Saturday, November 24, 2007

HOLIDAY GALA - November 24, 2007

Recently I had the most delightful conversation with my nail technician. Misty chattered enthusiastically about the beautiful tree that her salon decorated for the Festival of Trees. When I asked if she would be attending the Festival Gala, her response caught me off guard and got me guffawing uncontrollably.

Later, over lunch, I recreated this conversation for my friends, Sandra and Cindy, and had them hooting. Inspired by Misty’s unique response, the three of us had a ball creating the “Top Ten Reasons Women Give for Turning down the Opportunity to Attend a Holiday Gala.”

10. I’ve got to stay home and color my hair, paint my toenails, pluck my eyebrows…
9. I’ve been putting off my spring cleaning and I need to get it done before my mother-in-law comes for Christmas
8. I’m conserving energy for my Black Friday shopping spree.
7. I feel a chocolate attack coming on and I HAVE to stay home and bake Toll House Cookies!
6. I’m preparing my “All I Want for Christmas” list for my hubby and I’m only on item #25
5. My E-bay bid for a dovetail router ten piece bit set ends in 3 hours, 2 minutes, 16 seconds
4. I’m waiting to fit into my holiday dress—and according to the scale, I should be able to zip up in 369 days, 7 hours, 33 minutes, 56 seconds
3. I ate all the chocolate chip cookies I baked and I need to get in 30 minutes of cardio on the treadmill
2. The ten pound box of Swiss chocolate I ordered on QVC just arrived.

And the #1 response, given by Misty—who is, by the way, a real girlie-girl, with her fashionable hairdo, glowing complexion, and gorgeous nails:

1. “Saturday is opening day for gun season.”

As I choked on my coffee and my eyes popped in surprise, Misty stared back at me innocently, as if she’d given a perfectly normal response for a female of our species. She remained silent as I processed her response, realizing that SHE WAS SERIOUS! Yep, come Saturday morning and evening, Misty would be perched in a small airborne shelter, shotgun poised, dreaming of a freezer stocked with venison. I tried to picture this feminine creature dressed in camouflage and a bright orange hat, a shotgun slung over her shoulder.

“So how did you get interested in hunting?” I inquired. It turns out that Misty used to be a Bambi-hugger, just like me. Then she became smitten with an avid hunter and became curious about why on earth he likes hunting. The first time she saw a dead deer strung up, she was horrified and told her young man, in no uncertain terms, that she would not stand for his hunting. A very long conversation ensued in which she became educated to the facts of life for deer: either they die of starvation, because of overpopulation, or they die a quick death so that other deer might live. Now Misty helps her hubby put meat—lean, good-for-you-meat—on the table.

My favorite part of Misty’s story is about how much she loves to be out in the woods and hear and see the forest wake up in the morning. Now that part of hunting I could really enjoy—if only I could get myself up before dawn, which ain’t gonna’ happen anytime soon!

I bet you’re wondering where the spiritual application is in this story. I wasn’t sure either, until I wrote about the facts of life for a deer. The facts of life for a Christian center on the reality that Christ died that we might have life. His flesh and blood, shed for us, put meat on our spiritual tables and continually feeds our hungry spirits with God’s love and grace, forgiveness and salvation. We never have to go spiritually hungry again. Christ’s love and sacrifice are the turkey (not venison!) and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, and all the other fixins’ of our spiritual banquet.

Say grace. Dig in. Enjoy!

"Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God."
Luke 14:15

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dance School Dropout - November 17, 2007

When I was five or six, my mom enrolled me in tap and ballet. She saw great potential in me—because I walked on my tippy-toes a lot. My life as a child star is documented in a solitary black and white snapshot. I’m posing in my leotard, my legs crossed in some sort of ballet stance, my head tipped adorably to the side, my face beaming a precocious grin, my eyes a-twinkling.

It was so exciting to line up at the bar along the mirrored wall in the dance studio. I was going to be the next Annette Funicello and make it big on the Mickey Mouse Club! As the youngest and smallest child in the class, I was positioned at the end of the line closest to the instructor so I could see what was going on. Unfortunately, for me, there was a second instructor at the other end of the line, and when the class turned to face her, I became the caboose. I would lean over as far as I could to catch sight of this instructor, but it was a big class, so I had to wait until the next dance position slowly inched its way back to me, and by then, the class was already on the next move.

Those of you who enjoy ballet (this does not include my husband) are familiar with the strategy of one ballerina performing a pirouette, or some other fancy-termed movement, and then, one by one, the other tutu-clad dancers follow in turn. Well, I’m certain that the origin of this dance motif was discovered by my astute dance teacher as she observed her modeled movement make its way, one student by one student, along the mirrored wall, much like the movement of the segments of a centipede, inching its long body forward.

On second thought, maybe it began as a settled-for performance of four-year-olds who always look to the left or right to see what the dancer next to her is doing, and thus each dancer is one or two seconds out of sync. Did some exasperated teacher notice that the proud parents and grandparents thought this phenomenon was oh so cute and see its potential as a show stopper on a grander scale?

Alas, I never made it to the stage because my mama pulled her frustrated, whiny, little girl out of class, with good intentions of reenrolling me when I was a bit taller—which never happened. Ever since that day, I have had a dancer locked away inside me, screaming to be unleashed. A few years ago, my hubby invited my inner dancer to participate in a ballroom dance class at the Paramount. I lamely agreed to do so, and proved to everyone that my latent dancing abilities were past their prime. It’s sort of like how the best time to learn a second language is in childhood when the brain is eagerly creates new pathways for such learning. The road to the dance center in my brain was closed, my creative energy long ago diverted elsewhere. Once again, I became a dance school drop out.

Bemoaning my failure as a dancer, to my friend, Cheryl Surbaugh, she creatively pointed out to me that my graduate degree from IU was in “GuiDANCE and Counseling” and that I was, in fact, dancing metaphorically with my clients. This was about the time I was reading books by Harriet Goldhor Lerner entitled, The Dance of Intimacy and The Dance of Anger and I could really grab on to Cheryl’s metaphor and dance with it. Still to this day, I use the metaphor of dance with my clients, reminding them that, “In life as in the dance, grace glides on blistered feet.” (Alice Abrams)

Take a closer look at the word “G-U-I-dance. Might it also mean, “God, you and I dance”? While I may always be a clumsy three-footed dancer, like Gene Kelly, GRACE lovingly takes my hand and glides me skillfully through the storms of my life—to the tune of Singin’ in the Rain, of course.

“Take up your tambourines and…dance with the joyful.”

Saturday, November 10, 2007

I CAN SEE THE SKY - November 10, 2007

"I saw a star,
I reached for it, and I missed.
So I accepted the sky.”
Scott Fortini

On Sunday afternoon, I attended a tree planting ceremony in memory of my friend, Mary Knipp, who died of breast cancer last December. Actually, I missed most of the proceedings because I missed an important turn and ended up miles north of where I was supposed to be. I arrived as people were taking turns shoveling dirt into the hole. It’s a nice tree—a tulip tree. Mary would have like that, I’m sure.

“I have a book for you,” Betty, Mary’s mom, said to me. I found it among Mary’s things. It’s about grace and I want you to have it.” I love books and I went home and immediately dove into its pages. Well, not immediately. I again got lost because I was lost in thought…

This morning, the backhoe is back next-door. Occasionally, I peer out the window to keep track of the progress as my neighbors’ house is scooped up in pieces and loaded into large dumpsters. As much as I have not liked looking at their beautiful house in ruins, at least a part of them was still there. Now almost all signs of their having dwelled there are gone. It’s an empty lot and I feel empty inside. I hate that feeling of not being able to turn back the clock—like we did last Saturday. If only this, if only that…maybe the house could have been saved. No use in wishing on a star. Sigh…

I rescued the stone turtle candleholders off their deck, lest the backhoe grab them and gobble them up. One is in perfect condition, the other a little crispy around the edges, but useable. I still have such a strong urge to rescue bits and pieces of their lives. Kind of silly, perhaps, but it’s my way of helping them salvage something, anything. In truth, it helps helpless me feel a wee bit helpful.

Loss is such a huge theme in my life these days. I’ve been focused on how I’m losing neighbors but I now realize, with John and Donna’s house gone, I can see the home of my NEW next-door-neighbors. I think I’ll bake Charles and Loretta some bread and go introduce myself. This also seems silly, because we already know each other—but I still think I’ll do it, just for fun. It’s nice to again see lights on “next door.”

Attending the tree planting drew me back into my writing about Mary’s journey (“Saturdays with Mary”). I reread a portion of Lance Armstrong’s book (Every Second Counts: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong and Sally Jenkins) about his grueling encounter with cancer. Sally Reed, a fellow cancer survivor who lost her house in a fire, told Lance, “My house is burned, but we can see the sky.” (God is always drawing me back to books at strategic times—and I think this is one of those times!)

“My house is burned, BUT WE CAN SEE THE SKY.”

In the very same section, Lance says, “Any temptation I have to brood over losses is tempered by the knowledge that I can afford to lose just about anything except my life and the lives of people I care about.” Both John and Donna said something similar, even as we stood in my yard and watched the fire.

I’m lost in so many ways these days: lost it thoughts about a past that I cannot recapture; lost in an ongoing journey of grief in which I must let go of my brother-in-law, my friend, my mom, my neighbor, all of whom died in the last year; lost on the highways and byways that connect me to the present. My writing is a way of bridging the past and present and beginning to envision a future that is more hopeful. Mary, Lance, and Sally, and John and Donna, help me see the sky.

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,

and calls them each by name.
Isaiah 40:26

Sunday, November 4, 2007

JOY COMETH... -- November 3, 2007

I continue to process the events of September 28. The day began at 12:30 a.m. with my neighbors’ house catching on fire. Evening brought the birth of our first grandchild. I was on an adrenalin rollercoaster all day. That yucky feeling in the gut from an adrenalin cocktail feels the same, whether poured from a bottle of fear or joyful anticipation.

“Linda! Get up! John’s house is on fire!” Adrenalin cocktail number one! Several hours later, the shooting flames quelled and the fire died down to the point of burning embers and smoke, my husband and I retired to our bed to attempt to get some sleep. It felt wrong to go back to my comfy bed when my neighbors had lost their home; when, just on the other side of my bedroom wall, firefighters held vigil over the smoldering remains.

Sleep eventually came, following vivid images of the fire and a mental reliving of the last few hours, with tears seeping through the fog of shock. Prayers of gratitude for lives protected and requests for comfort and strength for my neighbors carried me into a fitful sleep.

When I awoke, the adrenalin surge that had raged internally throughout the wee hours of the morning, had plummeted, leaving me fatigued yet antsy, unable to relax. Fueled by a sense of helplessness, I had to “do something,” anything, to keep busy and hold my feelings at bay. I poured those feelings onto paper, which became my September 29th column, Rising from the Embers.

As I journaled, a backhoe dug out buckets of rubble so firefighters could extinguish the fire smoldering underneath. Family members dug through the huge pile of debris, hoping to find salvageable treasures.

That afternoon, around 2:00 p.m., my cell phone rang with news that my grandbaby was on the way. Adrenalin cocktail number two! Grandma and Grandpa-to-be raced to St. Vincent’s Women’s Hospital to hold vigil on our grandchild with an excited group of family members.

One of the things I most looked forward to was seeing my son’s face when he told us that the baby was here—a face beaming with happiness and excitement. When Matt strode into the waiting area—we thought to tell us the good news—his face was grave. The baby’s heart rate had dropped several times, and although it kept coming back up, there would be a C-section. Adrenalin cocktail number three!

Thirty years ago, during labor for our first child, the baby’s heart rate dropped and I was whisked into an emergency C-section. You can just imagine where my mind went as I hugged my son and told him that everything would be OK.

“LORD! I’ve prayed earnestly that you would spare my children ever having to go through the pain we endured when our first son, Jason, died shortly after birth! And now, here’s my other son, scared to death, knowing full well that his brother died following an emergency C-section! Not fair, Lord! How could you!”

I was so furious that my son and his wife had to feel that fear. I knew exactly what Matt was feeling—and I couldn’t do anything to spare him the fear and pain! I really wasn’t too worried that the same thing might happen to my grandbaby—but then, I really was worried that the same thing might happen.

To make a long story short, I did get to see that face beaming with joy and excitement, albeit, with a measure of weariness and relief around the edges. “It’s a boy!” Matt proclaimed, and our cheering section screamed with joy. Adrenalin cocktail number four!

That’s the reality of life: sorrow and joy; joy and sorrow. We often have rubble to dig out from under and it can be hard to find the treasures in the midst of grief and sorrow. And yet, “joy cometh in the morning” (or at 7:35 p.m.)! Psalm 30:5

To every thing there is a season…
A time to be born, and a time to die…

A time to weep and a time to laugh…
A time to mourn, and a time to dance…

A time to get, and a time to lose…
Ecclesiastes 3