leave-taking is difficult. Best wishes as you transition back to Virginia.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 29, 2018 at 2:53 pm

      Thank you, Melanie. Lydia looked at me today and just said “ball.”

      We laughed. On Friday we might cry a little. But such a good year.

  3. Laurie Buchanan on May 29, 2018 at 2:52 pm

    Shirley —
    We just learned that we are going to be first-time grandparents on or near my birthday.
    We know that it’s going to be a little girl. We know that her name—LUNA—was selected based on the strong female protagonist in one of my all-time favorite Newberry award-winning books—The Girl Who Drank the Moon (by Kelly Barnhill).
    We know that our son and daughter-in-law are moving to within a quarter of a mile from us when their current lease is up.
    We know that we are OVER THE MOON with joy as this new chapter in our lives unfolds.

    Thank you for sharing your first hands-on year with Lydia with us. You have chronicled so many wise and valuable lessons that I will be looking back to time and again.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 29, 2018 at 6:20 pm

      Oh my, Laurie. this is wonderful news! I am so happy with you and your family. I know you will be a wonderful grandmother. You have been reading those great Newberry-nominated books for years, so you will have a great collection.

      Luna, I love that name. And I think I will get the book for Owen and Julia when they come to Grandparent Camp during our second weekend in Virginia. Thanks for sending me to Amazon to look it up.

      I’m honored if any of my musings help you. That TED-X talk above is really great. So many resources today that we didn’t have when we were young parents!

  4. Esther Child on May 29, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    Thank you Shirley for your wonderful words and beautiful photos. I am an English grandma who loves to read your blog which I found almost by accident after reading your book.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 29, 2018 at 6:27 pm

      Aw, that’s so sweet, Esther. It’s a thrill to discover I have readers in England. And to know you read my book. Thanks for letting me know you are there.

  5. Joan on May 29, 2018 at 3:00 pm

    How lovely for you, Shirley, that she spoke that word to you. I’m very sure you will be missed every day and that you will be missing them too. So happy you had a wonderful year together.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 29, 2018 at 6:30 pm

      Thank you for your kind words, Joan. There will be sadness on both sides when we say good-bye and for many weeks afterward. Fortunately, Lydia’s other grandparents are coming soon after we leave, and a wonderful grandmother will be renting the rooms we are living in now. That feels good to all of us.

  6. Barbara McDowell Whitt on May 29, 2018 at 3:09 pm

    “Grandma!” Well said, Lydia!

    • Shirley Showalter on May 29, 2018 at 6:31 pm

      My thoughts exactly. 🙂 Thanks, Barbara.

  7. Marian Beaman on May 29, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    The circles of our lives have linked at opposite points of the spectrum this past year. As Lydia was born I was saying goodbye to my beloved Aunt Ruthie in May 2017. As Lydia reaches toward her first birthday, I have bid adieu to my brother Mark. All these milestones are glorious, but certainly some are more joyful than others.

    On the glory side, my sisters and I were stunned by how many lives our brother had touched. Though he was academically slow (and moved like a turtle!), he had common sense and the wise ones tuned into that. I was so absorbed in managing his affairs (housing, trust fund, bill paying) that I didn’t realize the extent of his friendships at church and at his “third place,” the counter at Gus’s restaurant until we all convened at hospice. And some of them became my new friends!

    His memorial service felt like jubilacion as scores of friends and relatives greeted us and then worded heartfelt eulogies. Like C. S. Lewis, I was “surprised by joy,” his title taken from a different Wordsworth poem:

    Blessings on you and Stuart as you trail on clouds of glory back to Virginia and forward to the next adventure.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 29, 2018 at 6:40 pm

      You definitely are having the more difficult milestones in these last few years, Marian, but what a powerful testimony to faith and love your stories are leaving.

      I am glad that in the midst of all the pain and work you have undertaken that you have been surprised by joy. Thanks for reminding me of the Wordsworth poem. I had forgotten that Lewis was not the originator of the phrase.

      As you return home to your own family, may the memories of Aunt Ruthie and Mark become stories to create inspiration, empathy, and hope for your talented and affectionate grandchildren.

  8. Loretta Willems on May 29, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    “Celestial openness.” Lovely words, wonderful concept. Thank you.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 29, 2018 at 6:42 pm

      Thank you, Loretta. I love those words also. Always good to see you here.

  9. Linda Hoye on May 29, 2018 at 6:50 pm

    What a blessed year this has been for you and Lydia. I am sure this leaving is bittersweet but you are taking priceless memories with you and, while Lydia won’t remember these halcyon days, she will carry them with her nonetheless. I’m certain of it.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 29, 2018 at 7:08 pm

      Oh yes, Linda. I’m certain that all the cooing and singing and rocking and strolling and down-on-the-floor playing have left a mark in Lydia’s unconscious mind and on her spirit. I read online this explanation which I can’t verify except intuitively: “The hippocampus is a brain structure thought to be crucially involved in the formation of memory for facts and events. At birth and in early childhood this structure is not fully grown, and so memory of birth is unlikely. What’s interesting is that the brain structure for emotional memory, the amygdala, is mature in infancy – the outcome of these two facts being that an emotionally significant event during infancy may affect the way a child behaves later in life despite them not being able to remember the actual event.”

  10. Mary Jo Short on May 29, 2018 at 7:45 pm

    This entry was so sweet for this Nana to read. How very amazing and special for her first word to be “Grandma. “

    What an amazing gift you have given all three of your grandchildren and their parents by spending their first years of life with them.

    Kate had invited us to stop in and meet Lydia and see you folks on that Monday but after brunch out and the Phipps , our three littles needed naps.

    Lydia is such a beautiful child. Blessings to all ……

    • Shirley Showalter on May 29, 2018 at 9:13 pm

      Thank you, Mary Jo. You are even more swaddled in babies than I am. I am so glad you had a great surprise and a wonderful weekend here in Pittsburgh. I was participating in it through osmosis and empathy and Kate’s reports.

      Thank you for your blessing and I return it back to you!

  11. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on May 29, 2018 at 8:51 pm

    We are just returning from Ontario and said heart-wrenching goodbyes to the four grandchildren there. We only see them once a year. They are so utterly sweet and loving and we feel so priviliged to be their grandparents! We return to our four grandchildren in Manitoba tomorrow, and they will warm our hearts. We are so blessed!

    • Shirley Showalter on May 29, 2018 at 9:18 pm

      Elfrieda, your “utterly sweet and loving” grandchildren must be very hard to leave indeed. I’ll bet they think of you as utterly sweet and loving too. Your love reaches them even when you are not physically present.

      I hope you are enjoying the Manitoba brood soon and that all of you will find ways to stay connected despite the many miles that separate.

      The good news is that celestial openness can stay with us all our lives. Clearly it has in yours.

  12. June Alspaugh on May 29, 2018 at 9:43 pm

    Who is going to have a harder time with your return to Virginia. This might be a part of your continued celestial openings. You will now see them from afar, via skype or some other video conferencing. You will have amazing celestial opens on your return visits. As your relationship with Lydia continues to expand and grow, more celestial openings.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 29, 2018 at 10:11 pm

      I pray you are right, June. Thank you for this description of the future while we still struggle a little to get through the transition.

  13. Tracy Rittmueller on May 29, 2018 at 10:13 pm

    Once again you are facilitating deep thought and awareness, Shirley. I enjoyed your story very much and can’t help but wonder of someday Lydia will see a big blue exercise ball and hear it bouncing, and feel a comforting sense of peace and delight, not quite knowing where those feelings are coming from.

    I love that phrase, celestial openness. I’m experiencing that in a profound way at this time in my life. These concepts have been interweaving during this stage of my life story — listening; becoming childlike to enter the kingdom of heaven; and breathing / birthing.

    Thank you! And may this departure and transition be for you and Stuart a celestial opening. Blessing to all of you!

    • Shirley Showalter on May 30, 2018 at 8:25 am

      Tracy, yes. Bouncing ball = “rosebud” in Citizen Kane. See Lisa’s comment below, also.

      You do know celestial openness from the inside out, Tracy. May you be attended by angel doulas.

  14. Lisa Enqvist on May 30, 2018 at 7:47 am

    The stories of your interaction with Lydia helps me understand something about my own early childhood homesickness.

    I don’t know when I became homesick for Grandpa’s and Grandma’s home. My home was usually with Mother, wherever we happened to be.
    I’ve later read my mother’s letters to my grandparents and aunts.
    I had said when I was three years old,
    “I want to go home to Grandma and Grandpa.”
    “My best friend is living with Grandma and Grandpa. She is waiting for me to come back and play with her.”
    “I left two books with Grandma. I must go and get them.”

    Someone who read an outline of my eventual memoir asked, “How could you have been homesick for a place you cannot possibly remember?”

    I had this text in a PowerPoint presentation years ago:
    Where did my homesickness begin?
    Was it already at the first separation from Grandma and Grandpa at the railway station in Helsinki 1946?
    …Was it their longing that touched me in the letters they sent to us to America, to China, to Sri Lanka?
    Or was it the ache I felt in Mother’s stories when I was seven?
    The yearning was rooted deep within
    With the first scent of resin
    In the fog by the lake
    on the mountain in Sri Lanka.
    Early one June morning the eight-year-old stands on the deck of a ship approaching her homeland.
    At last, she sees the shores of the land where she was born.
    The black-and-white photos of seven years separation come to life as she is hugged by her grandma and aunts.”

    You can be sure that Lydia will never forget the feeling of being loved by her Grandma and Grandpa even if she lives to be 100. You have given her a gift that can never be destroyed.

    • Shirley Showalter on May 30, 2018 at 8:29 am

      Oh Lisa, this writing evokes a great longing in me, and will in all readers, regardless of whether they were separated from their grandparents or not.

      Thank you for showing us how deeply the experiences of the emotional brain are embedded in our brains.

      And how wide our spirits yearn to be.


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