Monday, December 6, 2010

There are no words

Monday, September 13, 2010 Scott was called into a meeting where the stewardship committee chairman, the chairman and another representative from the personnel committee, the deacon chairman, and the pastor all sat around the conference table. Scott was not aware that this meeting was taking place until they called and asked him to come in.

At that meeting they informed Scott that due to budget constraints, his full time position as minister of music was being eliminated. He was given a sheet of paper that outlined 3 severance package details. The first of which stated that he could leave that very day and the church would provide him with one week’s pay for every year of service, which on that day would have been 13 years.

Let me say that again. He could have walked out that day. Monday, September 13, 2010.

They also gave him the option to stay until December 31, still collecting the one week’s pay for every year of service as severance. By then it would he would have reached 14 years of service.

The third detail in the severance options provided that if he secured another full time minister of music position before December 31 then he would only receive 2 week’s severance pay.

I was out of town that day. By the time I got a break in what I was doing and was able to call and check in, it was a little later in the morning. I had no idea any of this has taken place. Scott told me the news over the phone. He said that after the meeting he walked out of the office and down the hall to the choir room where he had been and still was sitting in darkness and silence. What do you say to your husband at a time like this?

There are no words.

Scott and I were very much aware of the budget difficulties. We knew something had to be done. We also knew the difficulties go way beyond just the budget woes. He and I both have been praying for 4 or 5 years, at least, for something to happen in our church; something big enough to stir the long-still waters. Losing his job was not exactly what we had been praying for, but almost instantaneously we saw it as perhaps clearing the way for that BIG thing, whatever it was, to come through. If this is how God was going to get through, then by all means, let us go. We started packing boxes immediately. I started giving things away that I didn’t want to have to move. Neither Scott nor I were totally devastated or depressed about the situation. We were just hopeful that something really grand was on the horizon for both us and for this church. How do you tell people you’re really at peace about losing your livelihood?

There are no words.

Being so ready and willing to accept what he’d been dealt and seeing it as the hand of God working in all of our lives, the most likely choice was for Scott to walk out that day, Monday, September 13, 2010. We were eager to get on with it.


Back in the spring, months before any of this, Scott picked out a musical to do for Christmas. His vision was to invite as many different church choirs and individuals to join us as we could. His vision went beyond our little choir to the entire community. By the time September 13 arrived, we had already had 2 rehearsals for this musical. We were already overwhelmed by the number of people that showed up for those rehearsals, from all aspects of our community.

Scott was committed. He was committed to this event long before he ever bought the first piece of music for it. The first rehearsal back in August solidified it for him. The second one only made his commitment stronger and deeper. It was the only thing that kept him from walking away on September 13. The ONLY thing. And I will say it one more time: He could have left that day. But he wanted to see this thing through, regardless of his job. He found himself in the middle of something that was so much bigger than he and his own vision and he couldn’t let go even if he tried. How do you tell the employer that just laid you off, “well, thanks, but I think I’ll stick around for a while anyway”?

There are no words.

Since then Scott’s whole job situation has been revamped, thanks to some other church members who had visions of their own. Scott’s job has been reinstated, but with a 10% pay cut. There are two other ministers whose jobs and salaries have also been affected too, but I can’t speak for them or their stories. And really, all of that is a separate story in and of itself which maybe one day I’ll tackle. Or not. But today my focus here is the musical.

With all that has happened since this whole thing started, we have prayed diligently for this musical event. I continued to pray, as I have for the last 5 years, for something incredible to happen in this church and acknowledged that this event was a wonderful opportunity for that to happen. Specifically, I prayed that the building would be full of people to hear the message, no empty seats, and that all the other space would be taken up by the Holy Spirit, that there would be absolutely no room whatsoever left for satan to find his way in. Scott prayed for chairs. He specifically asked for the need to put out folding chairs because of the overflow crowd. He said it out loud several times over the last couple of months.

While I don’t think anyone really knows for sure, our sanctuary seats approximately 450+. Our average Sunday morning attendance is about 140.

The presentation of this musical was this past Friday night, December 3. It was set to begin at 7 p.m.

Here’s the scene at about 6:40 p.m.

Chairs, y’all. There are chairs. Some didn’t even have chairs and had to stand throughout the whole thing.

Even before the music started, something besides people began to fill up the sanctuary. As the program began it was almost as if what was going on inside the building was bigger than what the walls themselves could contain. The Holy Spirit did indeed fill the room. It’s just so hard to explain the presence…

Afterwards, the comment I heard over and over again from those who were there… “There are no words.”

Ironic, I think, that the title of the musical was “The Voices of Christmas.” There are no words for the Voices of Christmas. The thing that happened and the praises that were raised were in a language only God could understand.

Afterwards, the crowd went home, the furniture was moved back in place, the trash picked up, and the sanctuary set in order for Sunday morning. We went to get something to eat then headed home. I would have thought Scott would have been on top of the world after all this. Instead, he seemed more quiet and distant and unreadable. He had no words.

The next day I woke and got out of bed long before Scott. I went to the other end of the house to work on a project on the computer. A couple of hours later I came back towards our bedroom and saw Scott sitting on the vanity stool in our bathroom. He was just sitting there in the quiet looking at the floor. The closer I got to him, the more I realized his eyes were filled with tears.

I think in that moment we both realized the enormity of what God had done. That Scott was not capable of or responsible for whatever it was that happened with the Voices of Christmas. That in spite of his inadequacies, God used him anyway. That his faith in leaving the unknown up to God in not giving it up on September 13 resulted in a greater blessing for 500+ other people.

It was just too much; there are no words.

I suddenly understood what Isaiah meant when he said “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

We saw the King, the Lord Almighty, fill our sanctuary Friday night and it ruined my husband. Ruined him because he will never be the same. And there are no sweeter words than that.

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I can't resist the Pillsbury Doughboy, especially when he says please

Earlier this week Scott and I had to go to Wal-Mart. We had to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy. I also wanted to buy some Halloween cards to mail to my sisters and parents.

Scott had been out of the prescription nose spray for several days and the doctor had finally called it in earlier that day.

If I didn’t get cards in the mail by the next day, they would not arrive before Halloween.

Needless to say, the trip to Wal-Mart was overdue. We vowed before we went in that we were only going to buy those two things – nose spray and cards. This was NOT going to be one of those spend-$100-in-less-than-1-hour trips. We were just going to run it, get the stuff, and run out before we were sucked in. Thankfully, the pharmacy and the card aisle are just a few yards apart and right by the exit. We didn’t have to walk far. Or run, as was our case.

As we walked between the cards and the vitamin aisle on the way to check out, for some strange reason Scott just happened to think about the cherry turnovers that, in our town, you can only buy at Wal-Mart. Or course, they are in the refrigerated grocery section in the complete opposite corner of the store.

Knowing that our cupboard is completely bare but not wanting to take the time to do the full re-stocking shopping, I agreed to at least one treat. I’m anticipating a glorious trip to Publix this weekend because we’re out of cereal and soup and grits and deli meat and cheese and everything else, but we do need to eat something in the meantime. Cherry turnovers it is.

We put our blinders on and headed to the cold corner. Even though their shelf placement had changed, we found the cherry turnovers and turned to leave.

Almost free. But then something else caught our eyes.

I’m not a big cherry turnover fan. I’m really not a big sweets fan, but I do like a good sugar cookie every now and then. The Pillsbury Doughboy was calling my name. In the spirit of Halloween, of course. I reasoned (justified…rationalized…!) that we weren’t buying any candy for the occasion, so 24 Spooky Cat pre-cut ready to bake cookies would be OK.

So, with nose spray, Halloween cards, cherry turnovers, and ready to bake sugar cookies, we finally got out of there. Whew.

That was a couple of days ago. It wasn’t until last night that I pulled the cookies out of the fridge to actually put them on a pan and bake them. Of course, my first reflex when I opened the box was to want to put one of the raw cookies in my mouth.

But then, I must tell you, I never felt more loved than when I read this on the box:

“Please do not eat raw cookie dough.”

They said it like they actually cared about me. And they put it right there on the front of the box instead of in small print under all the unpronounceable ingredients.

They could have said it like this:

"WARNING: Eating raw cookie dough could be hazardous to your health."
This would have sounded like they were trying to scare me, and they would have. I would have heard James Earl Jones’ voice in my head saying, “Danger, danger…”

Or they could have even just “Do not eat raw cookie dough,” without the “please.”
This one would have been voiced by Ben Stein in my head. Emotionless and not really caring one way or the other about the effects of raw dough on a human.

But, “Please do not eat the raw cookie dough” is written as if the Pillsbury Doughboy himself were saying it, followed by that giggly little chuckle that comes out when you poke him in the stomach.

Of course, Mr. Doughboy. Since you asked to nicely, I’ll not eat that raw dough.

Funny that I even noticed those words.

Interesting that they actually influenced what I was thinking and my subsequent actions.

How we say things is just as important as what we say.

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 1 Corinthians 13:1

Saturday, September 18, 2010


A couple of weeks ago we came home and found this guy hanging out on our back door. We left him alone and let him be. Anyone, or anything for that matter, saying prayers over my house seemed like a good idea.
Yesterday afternoon, when I walked in the house, this is the scene I saw at the same back door:

It scared me at first because I thought it was some kind of reptile. I am not friends with the reptiles. At all (Thanks, Eve). We frequently have little skinks running around, but Marbles the Cat usually takes care of them before they get too big. I thought this was one of those icky things and it was enormous. Since I was home alone, a small panic attack ensued.

After a little closer inspection, I saw that it was more rodent than reptile. A little baby squirrel. I was relieved somewhat that it didn't have scales, but the relief didn't last long because I had no idea what to do with a little furry thing either.

I opened the glass door to take a closer look, thinking the noise and movement would scare the poor thing enough to make it run away. He didn't move. He just clung to the screen door.

Still on the other side of the screen door, I tried to get a closer look. There were flies buzzing all around him. There was no movement in him. That led me to believe he was dearly departed. I had no idea how in the world a dead squirrel could be hanging on to my screen door. Looking closer still, I saw his little chest move up and down. He was breathing.

Well, what do I do now?

After shedding some tears over the demise of this little thing, I donned some rubber gloves, gathered up a towel and a shoe box and went outside.

I exited the house from the front door and walked around to the back yard. Along the way, I saw one of his siblings on the ground. Motionless. Gone. I'll spare you the gory details about that one but let's just say I didn't have to get very close to that one to tell if he was alive or dead because, um, there were some parts of him missing.

A few steps further and there was another one. She was gone too. She still had all her parts, but the ants had taken control.

Finally to my little friend clinging to the screen door.

I took that picture before I got too close. I didn't realize he had a yellow jacket on his head until then. Poor thing. His right arm and leg had been sliced open and his head had also taken a beating, but he was still hanging on.

So far, Marbles remains mum. No confession yet.

I wrapped him in the towel. I sat down holding him in the towel. I thought he would expire soon, so I just waited. I was thinking about putting him along with both his siblings in the same hole in the ground.
Then I started thinking about everything but the squirrels just to get my mind off of it. I sat there waiting for Squirt (yes, I gave him a name) to leave this world, I talked to God about families around me; one has a newborn infant in the hospital trying to fight his way into this world; one has a barely older than teenage daughter that just made it through a double lung transplant and is fighting to stay in the world; one is a mother my age that just started chemo, again. I think she's living like she's preparing for eternity.

Life is precious. Life is hard. We need some help. We need someone to wrap us in a towel and just hold us; to hold us until we find a way to make in this world or until we find the way to make it out.

Squirt? Well, his breathing never slowed. At first when I held him in that towel he didn't move. The longer I held him the more comfortable he became. Slowly he came back to life.

When Scott got home he called the vet for advice. Squirt was alive but too weak to be just left outside. You'll be happy to know that we loaded Squirt up in the shoe box that I thought would be his casket and delivered him to an emergency vet clinic that rescues wildlife. They were very happy to have him there. And so were we.

Oh, and this other guy was out there again, too. Just above the door where little Squirt was hanging on.

Pray. Rescue the perishing. You'll be rescued yourself.

If you fall to pieces in a crisis, there wasn't much to you in the first place. Rescue the perishing; don't hesitate to step in and help. If you say, "Hey, that's none of my business," will that get you off the hook? Someone is watching you closely, you know - Someone not impressed with weak excuses. Proverbs 24:10-12

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Where's the Aflac Duck when you need him?

Does anybody remember that commercial where a little chubby-cheeked boy says, “Blueberries are our friends”? I’m thinking it was a Welch’s grape juice commercial from the 90’s, although I’m not sure why a grape juice commercial would be promoting blueberries, so I’m not really sure. (If you have any confirmation or YouTube link, hook a girl up, K?) Still. Every now and then, I find opportunities to quote that phrase about the antioxidant fruit.

It’s kind of like the little old lady at Wendy’s wondering, “where’s the beef?”. You would be amazed at how often I find “where’s the beef?” to be an appropriate question in an ordinary day conversation even after a whole generation has grown up never knowing that commercial even existed.

But don’t get me started on this new generation’s fast food commercials. I mean, really. The Burger King??

I was a big fan of the Barry Manilow commercial jingles. “You deserve a break today, so get up and get away, to McDonalds.” And, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there…” I’m not sure I know any current commercial jingles. Do commercials even have jingles anymore?

Lately, every time Flo from Progressive Insurance comes on the TV screen, Scott instantly changes the channel. He simply cannot look at her with all her eyeliner and perkiness nor can he tolerate her chirpy voice. I kind of like her because she can be happy about something as boringly miserable as insurance. Oh, to be that na├»ve and blissful about something you have to pay dearly for but pray you’ll never need.

I have my own personal issues with Jamie Lee Curtis and Activia yogurt. I haven’t seen one of those commercials lately so maybe they realized it was a bad idea, but for a while there Jamie Lee was trying to convince us to take the Activia Challenge for 14 days. But here’s the kicker, she asks us to video tape ourselves during the course of the 14 day challenge and then submit them to her.

First of all, if you didn’t know, Activia yogurt contains bifidus regularis, aka probiotic bacterium Bifidobacterium animalis. In Jamie Lee’s words, it helps regulate your digestion. In my words, it helps you “go” more regularly instead of every couple of days.

My question is, what exactly is it that Jamie Lee wants me to film?

I mean, if I eat a cup of Activia yogurt every day, chances are I’m going to eat it the same way every single day. I’ll peel off the foil lid and dip in with a spoon. I’ll likely do in the privacy of my own home and not out in public because who wants to be seen eating digestion regulating yogurt? It would only fuel my nemesis’ impression that I am full of it. So, if I were filming that portion, even my surroundings would be the same. Every day for 14 days.

The one thing that would change would be, well, my digestion. Does she really want me to film the evidence of that?

It would certainly be easy to do. So easy in fact that I think a caveman could do it.

Too bad they fired him and hired some weird, plastic googly eyes with dollar bills for a mustache. Ok, that’s enough. I gotta go.

No, not that kind of “go.”

Which, by the way, I would not film even it I did.

You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it's a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn't you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair? 1 Corinthians 12:20-24 The Message.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Emperor's Expectorant

Some people are visionaries. They are able to see things the way they hope and dream for them to become. They are the ones that are goal setters and star reachers. “To dream the impossible dream….”

Some people are idealists. They see things from an absolute perfection perspective. They are the ones that know all the rules and proper procedures and are usually pretty good instructors in such methods. “If you do it this exactly like this, then this will be the positive result….”

While both types are quite admirable, I am not either one. I may have attempted to be them a time or two, but I have a hard time seeing anything other than stark reality. “The Emperor is not wearing any clothes…”

Yes, I have hopes and dreams and a few ideals, but the reality I see far outshines anything else. Funny thing, though. With hindsight sometimes it becomes obvious that the realist in me had a clearer picture of the future that my future-minded friends. Often, if you take a good look at the way things really, truly are, it is not difficult to see where they are going.

In looking ahead and trying to face the future, there has been one word that always gets thrown at me. It’s happened all of my life. I’ve written about it before because, well, it just keeps coming up. (Here’s what I wrote about the last time I got the reminder.)


The realist in me has eliminated the need for a lot of expectations. Again, I do have hopes and dreams. I just don’t tie my entire future to them and I can still find peace and satisfaction even if they never come to fruition. When and if they ever become a reality, then I’m all the more blessed and thankful. Mostly I’ve learned not to have great expectations for other people. Especially those close to me. It makes me love them all the more when they actually do something that I hoped they would do, but didn’t bank my happiness on it.

What I’m dealing with right now is, however, other people’s expectations; those other people being the visionaries and idealists living in my world. They have such great expectations of me.

I want to tell those people a few things….

First of all, thank you. Thank you for your vote of confidence. Thank you for thinking that I can be better than I am. Thank you for thinking that I am capable and talented enough to achieve all that you envision. Thank you for setting your standards high.

Secondly, I’m sorry. I have failed you. I am sorry that I have let you down. I have tried, but I have not been able to live up to your expectations. Your absolute need to see me accomplish what you’ve prioritized is only filling your life with strife and disappointment. The anger that you have over what you see as my failure is killing you, not me.

You set those priorities, not me.

Yes, I have failed. But my failure is in trying to please you and not my Creator.

Yes, I am at fault. I’ve stepped over the fault line several times and have accumulated a great big pile of rubble all on my own, even without your expectations. I have more guilt that I can carry.

But my faults are not your fault. They have nothing to do with you.

As much as I might want to be, I am not responsible for your expectations. Only you can control that.

I hope that you will keep reaching for the stars and showing others the proper procedures because you will be an inspiration to someone else along the way.

But please, release me. Let me go.

You will be the one that ends up with the true freedom.

Of course, I have no expectations about what you’ll do.

I’ll just wait to be surprised and blessed by even more than I could have hoped for.
Amazing Grace will always be my song of praise.
For it was grace, that brought me liberty,
I do not know, just why He came to love me so.
He looked beyond my faults and saw my need.

I shall forever lift mine eyes to Calvary,
To view the cross, where Jesus died for me
How marvelous, His grace that caught my falling soul
He Looked beyond my faults and saw my
-Dottie Rambo

They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do. 2 Corinthians 8:5

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Neighborhood Watch

Again. I’ve written a thousand paragraphs that never get posted on this blog. There are a thousand reasons why they never get posted. Mostly I write things and then think, oh my goodness, I can’t let anybody else read that! I’m prone to embarrass myself when I open my mouth and then commit my words to paper, but usually it feels so good to get it out. Basically, this is just my version of inexpensive therapy.


The past couple of days I’ve been thinking about one unpublished post that’s been saved on my flash drive for a while. Not sure why it has been on my mind. Actually, it’s not what I wrote that has been on my mind; it’s the event that inspired me to write it down in the first place.

Here’s the original post I wrote:

This past Sunday afternoon we had a special choir rehearsal at church. Once it was over, I had another hour and half before Scott would be done with his other rehearsals.

Ahhh, a little bit of ME time.

I went home, poured myself a glass of iced Coke Zero, grabbed my book, and made my way to the rocking chair on the front porch. The weather was sunny and breezy, but not hot. It was quiet and peaceful. If I hadn’t wanted to finish my book so much, I would have just closed my eyes and enjoyed a long overdue Sunday afternoon nap. It was just a perfect outdoor kind of day.

I had not turned too many pages in the book I was reading when I began to hear someone talking. And then I heard a rake scraping across the ground in slow strokes. The continuous talking and raking was a little distracting, so I looked around to find the source.

It was coming from across the street and two houses down. That house on the corner lot has been empty a good bit of the last few years. Several years ago, its long time residents moved to an assisted living facility. Since then it has been occupied off and on by several different people who I believe must be renters. To my knowledge, no one is living in the house now that I am aware of.

A woman was outside raking up the oak leaves (the ones from the trees that shed their leaves in the spring when the new growth comes in. It’s awful. We rake year-round in our neighborhood!). She obviously had a blue tooth device in her ear because she was also chatting away with someone else that I could not see or hear. She kept the rhythm of her rake going as she talked. I couldn’t hear everything she was saying, just a few words every now and then. After a few minutes, I did hear her say she had another call coming in, one she had been expecting, and she needed to take it.

She ended that first conversation and picked up the second one. She stopped her raking and leaned on the rake as if it were some kind of staff. The volume of her voice went up several decibels and I could hear her clearly. She said, “I just want to pray for you right now.”

And she did. Out loud. Over the phone.

As she prayed her voice got louder. The hand that wasn’t holding the rake lifted high over her head.

I gathered from her prayers that the man she was praying with/for had a wife in the hospital and the prognosis did not look good.

She prayed for a miracle.

She prayed for God to make a way where there seemed to be no way.

She prayed for her brother to have the strength to let his wife go if it came to that.

She quoted several scriptures claiming the promises in them.

She prayed on and on. She prayed loud and hard and long. She was oblivious to anything else around her as she talked to God. Cars drove by. Kids on bicycles rode by. She had no idea I was sitting on my porch within earshot and eyesight of her taking in the whole thing.

After a while, I was raising my hand too. I couldn’t help myself. She was praising God so strongly that not only did the Spirit come down and cover her, it spread all the way over to my front porch and covered everything in between like hot lava.

After 20 minutes or so I could tell she was winding down and about to end the prayer and the call. I stepped inside my front door to put down my drink and book. By the time I turned around and went back outside, she was gone.

I wanted to go other there and speak to her and tell her thank you. Where we live we hear a lot of gunshots and sirens on a regular basis; not a lot of prayer in the streets. I wanted to tell her how unusual but refreshingly wonderful it was to hear someone acknowledging God boldly and without apprehension in my neighborhood, on the street where I live.

It was something that had nothing to do with me, but just because of my close proximity I got a residual blessing. I wasn’t expecting it. The original intention of the prayer was not for me, but the blessing was mine for sure.

Praise Him out loud. You never know where the blessings will fall.

So that was the original post. I’m not sure why I never clicked the publish button. I guess I kind of felt like it was unfinished. Like there was more to the story or something. I suppose it could be that I never got to speak to her and that I still wanted to meet her and tell her thank you.

I went back to my flash drive earlier today to retrieve that post and realized it was written on April 15. Today is June 17. It’s been 2 months. I have not seen her, nor anyone else, at that house since that day. No one.

Does anyone else think that’s a little odd?

Maybe that whole thing was intended for me after all. It is a rare occasion that I am home alone. If I am, I’m usually busy inside trying to get something done, like cook dinner or finish up the laundry, before my husband gets home. Not this day. God knew I would be home alone that afternoon, sitting on my front porch purposely taking a sidebar from a busy Sunday. He also knew I had an unrecognized need for a sighting of His Spirit in our world. In my world. On the street where I live.

He came. Just for me.

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 4:15

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sunglasses and a Savior

I think I’m a little late with the spring fever. I’m always the last one to fall into the latest trends.

(I heard somewhere that oversized sunglasses are in? Is that true? I'm just not sure I can go there yet.)

I think it is spring fever because I seem to have lost my motivation for anything. ANYTHING.

So, I’m making a list. Maybe if I document at least the passing thoughts through my brain, then maybe I can then check some of it off and feel like I’ve accomplished something.

My list is of things that have been on my mind that are truly post-worthy, but I haven’t been able to finish one single post. I’ve started several hundred of them. “Started” is the key word. Apparently “finish” has dropped out of my vocabulary lately. Along with the words “diet” and “exercise”. Oh, and “work.”

My list is a reminder to me that if I ever do get back to my regular posting and don’t have anything to talk about, well, here’s a place to start.

But who am I kidding? By the time I get back around to anything I’ve started and not finished, the beginning of a hundred other things will have taken their place.

And so it goes.

My list of totally unrelated things to which I should have dedicated entire individual blog posts:

1. So, I have a new car. It was truly an ordeal. It took about a month to actually get it to my driveway. I haven’t quite found the balance between the joy of a brand new car and the sickness of car payments. Does anybody ever feel like they got a good deal on a car? Really? I mean, people who sell cars do it all day every day. I buy a car once every five or six years, if that. How can I win with those odds? Anyway, we simply HAD to buy a new car because I couldn’t keep buying new sunglasses every week. It seems on two separate occasions with two different pairs of sunglasses, I left them in cars we test drove. So, two lucky new car owners got a free pair with their new car purchase. Now that’s a deal.

2. One day when I’ve lost all my inhibitions I’m going to write a book about all things your minister will never tell you. There are lots of sub-topics under this one, but lately I’ve been thinking about weddings. ONE: never, ever schedule a church wedding in December. Yes, the holiday decorations make lovely pictures, but the sanctuary is already booked every Saturday in December for all the extra choir rehearsals and programs. If you want the minister to focus solely on your special day, do it during a season when nothing else is going on. June is good. TWO: You pay the band for making music at the reception, why not pay the guy who sings the sweet love song during the ceremony? Unless, of course, the guy singing the sweet love song is the groom, then paying him would be weird. THREE: Pick up after yourselves. Or at least ask your mom and dad do it for you after you’ve gone on your way to honeymoon paradise. For the rest of us, coming to church on Sunday after a Saturday night wedding and finding dress hangers, empty panty hose packages, pins, flower petals, and cans of hairspray sitting in your Sunday School class seat or in your choir chair is a little unnerving sometimes because it leads the mind to think of people changing clothes (and thus, in their underwear) right here in the very place I’m trying to, well, not think of people in their underwear.

3. What on earth have I have I got to complain about? I have a friend my age that’s been fighting cancer for several years and the battle is getting harder every day now. I have another friend my age that fought a seizure demon and had several years of victory, only to have it seize her again. I have a friend I went to college with whose wife has been on a respirator. These are people in their 40’s. I have younger cousin whose Air Force soldier husband was just sent to Iraq for six months. I can’t even keep track of how many times he’s already been over there. She’s home with her 2 girls.

Did anybody see the Life Today program a few weeks ago where Beth Moore was talking about being in a doctor’s office waiting room anticipating an appointment where she would get some test results? One of her daughters was with her and passed the time by reading all the medical brochures in the waiting room. You know, the ones that inform you of all the different kinds of cancer and diseases. Her words were, “He knows it’s scary to be us.”

Indeed, He does.

Stress over things like losing my sunglasses to making car payments.

Frustrations of being married to a minister.

People all around me who have a special need for comfort and care and healing.

God knows it’s scary to face all those things. And He doesn’t want us to face them alone.

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 The Message

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I'm not a total wreck thanks to Mom

Scott and I have recently been dealing with some vehicle issues. About 3 weeks ago, a weird set of circumstances one particular day had us all out of sorts and the culmination of the day was a car wreck. No one was hurt. The other car was fine. Our 15-year old paid-in-full and still nice car, however, was considered a total loss by the insurance company. So, we’ve had the car shopping demon hanging over our heads for several days now as we wait for a check from the insurance company.

I wasn’t in the car when it happened. Scott was by himself. I have been in my share of bump-ups, however.

Several years ago Scott and I were headed south on I-95 one New Year’s Day. Traffic was bumper to bumper with all the college bowl game traffic. It was stop and go traffic. Some stopped, we didn’t. No one was hurt, but the car had to be towed. It was an I-told-you-so opportunity about following too close, but I never said it. Scott felt guilty enough without it.

Longer ago than that, Scott was driving me back to work after a midday appointment we had together. Another car ran a red light and smashed into the driver’s side of our car. Scott was bruised but OK. At the scene, I tried to be a nice person and offer the offending driver use of Scott’s cell phone. When the cops showed up, she denied running the red light. I wasn’t hurt, but I was angry. Our car was totaled.

With the money from my first job out of college I bought a red Ford Mustang. I was driving through a parking lot at a slow speed when a younger-than-I student backed out of a parking space with the gas pedal all the way to the floor. She smashed the passenger side of my cute little car. I wasn’t hurt, but it did make me sick.

My most memorable wreck happened when I was a preschooler. My Aunt Alma was driving. Technically she is a cousin, not an Aunt, but she was the grandmotherly type and for all practical purposes my nanny until I finished the 3rd grade. Calling her “Aunt” just felt more right because she seemed closer than a cousin.

I was riding in the front seat on the passenger side of her sedan. Aunt Alma’s adult daughter Rosalou was sitting in the back seat holding her own newborn infant in her arms. This was before the days of child safety seats and seat belt laws.

It was a sunny day in Florida, but it was cold. I was wearing my favorite red coat. I had my head turned, looking out the passenger window. I was barely tall enough to see out of it.

A drunk driver coming from the opposite direction swerved over into our lane and crashed into us head on. I remember hearing tires screech and some other loud noise. I can still feel my head bouncing back and forth several times off of the window I’d been peering out of. Then I remember a crowd of people and a lot of yelling.

The wreck happened near an intersection of a four land road. On one of the corners of that intersection was a gas station. It was long enough ago that it was still a full service gas station; one where they actually worked on cars. Somebody from that station handed me a greasy red rag filled with ice and told me to hold it on my right eye and not let go. The gasoline smell of the greasy red rag almost took my breath away. Still today, every time I smell gasoline I think of that greasy red ice filled rag.

I remember Aunt Alma standing around telling everyone she was OK, but that her glasses had flown off her face with the impact. Could somebody please help her find her glasses? Rosalou seemed to be OK too and her baby, who had had somehow ended up on the floorboard by her feet, seemed unphased.

I don’t remember how I got to the hospital. If I road in an ambulance, I don’t remember it. I do remember that once we got there, there was not a single familiar face anywhere to be seen. Alma had gone to tend to Rosalou and the baby, who was also brought to the hospital for evaluation. My mom and dad were at work; my sisters were both at school. I was surrounded by a bunch of nice but unknown scurrying strangers. They made me lie down on a cold table and then they put my head in a green foam form so that it would be immobile for the x-rays or scans or whatever it was they were going to do to me.

Once they determined I was OK except for the busted up eyebrow and a swollen, black eye, they put me up on a high table or counter out near the reception area. It seemed like the top shelf of a very high cabinet. It might not have actually been that high, but to my 4 year old legs dangling over the edge, the floor seemed like a long way down. Way too far to jump. I sat there for what seemed like a long time not saying anything to anyone; just waiting.

From my perch I could see automatic glass doors which must have been the public entrance to the ER. The bright sunshine was beaming from outside through those doors. They kept swishing open and I could feel the cold air sweeping in. People were going in and out of those doors but because the sun was so bright outside and the lighting was dim inside I saw only dark silhouettes. I couldn’t really see any faces or physical details.

Like the top shelf I was sitting on, I’m sure my 4 year old brain exaggerated the length of that lonely wait too. It felt like forty forevers that I sat there by myself, speechless, in my favorite red coat, with my legs dangling over, still smelling the gasoline scent, waiting on someone to help me down and tell me what to do next.

I eventually saw a familiar shape coming through the bright light of the swishing automatic doors. I didn’t have to see her face. I recognized my mother simply by the shadowed shape of her hair and hips as she ran towards me.

I don’t remember anything else about that day. Mom showed up, scooped me up off that high counter and that was all. It was over. Everything was OK. Nothing that had happened in the previous few hours mattered any more.

That happened 40 years ago. I remember those details more vividly than I remember what I ate for lunch yesterday.

I remember feeling pretty in my favorite red coat.
I remember seeing and squinting at the brightness of the sun.
I remember hearing Alma’s voice as she kept asking for her glasses.
I remember smelling the gasoline rag.

What’s interesting is what I don’t remember. I have absolutely no recollection of pain. None. I know I must have ended up with one heck of a headache, but the only physical feeling I remember is finally having my mother’s arms around me.

There have been other kinds of wrecks in my life, not having anything to do with cars or roadways. A good many of those were my own fault. Even when it was my own fault, my mother never said so. Even if we were living miles apart, I somehow still knew her arms were around me.

Mom has had a rough time lately. The shatters and smashes she’s fallen into are merely the results of living on this earth 80 years. She is brave. She is strong. She is full of grace.

Mom, I don’t know if my hugs will ever mean to you what yours mean to me. I can’t be with you on Mother’s Day, but I want you to know my arms are stretched as far as they can be reaching for you.

I love you.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. Isaiah 40:11

Thursday, April 22, 2010

May I take your order?

There’s an old joke that often comes back to me when I find myself in this kind of situation...

This old guy goes to the fast food drive-thru for lunch. The young voice in the speaker asks to take his order. He replies, “I have a $5 bill. Just give me whatever the heck you want me to have.”

He hears back over the speaker, “I’m sorry sir, you will have to tell us what you want. We can’t make that decision for you.”

Again he says, “I have a $5 bill. Just give me whatever the heck you want me to have.”

The response he hears, “I’m sorry sir, we can’t do that.”

So he finally says, “Well, why not? You did yesterday!”

It’s funny because it’s true.

I spend a lot of time in drive-thru queues. Mostly for drinks, not so much for food. Between my Diet Coke habit and Scott’s coffee needs, it’s almost a daily thing.

Besides the fact that I always need to take a sip of my drink before I drive away (heaven forbid they give me regular Coke instead of diet; or sweet tea if I asked for unsweet!), there are some other things that drive me crazy in the drive-thru queue:

I’ve made list.
  1. Long trucks with LOUD hemi engines. There was one behind me in the line today and both I and the speaker box voice had to literally scream at each other over the engine racket. Of course, when the big, loud truck got up to the speaker to place his order, he cut the engine off so he speak without yelling and hear everything the speaker box voice said. Well good for him. What about for the good of the rest of us? Never mind that I am now deaf and have a raspy throat from all the yelling. If you have to turn that thunderous engine off just so you can hear anyway, why not just park the thing and go inside? The rest of us would greatly appreciate it.
  2. Vehicles pulling anything on a trailer hitch. There is barely room for all the oversized SUVs and the big hemi engine trucks anyway. When you add a hitched boat or lawn mower on a trailer, it invariably pushes a car in the back of the line out into the street and blocks traffic. I’ve been the one being honked at out in the street and it isn’t pretty. Again, just the park thing and go inside. You’ll need to take up three or four parking spaces to do that, and most likely a handicapped one at that, but so be it.
  3. People who place their orders at the speaker box and are told the total amount of their bill, but yet refuse to even think about getting their wallet out until they actually get up to the window where someone is already holding their bag of yummies out of the window. If your drive-thrus are as busy as the ones I visit, then there’s always a car of two in front of you providing ample time to get your money in hand after you place your order and before you actually arrive at the pick-up window. And, hey, what a novel idea that if your money’s in hand and ready to hand over first, then both your hands are free to fill with food. I realize this takes coordination and a bit of organizational skill, but you can do it. I know you can!
  4. Why do they call it a drive-THRU anyway? You don’t drive THROUGH anything. Maybe we should all start calling it a drive-AROUND. Maybe a drive-BY would be more accurate. Of course, drive-BY has all kinds of other violent connotations, but given the nature of this beast (and no, I’m not talking about myself), a drive-by might be in order.

It’s after two o’clock now which means happy hour at Sonic. Which means half price drinks. Gotta go. It’s drive-by time.

I thought you ought to know about it. Buy it back if you want it—you can make it official in the presence of those sitting here and before the town elders. You have first redeemer rights. If you don't want it, tell me so I'll know where I stand. You're first in line to do this and I'm next after you. Ruth 4:4

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Life in Pollen-nesia

I finally drove my car to and through the car wash yesterday. Scott was in the passenger seat and he was yelling at everyone else on the road to watch out for me because I literally could not see through the pollen-covered windshield to navigate the roadway. Good thing the car wash wasn’t that far from my house and there wasn’t much traffic on a Monday afternoon.

Scott’s been my chauffer the last few days so my car has been sitting in the driveway collecting layer after layer of the yellow dust. There seem to be a lot more blooms out all at the same time this year. There was also no cold snap in the middle of it to stunt some of blossoming, which has helped cut some of the pollen production in that past couple of years.

Scott nicknamed our neighborhood Pollen-nesia because everything is coated in the tropical yellow color. I am just now getting over two weeks of feeling puny because my bronchial airways were coated in it as well (Maybe we should call it Pollen-sneezia).

All this yellow dust has been at its thickest right here on the tail end of Holy Week. Holy Week is one of the busiest weeks of the year for us. At least at Christmas we spread out all the activities over a 3 or 4 week period. Holy Week, we try to do it all in the same 3 days Jesus used to save the entire world and we try to do it while we’re coughing and sneezing and wheezing through the pollen. I don’t think we’ll ever measure up, but we certainly do give it our best effort.

We have a Maundy Thursday service at church.

Then we have a Good Friday Service at church.

Then there’s Easter Sunday morning when everybody shows up and expects to see and been seen by God in a big way. Many come to get a year's worth of God all in one worship service. Expectations are high.

Scott also agreed to sing at the local Episcopal church for their Paschal Vigil service on Saturday night. He sang two songs and also chanted, like a monk, some kind of proclamation about Adam and the Israelites and the Passover and Jesus coming again. Basically, the entire Bible.

That’s four days in a row of church services. In Pollen-nesia.

I say it every year, “Jesus didn’t go to church this much.”

And did he suffer with all these allergens?

With all that church and the preparation that goes into all those services, the church staff do not get an official Easter holiday until the Monday after. That’s just the ministry life. I work for local government so I don’t officially get any days off for Easter and/or spring break. I accrue 3 hours of time off for every week that I work, which means I have to work 13 full weeks to get one week off. I am in no way complaining. I do get most national holidays, two days for Thanksgiving, and two days for Christmas off. Because of the city and state that I live in, I even get Confederate Memorial Day off. I think that’s odd and I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it, but if they’re going to give me a day off with pay, I’m going to take it.

So. The Monday after Easter was scheduled to be a holiday for Scott. When I left the office on Good Friday, I told my boss I would see him on Tuesday; I was taking a vacation day on Monday so Scott and I could have a day off together.

We were looking forward to 12:00 Sunday afternoon when we would be “done.” Free. We wanted to get out of Pollen-nesia for a night. Get some rest. Breathe some different air. Maybe I could get to see my parents. Maybe we would get to eat at Sonny’s BBQ. Maybe I’d get to shop at Macy’s.

Alas, the ministry life called again and a funeral was scheduled for the middle of the afternoon Monday, which nixed our travel plans. Scott was set to sing at the funeral, and of course, he knew that’s exactly where he needed and wanted to be at that time.

Make that five days in a row of church services. Still in Pollen-nesia.

Let me say it again. Jesus didn’t go to church that much. And the only time I can think of anyone sneezing in the Bible was the boy that Elisha gave mouth to mouth resuscitation to. I don’t think that had anything to do with blooming flowers.

This was the second time in a month that I’ve made preparations to take a day off from work and then something happened that kept me from doing whatever it was I had planned to do on that day off. Actually, both times we were planning an out of town trip. So, what do I do when I tell the boss I’m taking a day off but then end up otherwise unoccupied? Do I go on in to work anyway and say “Surprise! I love it so much I couldn’t stay away!”

Well, no, of course not. If I find myself with some unexpected time on my hands, I have this vision in my head of a day at home doing nothing but what I want to do, like finish that book I’ve been nursing for a couple of weeks now or update the playlist on my ipod. Sitting on the porch in the rocking chair sounds nice. An afternoon nap sounds good too.

However. I cannot seem to stay at home and have a vacation day all at the same time. Especially in Pollen-nesia.

I find it very difficult to relax when there are a million other things that need to be done and every other day I never seem to have the time to do them because I’m at work all day. From the minute I get out of bed I begin to see things that need to be done around the house. Since the boss is not expecting me at work, I can no longer use “I don’t have time to do that right now” as an excuse. I have to get busy.

I was standing at the ironing board pressing the white shirt Scott was going to wear to the funeral later that day. I was also going to iron all the other non-essential things (like a tablecloth) that had been piling upon the ironing board waiting for me and my spare time. From my vantage point at the ironing board, I can see out of the bedroom window. I’m not usually at home when the mid-morning sun comes through the bedroom window and highlights all the dust on the blinds. This day, however, I was there and saw all that dust and suddenly began to feel like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t get that Swiffer swiffering fast enough on those blinds.

Then there was the front porch. I moved all my plants from their winter shelter to the summer positions on the edge of the porch. Some still need repotting, but that will have to wait until my next non-vacation day off. I wiped down the outside furniture and swept the porch to clear it of the thick layer of yellow pollen dust. I finished that up and went back inside. A little while later I went back outside and was compelled to go get the broom and sweep again becasue the yellow dust was back again. It just won’t go away.

Dust on my blinds. Dust on my car. Dust on my porch. I can Swiffer it and wipe it and wash it away, but it always seems to come back. It just about gets the best of me when I begin to think about how all this dust has ruined my unexpected "free" day.

In my second attempt at sweeping the front porch and eventually abandoing the futile efforts, I realize that the dust was there first. The pollen was falling long before we ever made a driveway and parked a car in it. Even before that, my ancestors actually were dust. Dust of the earth is what God scooped up and breathed life into to become the very first human being. It was in a garden too, so I'm pretty sure there must have been some pollen mixed in that handfull of dust.

No need to fight any longer to rid my home and life of it. It is my heritage. Next time I get an unexpected day off at home, my cousin Dusty and I will be sitting on the front porch reading a good book. The broom and Swiffer will be collecting dust in the closet.

The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A lot details about a day in the life of....some sweet tea

Saturday, a week ago I got up earlier than I usually do for a Saturday. I had several things I wanted to accomplish before I hit the road. I did a few things around the house and then had a couple of stops to make before I was finally headed south on I-95 a little after 9 AM.

I was on the way to see my parents. They live three hours south of here in Georgia. This was the third trip I made down there this month. I must say based on my observations of traffic on those combined 18 hours of traveling I-95 that I think they must have closed Canada. The number of license plates from Quebec was far and above any other single state other than the one I was traveling in. Weird, eh?

Almost three weeks ago, my mom fell in the parking lot of Huddle House, a favorite dining place of my mom and dad. The ambulance took her to the hospital from there. She suffered a couple of fractures, lots of bruises, and a great amount of confusion because her head, face, and nose took the brunt of her fall. After a little over two weeks in the hospital, it became clear that she needed more daily help than any of us could give her. Just two days before this recent Saturday trip there, my mother was moved into her new assisted living home. My planned overnight stay at my parents’ house was to delay, just one more day, my dad having to stay at home by himself at night.

About two hours down the road I began to get the sickly feeling that surely I must have forgotten something. I called Scott at home back in South Carolina and asked him if he had put my suitcase in the car for me.

Um. No. Oops. I was going to have to make a WalMart run later.

When I arrived suitcaseless at my dad’s house, he and my sister were sitting at the kitchen table eating a sandwich. I sat down with them and poured myself a glass of iced tea. One thing we can always count on at my parents’ house is two pitchers of tea in the fridge. That’s so when one pitcher is empty, there is still a cold one ready while more tea is made to refill the empty one. We are one ceaseless iced tea drinking family.

After we visited my mom in her new home and the WalMart excursion with my sister, my dad and I went to the Huddle House to eat dinner. It was the first time he’d been back there since Mom fell. He showed me where she fell and told me all about it. The waitress asked about Mom. Several other HH customers asked about Mom too. Dad was very brave. And he must have finally been hungry because he ate shrimp, fried squash, and hash browns. We both drank a lot of iced tea. It was the most I’d seen him eat in a long time.

Back at Dad’s house, I gathered up the new toothbrush and travel size toiletries purchased at WalMart and got myself ready for bed. My dad keeps the heat in his house on HIGH. All the time. Even a cold-natured person like me gets WARM in his house. I did what we all do when we spend the night there. I closed the door the bedroom I was sleeping in. I closed the air vent in the ceiling. I opened up both windows. I tried to sleep. All night long I kept feeling like my throat and nasal passages were drying up and were scratchy and irritated. At first I thought it was just all the dry, hot air. Later I realized it was all the pollen outside coming in through the open windows.

Sunday morning Dad and I listened to his church service on the radio, which is always a treat because one, I don’t get that kind of preaching and singing at home, and two, I get to sit in the recliner instead of an uncomfortable pew. Afterwards, Dad and I went to the Sunday brunch buffet at the Holiday Inn. Just the two of us again.

Dad put a piece of fried chicken, a serving of club steak, and a slice of roast beef on his plate along with everything else. Yes, his appetite is back after all the chemo, radiation, and shingles troubles. The waitress put a pitcher of tea on the table for the two of us. I think Dad had 2 glasses. I drank the rest of the pitcher myself. I ate navy beans and cornbread. Yum, yum, and yum. I’ve never seen navy beans on a public buffet before. It’s just one of those things you usually get at home. Nobody goes “out” to eat navy beans. We had a lot of navy beans at home growing up. Actually, a lot of things about this meal reminded me of when I was younger.

I was one of those people who moved back home after I graduated from college. I lived there 4 years, just my mom and dad and me (6 years if you count my last 2 years in high school). And no, I wasn’t the freeloader kind, not totally anyway. I had a job and made a car payment. I paid for my car insurance, all my health a beauty needs, and a few groceries every now and then. I just needed a place to put my stuff and someplace to refill my iced tea glass. Anyway, during those years, my dad and I did a lot of stuff together that involved food and/or meals. Mostly it was going to get stuff he would cook. Sometimes we would go and get some kind of take out. Anyway, just sitting across from him at the Holiday Inn made me think about all that and smile.

When Dad and I finished up at the Holiday Inn buffet, we came back to the house and I packed up my stuff in a WalMart plastic bag. We went to visit Mom again at her assisted living home, then I got back on the road to home.

I was again surrounded by Quebecians on the 3 hour ride up I-95. My mucus membranes began to compensate for the scratchy throat and nasal passages and soon they were coated with that icky, slimy substance. Congestion, ugh. I finally arrived at home.

Monday morning I went to work but only lasted until about noon, then went home and slept the afternoon away on the couch in between all the sniffling, blowing, and coughing. All day long I craved an iced tea with crushed iced. It was all I wanted. It was the only thing that could bring me comfort, not only for my raw throat, but also for my sentimental soul that had been recently been taken back to the time when my cold, sweet, iced tea dependency was formed in Mom & Dad’s refrigerator.

When Scott got home and was looking for dinner, I convinced him to go to Zaxby’s with me because they have crushed ice and good sweet tea. I ordered the chicken fingers with the hot, hot, buffalo sauce because I thought at least that would be something I might be able to actually taste through my congestion-dulled taste buds. I also got a really big sweet tea with crushed ice. I refilled it once or twice while we were there and then refilled it again before we walked out the door. Ahhhhh.

Oh, I just wanted to get back home, put on my pajamas, sip my sweet tea, suck on the crushed ice, and nurse my congestion. We arrived at home, I gathered up my purse and jumbo cup of tea from the car and headed for the front door. There are two steps up to the porch. Somehow, I missed both of them. Both of my feet went out from under me and I fell flat on the porch. I lost both my shoes and ripped one of my socks so that all five toes where protruding out. Then, almost as if in slow motion, I saw my jumbo cup of crushed ice and sweet tea leave my hand and bounce on the concrete, busting out the bottom of the cup and spilling all that precious comfort all over the porch.

I just sat there and cried. I had a little bit of a skinned knee, but that was all. I wasn’t hurt. Nothing broken. Nothing bleeding. But my tea, my sweet, sweet tea. My sweet tea and crushed ice spilled all over the porch. My comfort was seeping through the cracks in the concrete and over the edge of the porch, leaving nothing but a sticky mess behind.

No, I couldn’t go back to the few minutes before I fell and do it over, differently. I couldn’t scoop up the spilled tea and put back in another cup. I can’t go back to the time when one of the two pitchers of tea in Mom & Dad’s fridge was a gallon jug because all 3 of us were living in the house and drinking it heavily. I can’t go back to the days my dad and I went out to get BBQ or fried chicken for the three of us for dinner. I can’t go back to the day before my mom fell in the parking lot of Huddle House and changed all of our lives forever.

Truth is, my comfort is not back there. My comfort is in what lies ahead. I’m looking forward to the day we’ll never thirst again.

All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God does not just sweep life away; instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him. 2 Samuel 14:14 The Message

Monday, March 1, 2010

ONE TWO THREE etc. etc. etc.

At the end of last year, I declared that this new year would be the year of getting back on the beat and finding a steady rhythm in life again after being out of sync for so long.

‘How’s that workin’ out for you?’, you might ask.

Well, in my last post I came clean and admitted my love of the musical, and since then I’ve had all kinds of show tunes running through my head. Even one about rhythm.

Remember that scene in “The King and I” where Mrs. Anna is trying to teach the King of Siam how to dance? More specifically, polka? (and BTW fun facts to know and tell your friends but not really related to this post – I saw Yul Brenner perform this in person. Not on Broadway, but later in a traveling company).

She first tries to get him to feel the beat and counts it out for him:

one – two – three – AND

one – two – three – AND

He tries it together with her.

He counts: ONE – two – three – ONE – two – three – ONE – two – three.

Which doesn’t seem to go with her one – two – three – AND count.

He then declares, “Something wrong.”

“I know. I forget AND.”

Then they dance happily ever after with the “clear understanding that this kind of thing can happen…”

Well. I experienced the one-two-threes myself this past weekend.

My father-in-law, aka Pop, is visiting with us now. His home is three hours away. When he comes to visit us, he usually stays for a little longer than he used to when my mother-in-law was alive and with him. She would always tell him she was ready to go home. Without her, he’s not as eager to leave. I can certainly understand that and he’s always welcome in my home.

When he’s here, the rhythm of our daily lives changes a little bit. Our food habits are one example. We avoid Taco Bell, at which Scott and I usually dine about twice a week. Pop just doesn’t like the “spicy” food. So, we eat more sandwiches. That’s OK too. It’s just different.

The TV is another thing. Pop likes Fox News and Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity and Nascar. I can take small doses of all of those, but then I have to go and do something else. I can’t watch an entire hour or three of any of that. I certainly don’t mind him watching it. It’s just different than what the TV schedule is when it’s just Scott and I around the house. I’m usually tuned in to the Food Network. I should probably learn to do with a little less TV anyway.

One of the things Pop wanted to do during this visit was to attend a concert that was taking place nearby. The group he wanted to hear was the Primitive Quartet. So, we went this past Friday night. The music they make is a little bit out of my comfort zone; not a concert I would have attended without Pop’s interest and company. I guess you would classify their music as bluegrass southern gospel. I’m not really sure why they call themselves a quartet because there are six men in the group, but oh well. This post is about not being able to count anyway.

The music was a little twangy for my taste, but their presentation was intriguing. There were no soundtracks. Five of the six men played a string instrument while they sang. The acoustic sound was just their voices and their instruments. No electronic sounds at all. Sometimes they would swap the instruments out with each other, showing proficiency with multiple instruments. A violin, an upright bass, two guitars, and a mandolin.

Unlike the Fox News channel, I was able to sit through an hour of the Primitive Quartet without wanting to flip the remote to Chef Duff and the gang.

Most of the audience was like Pop, and rightly so; really into that kind of music. They sang along and clapped and responded to the lyrics with lots of “hallelujahs” and “praise the Lords.”

A lot of bluegrass music has a waltz-type beat. You know, like:

OOOM–pa–pa. OOOM–pa–pa. OOOM–pa–pa.

Or in real words:

ONE–two–three. ONE–two–three.

It’s a very simple and distinctive cadence that you can both hear and feel, even for the rhythm-challenged individual.

The audience began to clap along with a particular song that moved with this OOOM-pa-pa rhythm. Except, they weren’t clapping in sync with that distinctive waltz-like pulse.

I felt the beat of the music as:

OOOM – pa – pa – OOOM – pa – pa

ONE – two – three – ONE – two – three

rest – CLAP – CLAP – rest – CLAP – CLAP

The clapping, however, ignored the emphasis on the ONE and/or the OOOM and went like this:

CLAP – rest – CLAPCLAP – rest – CLAPCLAP

Try waltzing to that. It’s like they were two beats behind.

In the words of the King of Siam, “Something wrong.”

I got the giggles. Mostly it tickled me that no one clapping could tell they were ignoring the over-emphasized down beat or that they were out of sync with the obvious rhythm of the music. One person started it, and as with that concert mob-mentality, everyone else got caught up in it and joined it – and didn’t stop until the song was over.

And then the next song the Primitive Quartet sang that had 3 beats to each measure, the audience did exactly the same thing.

It made the concert a lot more enjoyable for me, and not because I was laughing at people who were clueless about the beat. Absolutely not. I was laughing because I could finally hear the rhythm in my life again and I realized that it is not the same one that everyone else hears. As a matter of fact, I might be the only one that hears it.

And now I have “clear understanding that this kind of thing can happen. Shall we dance? Shall we dance? Shall we dance?”

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel. Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful. Jeremiah 31: 3-4

Monday, February 22, 2010

Facebook brings back Andrew Jackson

I am a fan of the musical. I always have been. Old Rogers and Hammerstein movies always have a way of sucking me in. I’ve been to Broadway and seen a couple of shows. I’ve experienced traveling production companies and local theater productions too. And, don’t mess with my Andrew Lloyd Webber soundtracks.

There’s just something about needing to burst into song when you reach a critical juncture in your life that appeals to me. Having a four-part chorus line to back you up is also a bonus. There have been many times in life when I met a crisis head-on wishing beyond all else that I had just the right lyrics to some power ballad, a voice like Maria Friedman, and a couple of back-up singers. Somehow that would have made whatever it was I was facing not quite so calamitous.

My husband is a professionally trained musician. He has never been a big fan of the musical. Not the Broadway kind, anyway. To him, it just isn’t serious music. When we first met, my love of the musical was the geez-louise factor about me that he merely tolerated to humor me. Since then, he’s learned to laugh at them. Admittedly, some of the lyrics are a bit ridiculous. (for example : “Sure as the tide wash the golden sand, Benjamin is an innocent man; Sure as bananas need the sun, We are the criminal guilty ones”; and yes we saw "Menopause: The Musical" together - thanks, S & J!)

When the whole Disney High School Musical phenomena happened, I became terribly conflicted. A new musical, yay! But high school? Um. Uh. Geez –louise.

I wanted to jump on the High School Musical wave with everybody else. I refrained. I was a little intimidated.

I never was very good at the whole high school thing. It took me three years to finally begin to figure it out, and by then the band was already playing Pomp and Circumstance. I think mostly I spent my high school years waiting. I’m not sure what I was waiting for, but I knew I hadn’t found it yet. I was so busy waiting for whatever the next thing was, that I think I missed a lot of what was going on around me. I guess if I had to sum up my years at Andrew Jackson Senior High in one phrase it would be: Almost, but not yet.

I remember one incident with my guidance counselor, Melba Collier. She was a wacky sort of woman whose reputation preceded her. She was tiny in stature and wore tailored, no-frills clothes. Her smile flashed a hefty investment in dental work. To be honest, I formed my opinion of her based on what all those who went before me had said about her, and it wasn't pretty.

One day in my senior year Ms. Collier sent a notice to Mrs. Camp’s trig class for me to report to her office. I walked out of that third floor classroom and headed down to the first floor guidance office. When I walked into her office, Ms. Collier came from around her desk, closed the door, and then sat down in chair beside me. She put her arm around me and began to cry. I had no idea why she was crying. Not a clue. I sat there speechless and let her cry. I remember thinking that suddenly I had confirmation of what everyone had been saying about her all along – she was truly wacky (cue the music, insert Broadway power ballad and a few back-up singers right here).

I finally realized that she did not call me into her office for me to comfort her. She was crying FOR ME. Turns out some new scores were out, there were 10 slots and with the new scores I was #11. It wasn’t the first time something like that had happened that year. There had been a series of runner-up kinds of outcomes for me that year. Ms. Collier was trying to show, in the best way she knew how, some empathy for me. God bless her. Maybe she wasn’t so wacky after all.

I guess the wacky one was me because as Ms. Collier cried and went on to explain the sorry-you-didn’t-make-it thing, I remained a little clueless. I saw no reason to shed tears. I couldn’t figure out why she was so upset, or why she thought I was so upset. Because I wasn’t.

I wasn’t bothered because I was too busy still waiting. For something else. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I was pretty certain it didn’t have anything to do with those last 10 slots. I was still waiting for the not yet to become the now and forever.

Almost, but not yet.

So, fast forward a few decades and Facebook brings back high school. Suddenly, I’m reconnected with people I literally haven’t seen since graduation. Finding all the new-old friends again has also brought back that almost, but not yet feeling. In many ways, I’m still waiting for something. Still not sure what it is.

Am I waiting to finally get it right? I mean, not just high school but the whole life in general thing. Maybe.

If I could go back and do high school over again, you bet I would do it different. I held out and held back a lot in high school. In some areas, that was good and I’m a better person for it. I held out on the opportunities for drugs, alcohol, and sex. I just said no. I lost a friend or two over it, but the truth is I probably needed to lose them anyway. The holding back is what I’d do differently. I held back too much of what I should have been giving away. My love. My knowledge. My help. My concern.

If I could have a conversation today with my then 18-year old self it might include some statements like this:

The chorus line can be just as much fun as a lead role, and with a lot less pressure.

Every once in a while, a little extra eye liner and some Capezio dance shoes can change your outlook. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Sing. Dance. Out loud. In public.

It’s OK to tell someone you love them. As a matter of fact, it is very important to do so. Sing it if you have to.

Share what you know. Don’t keep it to yourself. It just might help somebody else. Sing it if you have to.

There are around you people speaking destiny into your life even though you don’t realize it. Listen to them.
There are people around speaking destiny into your life even though you don’t realize it. Do NOT listen to them.
The challenge is figuring out the difference for yourself without blaming either one for the outcome of your destiny.
Now I guess I’m waiting on someone to cue the orchestra for an encore. Maybe I’ll never get it right, but hopefully, if I ever get any kind of do-over maybe I’ll at least be a little better at it the next time.

And by the way, I love you!

“Then he said: 'The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.' Acts 22:14-16

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Stop, drop, and roll

We live in a small house. It’s about 1,200 sq. ft. of 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a small kitchen, and a great room/den/living room/dining room kind of space. The house will be paid for in a couple of years. I never thought we would live here long enough to pay off a mortgage, but then that’s another story.

In our house are two ceiling fans, one big 36” portable fan on a stand, and several other small fans. My husband’s internal thermostat hovers right around boiling point most of the time. The fans are for his benefit.

There are three smoke detectors/fire alarms in the house. One of them is at the entrance of the master bedroom. The second one is over the laundry closet in the hall. The third one is about 4 feet from the oven in the kitchen. That third one is for my benefit. It spares me from having to cook a lot. How, you may ask? Well, if the oven is on even at a low temperature, that alarm goes off screeching DANGER DANGER every time I open the oven door. If I’m cooking something at a high temperature, the oven door doesn’t even have to be open; that alarm just goes off anyway. It’s very annoying.

Mostly, I just avoid using the oven. If I absolutely must bake something, I have to ignore that obnoxious siren warning me of impending doom, pretending that I don’t hear it. It is not easy to ignore being that it’s loud enough for all my neighbors to hear.

On top of that, there’s no measure for what it has done for my self-confidence in the kitchen. I know I’m not a very good cook, but to be taunted by a piece of technology every time I turn on the oven? Well, needless to say, that’s why I started turning the oven off and turning on the Food Network where I can live vicariously through Paula and Duff; and going out to eat; and eating a lot of cereal for dinner.

We have lived in this house 13 years and it has always been that way. I don’t know why it took me so long, but lately I discovered somewhat of a fix for that maddening, blaring alarm that screams at me HEY THE OVEN IS ON even though I am standing right in front of it. And no, the fix was not to just take the batteries out. That was the first thing we ever tried all those years ago. Stupid thing still went off because it is wired into the electrical supply. Batteries are just a back-up. Neither Scott nor I wanted to take on the electricity, so we just dealt with it.

I got one of Scott’s little portable personal fans, put it on a step stool directly under the alarm, turned the fan on high and aimed the cool breeze right at that pesky little alarm. Worked like a charm. I baked some kind of Pillsbury canned bread without the first sound of a disaster warning.

It also gave me a new confidence in the kitchen. Hmmm, maybe I’ll try this cooking thing again.

The past weekend Scott and I made a trip to the big city. The last stop before we headed home was Publix (our small town is a bit grocery store challenged, which is also a story for another day; we simply must visit Publix when we get out of town). Publix had London broil steaks on sale. We bought one. To cook. More specifically, to BROIL.

When I got home from work yesterday, I set up my step stool-fan apparatus. I put two potatoes in the oven to bake. I figured that would pre-heat the oven and get it ready for the London broil that had been marinating all day. I also put some Publix green beans in a pot on the stove.

An hour or so later, Scott got home, the potatoes were done, and it was time to cook the London broil. Still not a peep from the alarm. Every London broil recipe I read said to broil the meat 5 minutes on each side, then let it rest for a few minutes. 10 minutes. That’s all I needed to get through cooking the rest of this meal in total peace and quiet.

I moved the oven rack up to the top position, turned the dial to broil, and put the steak in. Quiet.

One minute went by. Quiet.

Two minutes. Quiet.

Three minutes. Quiet.

Four minutes. Quiet.

Then it started. DANGER DANGER. That incessant, pulsing alarm.

I told Scott to grab the fan, stand on the stool, and hold the fan right up against the alarm. He did that for a little while to no avail. He stepped off the stool and then set about turning on all the fans in the house and opening all the windows and doors.

I took the steak out, turned it over, put it back in for the last 5 minute broil. The alarm was still blaring IMPENDING DOOM. DEATH IS IMMINENT. REPENT NOW. THE END IS NEAR. I just went about my kitchen business. Scott spent the next three minutes trying to get the air to move away from the alarm waving his arms and such. ALL of the alarms were going off by then; not just the one closest to the oven.

Scott walked out to the front porch holding the storm door open. I think he was also trying to intercept any neighbors that might have come running over thinking we needed to be rescued from our demise. I’m sure he would say, “Nothing to see here. No cause for concern. Just my wife cooking dinner.”

After about minute 4 on the second side, I looked in the oven. Sure enough. There it was. Flames. My London broil was on fire.

I called for Scott and pulled the pan out of the oven. We got the fire out (it was small), turned off all the stove and oven elements, and let the steak rest while we continued to move fans around. Finally, the noise of the alarms was silenced. I ended up having to microwave the meat a little because it was still too pink for Scott (who LIKES his meat pink). Dinner turned out OK, but I don’t know if it was worth all the ringing that is still going on in my ears.

It never occurred to me that there might actually be a fire. I was too busy trying to find a way to silence that nasty alarm.

How many times have I tried to silence the warning without actually looking for a cause?

How often have I ignored the warning of danger believing there was no real threat?

How many times have I stuck my fingers in my ears and sang a senseless “la la la la” in my head just to drown out the warning noise?

Oh, Lord, open my ears to Your warnings. Open my eyes to Your work. Open my heart to Your love.

"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” Hebrew 3:15

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Where's Mikey when you need him?

There are a handful of blogs that I read frequently. Unlike this blog, those writers are in the habit of posting almost daily, so reading a fresh post frequently from them is not that difficult. A lot of bloggers who write daily posts take the first week of January to review all their posts from the previous year. They do a year in review and highlight their top ten or something like that. So, I've read a lot of "Best of 2009" blog posts lately.

Funny thing about those "Best of" posts. Not funny ha ha, but rather funny hmmmm. More of them than not included some kind of statement about 2009 being a difficult year. Yes, there was the sagging economoy and all that, but even beyond that it seemed that a lot of people who write there lives' events down in a daily blog found their moods and topics with a lot less funny in them this past year.

Well, me too. I lost my funny somewhere back in 2009. I have been determined to find it again in 2010.

And God is faithful. Even in the little things.

Scott and I went out of town for a couple of days. When we returned, a new sign greeted us:

Here's a close-up for a better idea.

Andrew Zimmern should seriously consider filming an episode of his Bizarre Foods show here.

I never met a tick until I moved here. Every time Scott went to pick up trash on the roadway our church sponsored in the Keep America Beautiful program, he would come home with ticks attached. That always made me moan and groan even though he was the one with the ticks attached.

I never knew you could fry 'em up like funnel cakes. Hmmm.

Oh well, I guess I'd rather eat them than have them eat me.

They shouted, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man." Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of God continued to increase and spread. Acts 12: 22-24