Sunday, December 26, 2004

just a bowl of oatmeal

To my shame, I was impatient this morning. As I tried to figure out how to correctly prepare Mamie's breakfast, I grew frustrated, and thought, "Oh, why does it matter so much whether it's made exactly the way Mom does it--it's just a bowl of oatmeal!" But then I was ashamed. Of course, it is not just a bowl of oatmeal. It is Mamie's routine, and her routine is all she has left in this life.
And I knew that I was terribly wrong to be so selfishly earth-bound in my way of thinking. Mamie is my step-father's mother, and she has not been blessed with the ageless vigor my own grandparents seem to have. She is losing her mental facilities, rapidly now, and her movement is limited to a slow shuffle from the bedroom to her chair to the kichen, and to the bathroom. Mom and Lou have cared for her in the home for almost 6 years now, since they married, and she does indeed require constant care.
So, this morning, once Mom and Lou were both at work and the boys were heading out the door, it was discovered that none of us here knew how to prepare her breakfast the way it was always done. Mom tried to tell me over the phone, in between customers at work, and from her hurried instructions I fumbled through it.
And that is how I came to my morning lesson of being more mindful to be gracious in allowing for other people's routines, no matter how inconsequential they may seem from my own limited perspective. The truth is, of course, that we all need our routines, some of us clinging to them more than others, but all alike in our need to some sort of daily order and expectedness to our lives. So, for Mamie, this means a large bowl of stove-cooked oatmeal--2 servings with a spoonful of sugar, a spoonful of honey, and a dash of milk--and on the side, the blue cup with a spoonful of French Vanilla Carnation instant breakfast mized with a half cup of water, and the yellow cup with a spoonful of Citrucel mixed into a half cup of water, each with a flexi-straw.
And for me, that meant an Amelia Bedelia moment. You see, as Mom was instructing me, I thought, now why-ever does it matter which cup is used to mix what? I did not initially catch the fact that each side cup was separate, and so mixed both the instant breakfast and the Citrucel in with the oatmeal. She did not notice in the taste of it, but she did, after a moment, ask about her "milk." "There's something else too, she normally gives me, and I can't remember what . . ."
That was when my cheeks flushed with the realization of my error. I knew better than to try to remedy the situation with another spoonful of Citrucel, this time mixed with water. So, I did the best I could, and gave Mamie the blue cup with instant breakfast--her "milk." She was satisfied with that, and contentedly ate the remainder of her oatmeal, sipping her cup of milk.
In the end, Mamie got an extra spoonful of instant breakfast this morning and I got a dose of humility and, hopefully, an extra portion of lasting patience.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

my oma

It is one of those nights. One of those in which I go to bed knowing that I am fighting the urge to write--tonight I was thinking practically, thinking of the many hours of driving ahead for tomorrow, of the unknown road stretched before me. But the story won out over practicality--the story of my life, of our lives. And so I am out of bed and writing, resisting no longer.
In this case, it figures that the need would be so strong, considering the power of the inspiration. The words that are swimming in my head are about my Oma. She is a force to be reckoned with--a woman to admire, a woman to obey, a woman to love.
Oma is what I have always known her as, and I am only one of millions of Germans who know their German "grandma" by the same term. Though in fact she was raised in Russia, on a remote farm where she grew up poor--so that she and her siblings in the winter sought out fresh, steaming piles of cow manure to warm their bare feet in. They moved in her childhood to Germany, however, and so she is more German than anything else, marrying a German and raising her kids to speak German. One of my uncles in fact made fun of them all once, telling me that he was amazed that any of them were able to marry, wooing a wife-to-be in such a horribly un-romantic sounding language as their own mother tongue.
But Oma had no trouble being on the receiving end, turning down several suitors before my grandfather won her over, surprising her when he did so, seeing as how he was younger than her. But he was a handsome, charming man, charismatic to no end. He sang in a popular men's ensemble in their young married days, and ran a successful carpentry business. Until the alcohol won him over.
It took Oma completely by surprise. They were staunch German Baptists, in a culture of normal beer and wine consumption, so she brewed her own beer and had her own wine cellar, using their orchard fruit, so that they would always be well-stocked for wedding and holiday parties. And parties they were indeed. This was a family in which hard work was a given, and real celebration was considered as much a part of life as the work was. So, when there was something to celebrate and to praise God for, the celebration was a hearty one, with much laughter and many hours of good companionship.
My grandfather was a good man, a sincere man, but one whom Oma said could have been addicted to anything--he just had a nature with a weakness for addiction. During the War he fought well, and was wounded--received a medal for it, I believe. At any rate, the wound left him in constant pain from then on. So the doctor started him on a morphine prescription that he faithfully took for many years. Until, that is, the medical world discovered the extremely addictive nature of the drug. His prescription was immediately changed to something substantially more innocuous, but by that point it was too late for him. Opa was terribly addicted to morphine, and in withdrawal as well as in constant pain again as soon as the prescription was changed. Oma was horrified at the state her husband was suddenly in and went to the Doctor begging for whatever they had changed to be changed back—he declined, apologizing for the fact that they had only then realized how addictive Morphine was.
After some time in pain, Opa began to drink more, more often and more heavily, and soon he was an alcoholic. Eventually it got so bad that he moved out, explaining that he did not want to make his wife and kids see him in such a state. And so Oma raised her eight children alone, without complaint. Oma could do anything. She was a trained chef, a trained masseuse, an amazing homemaker, and a prayer warrier. She prayed for Opa, and never considered looking for anything other than the life God had given her. The way she saw it, she had given herself to my grandfather many years ago, he would forever be her husband before God, and she may or may not be with him in this life, but what did she have to do but to care for her children and, eventually, dote on her grandchildren.
That she did—she doted on us all fiercely. When I was old enough to try to express my sentimentality, I made simple little gifts for her. One year for Christmas I used a rather tacky satin scrap I found, probably in the discard bin of a fabric store, to painstakingly labor over the process of figuring out how to make a pillow. And I did—I sewed a little, slightly skewed square throw pillow for her that I mailed to her from Tennessee. The last time I visited her there in Canada, 4 years ago, she still had that pillow proudly adorning the sofa (to my slight embarrassment). And when I began to shyly offer an “I love you”—a difficult move for me with my ever-loving but not openly affectionate immediate family, Oma responded in just about the best way possible. She accepted my gesture in a way that allowed me to give it freely, without embarrassment. She took it as if it were the most natural thing in the world for me to say, and gave me a rib-crushing quick hug and a “You better!” I still have difficulty hearing “I love you” without smiling to myself as I whisper a silent “You better!” to my inner child.
As I grew up, Oma began giving me about the best compliment I could ever imagine, saying that whether I liked it or not, I reminded her of herself when she was younger. Oh, I hope so! If I can be a woman like my Oma, for my own children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, I will truly have lived a blessed life.
But the story I was going to tell, out of infinitely many that could be told, is the end of one story, at least—my Opa’s. After many many years alone, fighting the demons, Opa turned his eyes upward and rediscovered the God who had claimed him so many years before. He became a new man, the man he had been before the alcohol claimed him. And about that same time, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, and it began its slow process of stealing his strength. As he grew weaker, Oma began to discuss with him the prospect of taking him back in. They had already divorced a while back, after my aunts and uncles convinced Oma that a divorce was the only way she could remain financially stable as the years went on, seeing as how it looked at the time like Opa was forever lost. But Oma decided she was still his wife, if not legally, and she wanted to care for him in his latter years—so Opa moved back home.
My senior year of high school, I decided I wanted to go to visit Oma and Opa for spring break. After thinking about it for some time, I found some decent airfare, and just knew I had to do it. I didn’t know why I wanted to go so badly at the time, but was compelled to do it. That week Opa was doing well. They were planning for a big gathering there for Easter the next month, and everyone was excited at how healthy he was. It was the first time I had been around him for any period longer than a short passing-through visit, on our way to or from Africa, so I watched.
I watched as Oma fed him, teasing him still for his odd taste for steak prepared to be more like “leather” than steak. But she made it the way he liked it, happy when he could enjoy his meals. I watched when he persuaded my aunt to hold a cigarette in his mouth for few short puffs, sneaking in a smoke, for old times sake, when Oma wasn’t looking. I watched when his face lit up as Oma talked to him—by this time, she was the only one who could really understand his garbled speech, though his brain was still sharp. So I watched his facial expressions to try to figure out what he wanted to communicate when he spoke to me. More than anything else, though, I just watched as he smiled. And I got to see him ask Oma to start his favorite hymns. He still loved to sing, and we would all 3 sing together each night before bed—3 voices raised together in praise, a praise that God no doubt relished. Those were moments in which we could taste some small piece of that which God intended us to be, some hint of the eternal creatures we were at heart.
I awoke to Oma’s frantic calls. “Anna! Anna! Come, come quick! He’s gone, gone . . .” Her voice disintegrated into a series of wails, and I ran up the stairs to see her at his bedside. “His lips—I kissed his lips before I went to bed. And I thought they were colder than usual, but I didn’t know . . .” And she sobbed—paced and sobbed. The next few days were filled with nurse visits, police reports, and phone calls to family members.
Opa died in the best way possible, for ALS. Often death comes from suffocation, the throat muscles being the last ones to go. That thought had terrified him. But he actually died in peace, quietly slipping away in his sleep, after a day of contentment and of good spirits. And thus ended the story of Oma and Opa’s life together. What amazes the most about it all is the sheer redemptive grace God has for us. To put back together again the pieces of such shattered lives as these. The truth is that life, all of our lives, is full of evidences of such grace. We fall, and God picks us up again, and again, and again. And something beautiful is created in the end, something more beautiful than any story we could have invented for ourselves.

Monday, December 20, 2004

ode to hoover

Call me a nut. Though you needn't really trouble yourself to do so, as I call myself a nut plenty for us all. I spent the past hour in hog heaven, thanks to the exceedingly delightful companionship offered by my newest friend--a Hoover SteamVac. Oh my, the simple act of steam cleaning my entire carpeted apartment, and the furniture along with it--it was enough to make a silly girl like me giddy with the thrill of deep-cleaning joy. You see, I am pretty sure that this place has never seen a thorough carpet cleaning--not since we added this apartment to the back of the house back in 1989. Since living here, I have been cleaning, bit by bit, as thoroughly as possible. Yet, I was handicapped with the carpet, not having the funds to pay for a professional cleaning and not having the resources for anything beyond a regular vacuuming. That, in fact, is a tale in itself . . .
Shortly after reclaiming this place, I discovered, tucked in the cavernous depths of the garage closet, an ancient vacuum cleaner, left apparently by one of the past tenants. Intrigued, I pulled it out, dusted off the cobwebs, and plugged it in, on a whim. My assumption was that it would have long since seen its demise, but in fact, it worked. Not only did it work, but it worked more beautifully than any other vacuum cleaner I had ever used, picking up the bits of kitty litter that resiliently resisted other cleaning efforts. When it stopped working one day, I took it to a vacuum repair shop and, thankfully, he was able to fix it and assure me that this Hoover had many year left yet. He also informed me that I was the proud owner of a 1927 model. I thanked him profusely, resisted the urge to hug him, and brought Mr. Hoover home again, where he continues to serve me--his biggest fan--beautifully.
And then last night, my neighbor showed me the steam vac she had borrowed from a coworker. As I was fascinated with it, and transparent, as I always am, with my excitement, she assured me that I was welcome to use it. So, this morning, I gratefully took her up on the offer, and am now laughing at myself for the silly amount of excitement such a simple act has afforded me today.
I suppose this is a symptom of some strange neurosis--should I begin a Neurotic Vacuumers Anonymous support group?

Saturday, December 18, 2004

the magnificat

Holy. Holy. Holy is the Lord. The familiar catch of breath. The sting in the eyes. And the tears begin to flow with the falling rain. Or do the tears fall with the flowing rain. What is it in these words that I whisper that wrenches at my heart so? Why does Mary’s prayer touch the core of my being, so many centuries after it was spoken?
I think it must be because I know that she was just a girl, just a human being, with a woman’s heart like my own. And so, when I hear her wondering words, I can feel with her the emotion she must have felt. To bear the son of God—what wondrous mystery, what glorious honour! And she was, like me, just a young woman—much younger, in fact, than I am now. And so, no matter how often I hear the story and read her words, it still has the power to bring abrupt and unsought tears.
What a gracious God, to work wonders with such frail and faulty creatures as us!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

another day older Posted by Hello

Monday, December 13, 2004

the story of a gentleman and a lady

I have a story to tell. It's been itching to be put to words since yesterday, but waited until this moment due to concerts to perform and a work day to be done. You see, my grandmother turned 77 yesterday, and we celebrated with a meal and a gathering she hosted at their house. She didn't want anyone to know, before coming, that it was a birthday party and to feel the need to bring gifts as a result, so she just invited her friends for Sunday dinner.
Once everyone was full with a good meal and good fellowship, my grandfather explained to everyone that it was, in fact, an occasion we had gathered for. And then he proceeded to delightfully shock us all, my GramBea and I included.
Now, a couple of things should probably be explained for anyone who does not know my grandparents. They are, by all accounts, adorable. As silly as that may sound, it is the honest truth. I have grown quite accustomed to comments like, "Ooohhh---are you one of Bea & Charley's grandkids? I just love your grandparents!" . . . "Your PaCharley, he is one special gentleman . . . have I ever told you what he did for my family and I? Oh, we just think the world of he and your grandma both" . . . "How do they ever manage to do all that? You'd think they were spring chickens or something!" . . . You get the picture.
So, imagine a group of seasoned folks, gathered in a cozy Southern living room, celebrating this ever-generous, kind, and Godly couple. My grandfather clears his throat in that soft-spoken manner of his, indicating that he is going to say something important--a man of few words, they are always well-chosen and important, so that ears perk up when he begins to speak . . . "It's so good to have you all here . . . we are honoured to have such good friends here to celebrate Bea's birthday with us. I thought I might use this occasion to tell you all how I first met Bea. You see, I actually met her first when she was hitchhiking one day, and I gave her a ride . . ."
PaCharley then proceeded to hold up a 9" x 13" photo he had blown up, proudly displaying this black and white print of GramBea by the side of the highway, looking all glamorous--as she always did--in short shorts and a tied-front blouse, one hand on her hip, and one up in the air, with a come-hither look on her face. PaCharley had printed up a caption on the bottom that said, "Goin' my way?"
GramBea gasped and stammered, "Charley, now that's not the way it happened at all!!" And the rest of us gasped, and then roared with laughter. After we had time to gather ourselves again, PaCharley passed the photo around, and then did concede that he had perhaps embellished their meeting tale slightly. Now, I just happened to know the real story behind the photo, though no one else did. The truth is they were married at the time, and on a road trip shortly after Mom was born--and they were just goofing off. But, no one ever did get around to asking that, because Pa Charley then told the true story, which is just as interesting, it turns out . . .
PaCharley was working in a friend's workshop at the time, though officially in the Army, I believe, as he was drafted during the War. At any rate, he had a factory job during which, on day he noticed this "beautiful brunette" walking across the street. After that, he began to see her regularly, as she would walk around running errands during her work day. After a bit, he asked a friend if he knew who she was--he did: "Well, that's Beatrice Fox!"--who was being courted at the time by one of her suitors, of which I think there were many . . .
Well, after that, PaCharley continued to watch for her--sure enough, he kept seeing her, and he simply could not get her out of his mind. But, he just knew that she was too good for him . . . He kept working, and kept being distracted. So finally one day, he decided he had better just get it over with and ask her on a date, seeing as how he was rather impaired in getting his work done as it was. So, he knew her name, found her number, and called her up. "Uhh . . . Beatrice?" Yes, this is. "My name is Charley Hicks. I work at . . ." Yes, I know who you are.
At that point Pa Charley paused in his story-telling, to explain to us all that he was shocked that she knew who he was. I mean, he had already gotten to 1st base! We laughed. And he continued his story . . .
Then, still on the phone, he asked if she would like to go somewhere sometime. She said yes. And now, he suddenly realized he had a bit of a dilemma. You see, he hadn't anticipated an acceptance at this point--he thought she would turn him down. So now, Pa Charley was faced with the small issue that, well, he didn't have a car to take her "somewhere."
So, Beatrice gave Charley a ride.
And the rest is . . . well, it's history. My history, eventually . . .

Saturday, December 11, 2004

our own stories

Tonight we had a combined choir practice, children and adults, as we are preparing for tomorrow’s Christmas concert. I was sitting next to 2 boys I had not met before, seeing as how I am slowly getting to know people now in the new church. These boys were very clearly brothers, in the way that I recognized from my own experience of growing up in a family of a bunch of kids that all looked alike. In fact, they bore a resemblance to my two brothers at their age—about 7 and 9, I would guess. As a result, I caught myself stealing glances at them, grinning at their antics and resisting the urge to weird them out by reaching over and tussling their heads or something of the sort—you know, the kind of affectionate gestures that weird ladies did at Church when you were a child, making you roll your eyes and grimace . . .

After a bit, in between songs, I found some excuse to chat with the younger of the 2, and asked what his name was—Josiah, he said. “And your brother?” Isaiah—at that point, Isaiah joined our “conversation” as well. How coincidental, I thought, considering my long-time desire concerning names for my own children. So, I said to the boys, “You know—for ages now, I have wanted give my own children the names you have. If I get to have boys (and, of course, am not vetoed in my opinions J), my 3 top name choices are Isaiah, Josiah, and Micah.” Josiah stared at me for a moment, suspecting some sort of conspiracy, I now realize. Then, deciding I was innocent enough, I suppose, he said, That’s funny—our little brother’s name is Micah . . . Sure enough, their father, sitting on the other side of them, confirmed this to be a fact.

This is a small little instance, but it got me thinking for the rest of the night (hmmm . . . ok, so maybe one would be hard pressed to find something that does not get me thinking . . .). At any rate, I realized that the story-ness of life never ceases to amaze me. In small ways, and in great ones, life, if we will listen to it, graces us with the most intricately beautiful series of stories imaginable.

So often, it seems, we find all manner of distractions, of way to sort of check out of life for a bit and to not have to really live it. I am afraid that in writing out this thought, it will seem preachy of me somehow. The truth of it is that I have been, as Paul so aptly described is, “the worst of sinners” in this respect—I have simply been repeatedly graced by a God who gives 2nd chances, and who doesn’t give up on those children of His who just keep messing up. Oh Golly, now I’m crying, and my cat is peering up at me with a look of confused concern J That reminds me of times when I was a child, crying—I always wanted to be alone when I was crying, so would do silly things like the time I was reading a book that made me weep—Where the Red Fern Grows, now that I think about it. Embarrassed, I hid behind the armchair I had been sitting in so that I could cry in peace—knowing that the noise of our crazy household would keep any sound I made from being an issue. Our amazingly intuitive Boxer found me, though—she came over to lick the tears off my face and whimper along with me—and to preclude any possibility of my spot remaining hidden from the rest of the family!

But—before getting distracted by silly side notes—what I was going to say is that I cannot help but wonder if, were we to really be mindful of our own stories, we would be less inclined to get caught up in worldly distractions and more inclined to fall in love with the joys life has to give us.

This thought tonight is actually a continuation of one that began for me this summer. After a period of too much moving and work stresses combined with too little consistently meaningful human interaction, I was suddenly faced with the lonely lull that came between the completion of home-making and the beginning of the next semester of studies. I realized that when I did not have a challenge to tackle, there was little left to do in the days once the workday was over. And, because I was still getting used to the transition, I hadn’t taken the time to develop new meaningful activities to fill my down time. For a short period of time, I forget all that God had done in my life in the past and the gifts He had given to use, for His purposes, and just felt lost. It manifest itself in the way I just lost energy for social activities, and had an ever-earlier bedtime. That in itself, mind you, does not necessarily say anything, as I actually prefer going to bed at a decent hour and getting up early in the morning—I love the morning—the promise of the dawn and the peaceful excitement of the sunrise. But, this summer, I knew that I was just checking out of life—in fact, I would even shake my head at myself, when I went to bed before the sun had gone down—one night, I literally just whispered to myself that I was “done with the day” and ready to “check out” until time for work in the morning.

I also realize that there are times when a good, restful sort of slowing down is perfectly healthy and necessary. But, oftentimes, forgetting the ways God is working in our individual lives can lead to some form of depression. Or at least, that was my situation this summer—I certainly would not want to claim that to apply to other people’s lives as well.

So, my story is that this realization hit one night while I was driving home. I was returning from a “date” (I hate that word!), and, despite the fact that absolutely nothing came of it, that hint of possibility led to a barrage of memories. I was suddenly overcome by the force of the reality of my own past—the memories of being closely involved with another person and of all the vulnerability, pain, and joy that comes along with it. And, suddenly, I was weeping, as my mind flooded with the pains and joys of life—of my own life. It caught me off guard, forcing me to wonder why I was so surprised. It was simply because I had forgotten that life itself, even my own little insignificant life, can carry with it such a depth of experience that I needn’t rely on anything more than my own memory to provide as much meaning and teaching as anything I could imagine.

So, I have been remembering a lifetime of moments when life just overcomes me with its mystery, and when reality is so much more poignant than fiction could ever be. Doing so, I find my heart just ready to burst with more emotion than I feel like one heart can hold. How gracious is this God who gives us—each and every one of us—a life which, frighteningly short though it may be, is cram packed with moments of shocking significance and intensity. Oh, would that I could keep the eyes and ears of my heart wide open, for the remainder of this lifetime given me, to the magic and meaning of each moment . . .

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

the beautiful mess of it all

In choir practice tonight I was struck by the certainty that this was what Christ was talking about when He spoke of the kingdom of heaven on earth. He had us--the motley crew of us--in His mind's eye. Tonight we laughed so hard it hurt, laughing at everything and laughing at nothing in particular, all at once. And I realized why--still--after practicing together 3 times a week lately, we can laugh so heartily. I think it is because I am surrounded by people who are bruised and battered by life, sometimes fighting our way through the day. And yet, knowing all the same, that all is well, that we are saved by grace, that we are loved . . . Beloveds of the only one who really matters when it comes down to it. Somehow, he has plucked us out--chosen--out of the muck so that in all our messiness we can glow. And so tonight, we laughed. We sang, and we laughed. The drummer danced his beat out, somehow beautifully graceful in all his burliness, his wad of gum measuring the time of his drum strokes. Our directors cracked themselves up with their own antics, letting out huge peals of knee-slapping laughter. And I watched, mesmerized by all the beautiful people around me--so much so that I turned at one point after realizing I was being watched; the man next to me, in his muddy work boots and construction clothes, after a moment, asked me, "What's going on in your head? You're just . . . just thinkin' somethin . . . !" I laughed and said, yeah, he had figured me out, I suppose. I was indeed thinking my little brain away--thinking what blessedness is in this sanctuary--what starkly stunning crude reverence we are witness to at this moment. God is smiling down on His creation at this very moment in time, laughing right along with us.

Monday, December 06, 2004

potty tales

By the time I began my baby-sitting years, I was well prepared for potty-training adventures. My own siblings and I were close enough in age to where I was not terribly involved, except for the occasional bespeckled-toilet-seat scolding, in their early years in the bathroom. It began, though, when Mom started taking in other's kids, when I was in middle school. She was amazing with kids, and we had a vibrant and welcoming household, so she ended up taking on child-care without really intending to.
One of these children--Keith--actually ended up moving in with us, as a 4-year-old. He was the only child of a single mother, and she decided to try some sort of intern career move to another town. As she did not want to commit to the move, and uproot Keith in the middle of the school year, she asked my mom if she would take him in during the week. Never one to say no, and happy to have another child around, mom happily agreed. So, Keith moved in to the spare bedroom upstairs, that was in between move-in friends at the time (of which my dear friend Julia was later a resident--but that's another story for another day . . .).
Well, soon after Keith joined our family, I discovered that he was not entirely great about using the toilet in the middle of the night. The bed-wetting was beginning to improve after a few weeks, however, and I rejoiced at the decrease of wee morning sheet changes. In exchange, I was happy to turn the bathroom light after him when he did get up at night to use it, and so I got used to waking up to the flushing toilet and going in to flip the switch when I saw the light still glowing into my bedroom.
Until, that is, I realized the occasional unfortunate result of such a late night awakening for Keith . . . One night I routinely got out of bed after the flushing toilet, and walked sleepily into the bathroom. The way the house was added on to when my large family moved in, we have en attic entrance door next to the toilet in that bathroom. As the door is unfinished wood, I immediately noticed that night that it was suddenly substantially darker than it's original hue. "Hey Keith," I asked, "did something happen in the bathroom?" He walked back in, cute as ever in his spiderman undies and nightshirt. Rubbing his eyes, he looked at the door for a moment before replying "Oh--yeah--I didn't aim fast enough . . ." I laughed--and still can't remember that answer without laughing all over again. "Ok, Keith--thanks--go on back to bed now," I managed, in between giggles. Even at 13 years old, I was thankfully amused at childhood frankness that eliminates any chance of possible annoyance.
Between occasions like this that occurred regularly at that time, and plenty of others, as kids trickled in and out of the household, I eventually developed some sort of immunity against being bothered by interesting bodily function events.
Later, as a nanny, I discovered a tendency that conversations with other women confirmed as not limited to my experience. I had recently begun caring for a 6-week-old little boy, who I cared for from that time on through the birth of his little sister and then, after full-time care, on and off until I moved away from the area. At any rate, I don't remember how old he was at the time, but one night, during bath night, I discovered why his last few days of diaper changes had been curiously innocuous. It turns out he had saved up all his #2 activities for bath time. It actually took me some thought that night to figure out precisely how to manage clean up of the interesting mess I was then faced with. Thankfully, I came up with a decent plan, as that was his preferred method for several months. By the time he had rediscovered his diaper for that purpose, I was quite pleased, to say the least.
*sigh* Believe it or not, I do miss those eventful days and nights of child care-- I do think those types of experiences remind us of the necessity to laugh at life's little perplexingly amusing moments :-)

beyond the daily

It was an intensely moving afternoon--a work day that brought with it the power of transcendence, of realization that I was in the midst of the real stuff of life, in its earthy humanity as much as in its eternal value. Something about the resignation speech and the feeling in the air made for a certainty that something of significance was happening at that moment. It wasn't as much what was said, as the words were vague--genuinely Spirit-filled, but not earth-shaking in any sort of enlightenment. Rather, I suspect what I was touched by was the power of a great number of hearts unified in their combination of love and confusion. None of us--save a couple of particularly in-the-know folks perhaps--really understood why he was resigning. What we all seemed to agree on, those in tears and those of us dry-eyed alike--even those like me who knew the man himself little but by brief interactions and hearings-about, was that this was a man after God's own heart, who had truly lived in service to his Maker, and who had done great things as a result. I suspect he was often unaware, and mainly just living each moment as it came, dealing with people and situations as they presented themselves to him. But because he has an evidently passionate heart for the Father, he has been blessed with a life that hints to others of Christ's love . . . At least that is what I think, as best as I can tell at the moment, is what I was experiencing today . . . perhaps further thought, or the completion of this exam-in-progress, will give me better clarity about it all. Then again, maybe not--it could be that this sense of the Greatness beyond me is all I am meant to know for certain, and, come to think of it, that is enough . . .

Saturday, December 04, 2004

an untimely demise?

mr. hoover and i made an unfortunate discovery this morning--a discovery that may foretell impending doom for my happy little home . . . small bits of duckling-hued fuzz are beginning to scatter themselves about the apartment . . .

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

for the memories

I remember, thank God, this day--November 30--in 1988. On this day, I awoke excited--no, more than that--I was ecstatic. I was running through lines of the Christmas program in my head, eagerly rehearsing for the program that night. You see, tonight we were performing for our families, for my family. They were on their way by this time, I knew, beginning the drive early that morning that would bring them along many lonely dirt roads, winding through villages and across open plains, to arrive here.
It had been 3 months now since I last saw them, when I boarded the little Cessna on the grass strip of our village, clutching my stuffed bear in one arm and holding my sister's hand with the other. We stood there waving goodbye one last time on the boarding stairs, and then waved again out the window as we sped along the airstrip and lifted off into the air. I loved that moment of lifting off in the airplane--and have ever since--the exciting rush of becoming airborne and soaring faster and faster through the air. That day, though, my excitement of the beginning was tinged with the sadness of knowing I would be away from my family for many nights now. The days were always full of learning, fun adventures in the bush with friends and with various creatures to be discovered and trees to be climbed. The nights were the hard part, though, when I fought the tears that often came in spite of my fierce will, silently dampening my pillow while I stifled the shortened breaths that may give away my tears to the classmates sleeping near me in rows of bunk beds.
But, the 3 months since that last flight had passed quickly--3 months of good books read, math problems solved, geography discovered, play weddings acted out in free time, and all manner of grade 4 activities. I had also turned 9 the previous month, and knew my family would now celebrate my birthday and my brother's 4th birthday 3 days earlier, as soon as we made it back home. While on a shopping trip in South Africa, my Dad had acquired our first car, so the decided to make the road trip instead of Helen and I flying home as we had always done before. So, I knew they were loaded up in the Isuzu, along with 2 village friends--a teenage student of my Dad's and the Zambian pastor he worked with in our Church.
So, that afternoon, after various activities designed to keep all us boarding students preoccupied so we wouldn't be bouncing off the walls with the excitement of our families' arrivals, we all filed out the the drive-up area to await the first arrivals. I had in my mind the perfect picture of what to expect, so as each vehicle arrived, I craned my neck to see my mom's long arm waving out the window and Alex's goofy grin peering out from her lap. But the cars came, parents claimed their clamoring kids, and my picture-perfect arrival still had not appeared. Finally, a lady I recognized as the mom of some friends who lived fairly near us went over to our Dorm Mother and said something to her, gesturing in our direction. She then came and told us to go ahead and get ready for the program--not to keep waiting for our parents there.
I was disappointed, but assumed they would arrive at any moment, so just kept waiting as we practiced our songs. My mental image just altered itself to adjust to a late clamor of hugs and kisses rushed in before the program started . . . but the program came, began, and ended, and they had not arrived. The next morning we were taken to the Cessna, and told we were going to go back to the village by flight after all. This time I imagined the whole family standing there on the airstrip, coming into focus as the plane landed, with eager smiles and waves--still, no. The parents of a classmate took us in their car instead--so of course I changed my expectation once more, this time thinking they were taking us to our house where the family would be, picture-perfect, waiting in front of our little home. Instead we arrived at their house. Auntie Elaine (according to British habit, all family friends were "Auntie" and "Uncle" to us kids) finished up dinner preparations while we helped set the table. And then, instead of sitting down to dinner, she asked Helen and I to come and sit with her on the couch--"Anna, Helen--I have some really sad news . . . your Daddy went to heaven . . . " Before the sentence was finished, I had burst into loud sobs, Helen looked at me and started crying, and Auntie Elaine and her daughter were both crying and hugging us.
I don't remember any mention of the rest of the family at that point--nor did I wonder, as far as I can remember. The rest of the day, of the week, of the month, passed in a sort of a fog, in which my memories are clear but displaced, as if each memory was plucked from its proper place in the continuum of time and placed instead in some never never land of homeless moments. I remember falling asleep with fitful dreams, waking up convinced I had dreamed reality, and that Daddy would walk in and comfort me any moment. I remember being reunited with my brothers, staring at Alex's discolored and misshapen head, and carting Ian around carefully in his body cast, propping him up against walls . . . supporting him and holding his modesty blanket over his midsection as he pinned the tail on the donkey at his belated birthday party. I remember visiting Mom there in the Zambian hospital, horrified at the sight of my strong, active, beautiful mother lying there on the stretcher bed unable to move herself. At one point during a visit, the nurse had to turn her over so that she wouldn't get a bed sore. As she did so, she let go of the sheet and mom was briefly exposed to us all in the room. I didn't know whether to blush, sob, or scream--I wanted to just run away, to disappear forever into the endless, dreadfully beautiful African wilderness. I hated seeing mom like that, and dreaded the visits . . . and I hated myself for feeling that way, thinking there must be something wrong with me if I didn't want to see my mother . . .
Somehow, time passed. My Daddy's funeral passed in a blur of friends, strangers, languages I didn't know, and wails I knew only too well. As soon as mom was strong enough to be transported, we were shipped to the U.S., where hospitalization and then physical rehab came for her. I hid in my books--in beautiful worlds of fantasy--to the extent that my grandmother still teases me for always having my "nose stuck in a book" as a child.
And eventually Mom was well enough to take over the care of the 4 of us again. I still don't know for the life of me how she did it--a paraplegic supporting and caring for a home of her own and 4 not-always-angelic children. She did it well . . . she loved us well.
On this day, as a child, Mom beautifully commemorated the anniversary. She would buy what looked to me like hundreds of helium-filled balloons, bringing them home so that the house was bursting with balloons. Then she tied notecards to the string of each one, and told us to write notes on them--as many as we wanted, and whatever we wanted to say to a stranger. I remember writing things like "Jesus loves me this I know . . ." and "My Daddy died on this day, and he is now in heaven with God, because he loved God. I do too." I wrote silly notes, but meaningful ones, longing, in all my childhood intensity, to somehow tell the world that I had a great Daddy, and that some day I would see him again. I still catch myself, when I am still enough to listen to the deeper desires of my heart, craving moments of remembrance of my Daddy, and eagerly clasping to memory any tidbits about him that people from his past may be able to share with me.
But, it is past my bedtime now, and my desire to continue rambling must be tempered by a knowledge of a morning alarm clock and routine schedule awaiting . . .
So, for now, I guess it must be enough to simply say that I am infinitely thankful for the memories that I have of this day 16 years ago. The pain of it is sweet--a good and healing pain, and a healthy one. Thanks be to God for a mind that remembers and a heart that hurts . . .

Thursday, November 25, 2004

the language of tears

As they do, the tears came unexpectedly this afternoon. And as they also do, they came with a message--thankfully, today I was still enough to listen for, and hear, that message:
Remember--this is what it is all about. This is what matters. Don't let busyness make you forget to pay attention to family, to people, and to the love that God has put you here to experience . . .
I sat there today soaking up the presence of family--of a great uncle still frail from his battle with cancer, of cousins I have not seen in 10 years now, of new cousins I had not yet had the chance to meet, and of young men I remember as little boys. And I was suddenly overcome, fighting back tears, as I held the 9 month old as he chewed my obviously tasty sweater and tested out his new climbing muscles. This cousin I had actually met, in fact, accidentally, as a preemie in the NICU.
Before grad school started this fall, I had spent a year training for and then working in the NICU as a "cuddler" in my spare time. One night I was making my first rounds, and peered into the bassinet of one of the newcomers, smiling at his sleeping face. Then I noticed his name tag and realized that he was related to me. Sure enough, he was the newborn of my cousin, who had proudly told me (upon another chance meeting) that he had just found out that he was going to be a daddy. My suspicion was confirmed when, slightly later in the shift, my cousin himself entered the pod for visiting hours. After 3 weeks of the NICU, he went home, and after 3 more weeks hooked up to an Apnea moniter, he began a normal infancy.
Now, at 9 months, he is beginning to crawl and will soon be walking. This afternoon my other little cousin--a 3-year-old livewire whom I had not met before today, was anxious to play, and he repeatedly ordered various adults to put him down and "make him crawl!"
Talking to my cousins about child development matters, I just could not shake my emotions. And, after a little bit of thought, I knew exactly why. I was feeling the ache that comes from experiencing something that this time of life just has not allowed the occasion for lately. My life is a good one, and a blessed one, that I am thankful for. But it is, for practical purposes, a relatively solitary and studious one. When I am around children again, I cannot help but feel the small pangs that come from so many years of my life spent as a teacher, tutor, camp counselor, babysitter, and then nanny. There have been chunks of my life in which my time has been relatively evenly divided between the babies I was nannying and my few close friends, or my boyfriend at the time.
As a result, it is odd to realize that I am now often around either a lot of people at the same time, at work or church, or alone, except for my cat, at home. I just do not take care of children any more, for the most part. It is probably healthy for me to have a few years like that, as I was in some sort of "mothering" role at a rather early age. Maybe that is part of the reason for my uncertainties when originally planning for marriage immediately after graduation from college. At the time, I had spent so much time focused on the relationship that I had never really taken the time to figure out what sort of career I was really interested in, or who I really was. That said, though, I do not really buy into the notion that a woman has to necessarily find herself and live for herself--at least not if that excludes the possibility of caring for others. I actually tend to believe that any "finding oneself" that is necessary can be accomplished just as well in the context of a relationship or while caring for a family as it can when alone. In my case, however, I had emotional insecurities and relational issues that I had not yet dealt with at the time. So, in God's providence, my heart had to break in order for some real internal work to be done, and for the wounds to heal properly.
But, what I was going to say ("when truth broke in with all her matter of fact about the ice storm . . .") is that this afternoon's lesson for me was that I have let the busyness of a checklist of errands to be run, projects to be competed, and papers to be written, make me forget my purpose. When it comes down to it, all is ultimately for the sake of family. Because I do not have an immediate family to care for at the moment, it is a fine time to fill my schedule with work and classes. But, the end goal of this is not just to climb some sort of corporate ladder. All I am trying to do, as well as I can see with the dim vision of mortal sight, is to live in a way that is as prudent and future-oriented as possible. In practical terms, I just know that I don't do so well with a job that demands all my time. I am very focused on the task at hand, but know that it is best for me to move a bit more slowly that a normal modern schedule allows for, to take the time to pursue passions like music and art, and to not neglect my friendships and family because I have too much work to do. So, I am getting a masters in order to have, ultimately, a bit more freedom and schedule flexibility. And, my specific goal (I think) is to be a children's librarian. Of course, in the most practical terms, a graduate degree will allow me to be well-prepared for (Lord willing) raising a family.
So, thanks be to God, the giver of tears--tears that speak more loudly than any words possibly could.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

make way for duckling

My cat has a new friend--I suppose I must resign myself to no longer being his sole companion. After much trial and error, we have happened upon the cat toy that is more than just a toy. This little catnip-filled stuffed duck is already losing the sparkle on his yellow fur, and some of his limbs are beginning to loosen. But Aslan, now he is one happy kitten.
It all began shortly after I brought Aslan home, at 4 months. He adjusted quickly to being an only child (after being raised by an expert cat-breeder, surrounded by his siblings), but I simply could not satisfy his need to play--a lap to sleep on could only keep him content part of the time (and the vacuum cleaner doesn't help either, as he has not yet gotten over his deathly fear of it).
At any rate, I soon browsed the small cat section of the grocery store and found a 5-pack of those little furry catnip mice. My experience with all myriad of cats made me quite confident that this would appeal to him. Sure enough, he eagerly leapt upon the first one I tossed to him--and the next, and the next . . . and approximately 25 more. I found myself buying one package per week, every single mouse disappearing who knows where within the hour, it seemed. Still, for the life of me, I cannot figure out where he put them all, but they are most definitely gone.
Realizing that I had been spending about $4 on each pack, I figured I should perhaps put a bit more thought into his toys. Surely, I could find something that would amuse him sufficiently but that would not disappear into cat-toy never never land quite so rapidly. So, after reading an article about homemade dog toys, I decided to manipulate the strategy slightly, making my own braided-fabric toy for him. I had an excess of cloth napkins, so cut one into strips for the project, chuckling to myself about how it befitted my housekeeping neuroses for his cat toy to match my home decor.
Sadly, he was not quite so amused. Sure, he humored me, it seemed, batting at it congenially when I dangled it in front of him, but without that prompting my labored-after toy stayed rather dejectedly abandoned. It didn't help either when a friend teased me incessantly, insisting to everyone who was here that it looked like it was made out of "panties."
Then, last weekend, the 2-pack of stuffed animal styled toys caught my eye. They seemed rather fitting for Aslan, as he has a nature befitting his kingly name, and they were obviously durable. Sure enough, he immediately loved playing with the little duck, tearing from room to room with it. It was only this evening, however, that I realized just how much he liked it, and that it was his companion, not just something to play with. He had retrieved it from the other room and was bringing it in to the room where I was working at the moment, and I saw the wear and tear that it was getting. And then I laughed at the way he was trotting about with it, and remembered how attached he'd been acting towards it. Yesterday, I had shut my bedroom door when I left (I still am trying to get over my paranoia after a brief urine-everywhere episode we had when I mistakenly tried to switch cat litter one him . . .). When I got home from work and had managed to get in the door (he has this habit of lying on his back when I arrive, directly in front of the door, waiting for me to slide him along the carpet in order to squeeze in the door), I opened the bedroom door and saw him dash in the room, under the bed, and then triumphantly emerge again, his little yellow duck cradled lovingly in his jaws.
I wonder what sort of crisis we will have the day the duck dies??

Monday, November 22, 2004


tonight i give-thanks for:

  • Answer to prayer (see addendum to "wrestling the angel"
  • The little lion purring on my lap at the moment
  • Loving family members here, and all over the world
  • Quality music like Innocence Mission, that can make for happily contented term paper writing
  • Bosom buddy friends(JW) who do wonderfully crazy things like writing a Sonnet for me
  • Old college roomies who write me while galavanting about Italy to reminisce about our days making up dance routines to silly top 40 tunes
  • Fiercely loyal friends (HP) who leave lovably perplexing messages on my voice mail
  • A grandfather-ish professor who tells goofy jokes in class
  • A wild woman of a Mom who acts as tester for the handicap-accessible skiis at the resort where she works because she'll zip down the hills faster than any of the "normal" skiers
  • Little brothers who, when they are in town, are patient with my clinginess when they visit and I want them to spend all their free time with their nerdy big sister
  • An almost-20-year old brother who has already taken the initiative to take a Mercy Ship mission to Sierra Leone, works as a snowboard instructor and a photographer, volunteers for Young Life, and is planning to be a Youth Leader--oh, and he's in college in his spare time :-)
  • A 21-year-old brother who has his 10-year life plan in place for being a Math teacher, pioneered an Acappela mens choir at his college, volunteers at the nursing home, and is insanely devoted to his best friend/girl friend of 3 years now
  • My little sister who has always had her head squarely on her shoulders, and who was courageous enough to move to Germany to be with her boyfriend when she was done with school but he was still in his grad school program and so couldn't move to the U.S. yet
  • Grandparents who don't think twice about still holding hands
  • The legacy and memory of a Daddy who loved our God with all his heart, and who joked when he made his will that he couldn't go anywhere anytime soon because, after all, he had "2 daughters to walk down the aisle someday."

Friday, November 19, 2004

the need to create

I have never felt like a true artist, by any stretch; I have, however, always been deeply moved by art, in all its forms. I am enthralled by beauty, sometimes in its most unexpectedly simple forms. And, I am driven by a compulsion to create, to strive to create beauty around me--this, I believe, is God's gift to humans--the natural need to create being a small hint of that image of God in which we were created. Often, I think, the Church does not fully take advantage of the wonderful gift that art is--there seems to be some sort of underlying suspicion that art is somehow too secular for Christians to embrace. This is truly a shame, as, if truly appreciated for what it is, art in all its forms is one of the truest ways to touch the deepest part of the soul and to point to the ultimate Creator, in all His radiance. This, I suspect, is why I am driven to continue making feeble attempts at creating art, using it in the most practical ways I can think of, like the notecards I use daily to commemorate birthdays and special occasions or to thank those who have blessed me somehow.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


Church hunting is hard work. Church hunting alone is even harder. Two weeks away from my old Church has left me with a Rock Creek-shaped hole in my heart, aching for the presence of that family again. This probably has something to do with the fact that my own family is scattered around the world, but I think I have grown to rely rather heavily on my Church family. Never before have I been intimately connected to a group of such tightly-knit yet outwardly-lovingfamilies. These familial ties are so strong that they burst outward to those of us in need of a bit of encouragement to accept any unconditional love. For the year & a half that I've been a part of that family I have loved them all deeply--but benefited more I think from their love for me. At any rate, I find my good intentions of finding a Church home in the community of my new home leaving me, initially at least, wondering if I should just keep commuting after all . . .or maybe just at least for this next Sunday . . . How gracious is this God who plants within us such haunting longings that can only be whispers of an ultimate Home and the ultimate Family yet to come.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

wrestling the angel

I've been drawn to the Orthodox faith lately--again. Ever since my friend Julia joined the Orthodox Church, back when I was just beginning college, I have periodically asked her about it when visiting her and going to church with her. I wondered if it was wrong of me--somehow wavering in my faith--to consider a change like that--but I really do not think it is.
Over the past week, however, as I have been studying Orthodoxy, I have been giving some serious thought to why it is that I am drawn to it. Looking at my life thus far, it seems like an odd leaning for one with such a staid protestant background as mine is. Then again, maybe it is not so solidly protestant after all . . . When my Father was a youth pastor, in Canada, it was in a German Baptist Church that his family had attended ever since immigrating from Germany. He and Mom had met at Columbia Bible College, a nondenominational, evangelical seminary. Mom was raised as a Presbyterian. In Africa, we were with a nondenominational mission, and the Church there was also nondenominational. These all had a distinctly protestant feel to them, though.
I, on the other hand, have never felt quite comfortable in my protestant skin. Now, I should clarify that never, in all my remembered life, have I considered any faith but the one that has been who I am since going to bed each night as a 7-year-old, repeating as my bedtime prayer, "And God, just in case you didn't hear me last night, please come into my heart. And please, if I am not being sincere enough in wanting you to, please help me to be tomorrow night . . . when I ask you again." Seriously, I have vivid memories of those nightly repeated prayers, and of, even at that young age, worrying that I somehow might not be asking Him well enough . . .so, I had better ask again the next night!
So, as long as I can remember, God has just been an ever-present reality in my life. I have worked through all manner of questions in my faith, continuously coming to God with all my pleas, me fears, my insecurities, and my joys. It is second-nature to me to be out on a run, or walking in the woods, having such an intense conversation with Him that I end up in tears--of sorrow, worry, or even joy.
All that to say, I am quite comfortable examining my faith without worrying that it is somehow in jeopardy--God has a hold of me, and He will not let me go, no matter what my fickle nature, prone to wander, as it is, may tempt me towards. Which brings me back to my question of what leads me to these examinations of Orthodoxy:
My first memory of a feeling of righteous indignation came early in high school, when a member of my group--who went on to become a Pastor, actually--commented on his interpretation of the passage we were studying. Unfortunately, I cannot remember what passage it was--the most I can remember is that it was one of Paul's letters in the New Testament. At any rate, this friend of mine said that he thought it was clearly advocating an aspect of doctrine particularly held by our denomination, and that he could not see how other denominations could consider themselved saved if they thought differently. I was absolutely horrified, and immediately protested, as best as I could muster in my timid nature at the time (I am not quite so timid anymore). After that night, I spent the better part of the week dwelling on that, and feeling that there was something wrong if differences in opinion on small matters could lead one part of Christ's body to question the salvation of another.
That was the first in a series of moments in my life when I have been caught off guard by the intensity of my feelings on that matter, and the need to fight for justice when I see denominational differences interfering with the work of the Church as a whole. I have no idea why I feel so strongly about this, but it has led to a willingness to be involved in many different denominations. Once we moved to the U.S., we attended a Presbyterian Church. During high school, though, I have vivid memories of the few times I was in other churches. A visit with relatives in England, at the Anglican Church where my uncle was a priest; attending midnight mass with close friends--these were experiences where the liturgy, choral music, and ceremonial nature inspired me with the way it created an indescribable sense of unity, and of being just a small speck in the midst of something great and wonderful that I could just be a part of.
At the same time, mind you, I have been just as moved by the social activism of the Lutheran Church I attended in Tacoma. I loved the way we were situated, intentionally, in the middle of the most infamously bad part of town, practically filling all the obvious needs there. We opened the Church up to families, as a homeless shelter, alternating as overnight hosts; we had weekly free meals, open to anyone who wanted to come in; we offered free tutoring services, paired up with one child that we would work with consistently throughout the school year. For the 5 years that I was a part of that Church, during college and beyond, I loved it with all my heart. Granted, I have never been a part of another Lutheran Church, so for all I know, this could have been a unique one. It was standard in practice, liturgy, and doctrine--but, our fabulously rowdy gospel choir may have been different, with our tendency to sing songs that inspired us to let loose with clapping, dancing, and swaying (helped, no doubt by our epitome-of-a-gospel-choir-director leader--she could inspire even the most timid-natured soul to let out her inner Tina Turner).
So, I will readily admit that I am by no means certain about any faith-decision, ot least as far as deciding on a Church to claim--or rather, that may claim me. That is always how it has been in the past: each time I have moved, God has placed the Church for that coming time of life glaringly in front of me. And this is another of those times of transition; this time, however, it is not as easy, and is requiring more reflection and decision-making.
I do know that tradition inspires me, in the sense of a faith steeped in history. I also know that I can easily think myself into an abyss of over-analyzation, leading to a need sometimes for someone to force me to just "be still and know that" He is God. Liturgy, hymns, and ceremony are some of the things that do that. At the same time, though, I have a need to know that I am filling a tangible need in God's kingdom, ministering to practical needs--that helps me avoid dwelling too much on my own needs. Which I may very well be doing at the moment . . .
When it comes down to it, I guess I have to just be at peace with not knowing for now. The truth is, it is such a crazy time of juggling work and grad school that it is probably and unwise time to try to force a decision. I must trust that if I simply keep faithfully attending Godly churches each week, God will be faithful in providing assurance about where I should be . . . or perhaps just about where I am.
Postlude, take 2:
So the lure of my old Church home proves too strong to resist. And now, I have been "visiting" so much that I realized it is silly to fight any longer and try to find a new Church home . . . it is no use, it seems, and a time away has been beneficial and helpful, for sure--but not permanent. I'm fighting no longer, and just going home . . .

Sunday, November 07, 2004

there were roses

i discovered roses this year. this did not really surprise me, as i have a tendency to make life discoveries periodically, becoming enthralled with things that may be quite commonplace to others. i also am obsessed with beauty, driven by a compulsion to create beauty around me, in whatever form that may take. sometimes it is a work of art that leaves me breathless, sometimes a face, sometimes a sunset. and then, at times it is the most unexpected of things--a simple intensity of color, the way fabric drapes, a curtain blown by a breeze . . .
there is a pattern to these discoveries, though, i have noticed. my most intense enthrallments come as a way of healing, in painful periods of life. the year my college roommate died, for instance, i discovered dahlias. my walking route to school passed a house where, during dahlia season, as it was at the time, the man would sell picked dahlias from his garden daily. passing them one day shortly after she died, i stopped in my tracks and gazed in a trance at the brilliant shades of orange and red. for the length of that long pacific northwest dahlia season, i bought dahlias daily. i surrounded myself with them, putting them in vases in the kitchen, by my bed, on my other roommates' nightstands, and i could literally just do nothing but stare at those myriad of petals, marveling at so much pigment packed into such a small space.
coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, around the time the dahlias stopped to bloom, my grief was beginning to soften.
then, this past year, a relationship ended right before roses began to bloom. on a run, shortly after this, i passed a rose bush--it was love at first sight. i began by seeking out wild rose bushes on my run, hunting for hidden alleys that might hold that one undiscovered ownerless bush, waiting for me to take its blooms home with me. then, at the grocery store, i saw potted rose bushes on sale. i stood and stared for a while and then continued with my shopping, reminding myself that i knew nothing of gardening and had a hard enough time keeping houseplants alive. they drew me back, though--i just couldn't help but long for a bush of my own . . . so, why not, i thought--i might as well give it a shot. i bought my rose bush--a rather pitiful-looking blueish hybrid, granted, but it was the best i could find at the time. with my small trowel and a good bit of wrestling with the soil, rocks, and roots, i managed to dig a deep enough hole for the bush and planted it as best i knew how.
the next day, at my grandparents' house, i relayed my new undertaking to my grandmother. her eyes lit up as they do when she has a brilliant inspiration, and she said she had way too many bushes that the miracle bush my mom gave her had spawned--i should dig up and replant one of her bushes. my mom, you see, has a magic touch with plants; she has amazing gardens--flowers, trees, herbs, vegetables; she can make anything thrive, even if she only gives it, and is not able to plant it herself. so, this bush she had given my grandmother some 20 years ago had not only bloomed faithfully and beautifully; it had spawned numerous offshoot bushes, each if which was equally beautiful.
excited at the prospect of having such beautiful roses, i took my grandmother up on her offer and dug up this bush, bringing it up to its new mountain home. i was a bit concerned at the prospect of traumatizing the bush with relocation, and this time i was determined to do it right, so i did a bit of research on proper rose bush planting and care techniques. i wrote down a step by step procedure for myself accordingly, noting with excitement one detail: "layer the bottom 2 inches of the hole with fertilizer--preferably horse or cow dung . . ." cow dung, i thought--i can do that!
see, i happened to live in a small farmhouse with a backyard full of cows. they belonged to the landlord, but i certainly had enjoyed them thoroughly--they may not have enjoyed me quite so much, with my odd tendency to try to moo as authentically as possible with them. at any rate, during my time in the house, i had watched with excitement as one calf, then 2, then 3, appeared. and now, i could make use of their dung! by this time i had also found a shovel--50 cents at a yard sale (actually, i had gone to the yard sale specifically for a shovel. when i did not see one, i asked if they by any chance were selling any. now that you mention it, he had told me, come on back--i think i have a few i might be willing to part with . . .) the shovel made the digging process substantially easier.
now, hole dug, rose bush ready, i went out back armed only with a plastic bag. i climbed the fence and looked around for the most promising-looking piles. then, as the cows stood picturesquely in a row (in height order even, believe it or not), i proceeded to pilfer their dung, scooping it into my bag by the handfuls and looking up periodically to see them chewing their cuds with cocked heads and bemused expressions on their bovine faces. mission accomplished, i returned to my bush and finished planting it in my best imitation gardener fashion.
then, i was struck by the odd urge to pray that it would make it. what a silly thing to pray for, i thought, but then i rethought, and said well, why not pray for my rose bush. i mean, after all, i couldn't think of anything i wanted more at that moment than to be able to keep my rose bush alive. so, i prayed.
over the next few weeks i eagerly watered and watched my new bushes, eyeing the new bulbs to see if they would bloom into prize-winning blooms. the end products proved to be less-than-impressive, but i kept my hopes up. there was still another week or so of blooming season, after all . . .
well, i'm afraid the remainder of the season did not do much to improve the state of my rose bushes. and i may never know how they far once next season rolls around, as i have since moved. but, there is a happy ending.
about the time i realized that i should probably not hope for much from my roses, i mowed further into a corner of the yard one day, back into the brush of dense field grass and tangled bushes where i had never before ventured. suddenly i noticed a splash of pale pink almost hidden by the overgrowth. i stopped the lawnmower and looked closer, and then gasped. pushing through the brush i discovered what was literally the most beautiful rose bush i had ever seen. it looked like it had leapt out of the pages of a fairy tale. somehow, it was a delicate rose bush that had spread its branches every which way to become a huge wild growth of a bush. and it was covered, absolutely covered, with delicate, blush-pink blooms.
i was teary-eyed with joy, and immediately began gleaning from the bush. here, all this time, i never knew that in my own yard i had access to roses that were more beautiful than any of the others i had been longing for. for the rest of that month, i picked roses daily. there were roses all over my house, i left roses on my neighbor's doorsteps, i took armfuls to my friends, and i could never exhaust the incredible fertility of that one bush.
maybe i will never have success as a gardener, but i can't help but wonder at the grace of One who would grant the gift of beauty in such a marvelously unexpected manner.

Thursday, November 04, 2004


sometimes when i have too much time to think, i start brooding. i don't mind this, though--the melancholy thoughts come and go,but even when i am in the midst of melancholy brooding it doesn't bother me too much. i'd certainly much rather be sorrowful than to stop caring deeply about anything in life, as i think our culture promotes doing--stay busy, accumulate stuff, and you'll be distracted enough to never care too much to get too upset about or hurt by anything . . .unfortunately, as much as i wish i weren't, i'm as easily sucked into that mentality as the next person--unless i allow myself the time to slow down and think again. maybe that's why i don't mind a little bit of brooding; it keeps me from trying to be overly productive all the time :) i'm not sure why death has never bothered me, though, unless it's because i was dealing with it as such an early and formative time of my life--who knows. i really cannot remember ever being able to sympathize with the normally verbalized fear of dying. now this is certainly not to say that i have wished to die--i simply don't mind the thought of it . . .

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

claiming home

Not too long ago I decided to claim this town as my home. The last time I said this, I was greeted with raised eyebrows and some sort of comment indicating how odd of a thing it was to say. Perhaps this is because it is unusual to be able to decide on a home, but it could also sound like a cocky attitude. So, at the risk of sounding slightly presumptive, I really do feel like this has been a year of reclaiming my Southern-ness.
For someone who had such difficulty admitting to myself that I was Southern, it is significant to me to realize that I am proud of this “heritage,” as it were. I should probably explain my somewhat schizophrenic background before continuing this thought, as I belong to a category of “homeless” people. Anyone with a similar MK background is probably already nodding in a sort of sympathetic camaraderie.
The oldest of the four children of a German-Canadian father and a Southern-Cherokee mother, we were Canadians when I was younger, calling British Columbia home. But, my parents were missionaries, so we lived in Zambia, Africa, and I attended a British boarding school there. Though we intended to live there for good, my family had a car accident when I was 9, in which my father died and my mother was paralyzed.
At that point we moved here to Chattanooga, where my grandparents helped care for us while my mother was in physical therapy. I went through the rest of my schooling here in town, until I went to Washington State for college. All through high school, college, and beyond, I traveled all over the world on cultural exchange programs, mission trips, family visits, and time taken off school to live abroad.
While doing this, I always felt rather ashamed of my American citizenship, and especially of my Southern background. Part of this was a perception that this wasn’t a cultured enough experience, part of it was a prideful attitude about having such an “interesting” childhood (or so I was told—I of course do not know anything different!), but most was, I believe, some sort of desire to just not buckle down and belong anywhere.
I think this was really an immaturity on my part, as it was a way to avoid lingering responsibility in any position in life. I could just be a floater, wandering from place to place, and never staying anywhere long enough to really be needed by anyone. Now I have not really figured out the root of this tendency, but it is enough for now to be aware of it, and to want something different.
The truth is that life is the same wherever you go. This is not to say that there are not differences, but simply that people are the same and, more importantly, we are the same. I will not become a somehow better person depending on where I am living, and there is not some perfect position to fill. It is rather just a matter of being more fully alive in this place, by reaching out to others, being committed in my responsibilities, and accepting that sometimes it’s not a bad thing to have a peacefully settled life. So, here I am now, not looking ahead to a better place to be for once in my life. Who can say what the future holds, but what I can say right now is that I love this town and the people around me, and I am proud to be at home.

growing up

I recently realized that one of the main parts of the process of becoming an adult is one that I did not really expect: it is being humbled. I know it happened in my life, and looking around I think I am not the only one. It is too easy, as a teenager and college student, to look around at "society," and just feel a bit above it all, wondering why people do the crazy things they do and live in the odd manners that they do. And this is a valid question, as people really do live in ways that are less conscientious, environmentally sound, politically astute, socially active . . . the list could go on . . . than they should. When it comes down to it, though, we all have the same penchant for all manner of inconsistencies, weaknesses, and addictions, and part of growing up is simply becoming more aware of our own.
Take, for instance, my idealism about living in a consistently environmentally conscious manner. When I first entered the work force, I took great pride in my simple lifestyle. I had broken down and bought my first car, but never used it. I recycled everything possible, carried around my cloth grocery bag so as not to waste plastic, and bought organic groceries, cooking vegetarian meals with and for my housemate. These were all good things, but the truth of the matter that it was less due to any "goodness" on my part than it was due to a series of blessings in my life: my workplace, church, and stores were all within an easy walk or bike ride from my apartment, good organic grocery stores were on almost every corner, my roommate was even more environmentally aware than I was, and she was a vegetarian who loved to cook
For the first year after I moved back to this area, I went through a bit of an identity crisis. I found myself living in my car, not recycling for a period of time, and being too rushed and overwhelmed by life responsibilities to try to buy organic groceries, never mind cook anymore. Now the truth is that I am much happier now that I took the time to figure out a way to recycle again, and I do love not having to drive somewhere if it's not necessary. But, I have also learned to cut myself, and others, a little bit of slack.
Even though I have let go of some of the "simple" aspects of life at my old home, I recognize that there are things to be proud of from this past year as well (responsibilities taken on, activities taken part in, and accomplishments achieved). There are many things I am not proud of, and ways in which I wish I were a stronger, more conscientious citizen, but I am glad that I can see those things. They make me a little bit more patient with others and a lot more compassionate, as I continue to fail every day, in little ways and in big ones . . .
Perhaps what this life is about is more so recognizing our own and having compassion for other people's failings than it is about coming to some sort of idealistic lifestyle nirvana. There is always something to strive for and some way to better ourselves, but I believe that we can do that without that all-too-common cynicism about society as it is and people as they are.