Friday, February 20, 2009

Knowing God

(this is a 2/14/09 post I made on a different blog, one that is devoted to my parents).

Cafe Chat posed a question for answering today: Tell of one specific time in your Christian walk that you were overwhelmed with God’s love for you.

I had to think for just a second when the answer came to me. It's not the only time I've felt this way, but it might be the first time I consciously realized the fullness of God's love.

Twenty-four years ago, on a late January night, my older sister was driving home from work as a nurse. In the flash of an eye, her life was changed forever by a drunk driver. For six months, she battled between life and death as she lay in a coma, her skull crushed, brain stem damaged. She lived in Florida, my parents lived in Maine. My father flew immediately to West Palm Beach, arriving in the wee hours of the morning to the ICU. It was evident that the doctors, nurses and the priest had given her up for dead. Everything changed when Dad arrived. Then began their unease when they learned what they were reckoning with in the form of a father on a mission. Dad was livid and everyone within earshot knew it. Three months later, Dad had Suzanne flown back to New England by air ambulance so she would be close to home. For twenty-four years, my father cared for this girl. His love and care of her never wavered. It took a full decade for him to accept that she would never walk and talk again, but this never undermined the care he insisted she receive.

Before I go on, I must explain a little bit about my dad. He was a towering man with a booming voice. He had a successful career as a commanding officer in the U.S. Army. We followed rules at our house and we six kids were expected to toe the mark. We did not run around in our underwear.
Dad, second from left.
Ladies did "not drink beer from bottles" and you were expected to respect your elders. It sounds much fiercer than it was, I just want to give you an idea of a man who, on the surface, did not seem like a warm fuzzy. I was eighteen before I remember hearing my father actually tell me that he loved me.

One beautiful, breezy, late summer afternoon, I had the great honor of witnessing one of the most tender moments of my life. I had gone with my dad to visit Suzanne. She'd come out of her coma a few weeks before. Dad wheeled Suzanne outside to enjoy the sunshine. I watched as my father lovingly tended to her as he sat facing her. He filed her fingernails as he spoke tenderly to her, calling her 'Little Girl'. My sister was 36 y.o. and my father was calling her "Little Girl". They looked into each other's eyes as he spoke. Have you ever watched love electrically pass between the eyes of two people? This is what I witnessed. I could not speak, I could only observe. I felt suspended in air looking down on this scene. I then watched as my father carefully painted Sue's fingernails. My father, the Colonel, was painting my sister's fingernails. Gently, tenderly, he swept the brush across her nails. Tears streamed down my face. My eyes water at the memory. It was at this moment I felt the enormity and fullness of God's love. I saw Jesus, and he was painting Suzanne's fingernails.

I would continue to feel this fullness throughout the long years my father cared for my sister. What an example of Fatherly love my own father exhibited. There is much to Suzanne's story, before and after the accident. She made choices that would cause my parents to rescue her on several occasions. My father and she battled frequently, each convinced that their own stance was right. Theirs was a love-hate relationship of major proportions. She was the lost sheep my father would go and seek. But all the battles didn't matter at Sue's life-changing moment. Nothing mattered but Suzanne's care and well-being. It was this relationship which brought understanding of God's love to me.

I know that Jesus would paint my fingernails, too, if I could not paint them for myself.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

25 Random Things

My little friend, Abby, sound board technician extraordinaire, cute-as-a-button girlfriend of Trent, she-who-makes-a-toothpick-seem-obese, recently posted a list of 25 random and simply fascinating facts about herself. I thought I'd give it a shot. You will also find my list random and simply fascinating, I'm sure.

1. I cannot function in clutter. A little bit of clutter and my mind can't concentrate and I become simply overwhelmed. This is a wee bit of a problem because I am a clutter-er extraordinaire. Gah!
2. When I was six, I was in the Alaskan earthquake of 1964. It was a shaking experience. We boiled snow for drinking water and lived on C-rations for several days. Seventh grade students get extra credit from their Science teacher if they interview me about the experience.
3. All my life, I have battled the "priss factor". I am not a priss. Far from it, yet "priss" or "snob" are impressions people form of me before they get to know me. People have frequently told me I am intimidating because I seem to have it all together. HA! If they only knew. I've deduced that this is because I am tall and, when in unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations, become extremely reserved. Once I'm comfortable though, watch out.
4. I am incredibly honest--honest with my opinion and honest as in I don't lie, cheat, or steal. I will not tell you what you want to hear. I will tell the truth, but I will use great tact (most of the time. Sometimes, there is no way around things but to be extremely direct). I want to be treated the same even if I won't like what you have to say.
5. My first memory of going to the emergency room occurred when I was three. I was standing in front of a big picture window eating sunflower seeds. For some reason, I thought it would be very cool if I shoved a sunflower seed up my nose. My mother did not think it was cool. The doctor wasn't too keen on it either.
6. A not-so-nice girl on the yearbook staff of my high school had the phrase "Heard for miles" put under my senior picture in the yearbook. While quite true at times, I resent her action to this day. It doesn't rule my life because I am a grownup afterall. It was just a nasty mean thing and she relished it. I don't get it.
7. My favorite scripture quote of late is: "The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You've got to do both." 1 John 4:21 (The Message). I strive to do better at both.
8. I can't stand when people claim to be a Christian, but don't love their neighbors, or people of color, or people who read a different version of the Bible or gossip or... I just don't get it. See #7.
9. When I was ten, I was devastated by the news that Elvis had gotten married. I really, really thought he was going to wait for me to grow up. It took me days to get over it.
10. I have been on mission trips to the Philippines and the Dominican Republic, Michigan, New Hampshire and Maine. I can wield a hammer and a paint brush and I don't mind being up to my knees in muck.
11. I'm a pastor's wife, but I'm not your typical PW. I will not be put in a box and it is not a two-for-one deal. I serve because I delight in it. I love being a pastor's wife.
12. I had the best parents in the world.
13. I was a tour guide on a lobster boat in southern Maine during college summers. It was a blast. I have also worked in a factory which made machine guns and had to assemble M16 rifles for several weeks. When I was 19, I once modeled in television commercials for a local clothing store. It was okay, but nothing to write home about.
14. The most favorite gift my husband ever gave me was a red hair brush. He's given me some very nice things over the years, but this was my all time favorite.
15. I'd rather feed people than have a big, honking, go-into-debt diamond. I wanted one of those for my 25th wedding anniversary, but there are just too many people in this world to feed to justify that kind of extravagance.
16. My left eye is tri-colored and I love it that way. Yes, I can see out of it.
17. I got my first silver hair when I was fourteen. My hair started turning for good when I was eighteen. When I was 21, women would ask me who my hair dresser was because they wanted their hair frosted like mine. I've never once colored or dyed my hair. It is a gift from my little mum and I like it the way it is.
18. My husband is my best friend.
19. I had two freshmen years of college--the year with a 1.0 GPA and the one when I made the Dean's List. I did graduate with high distinction eventually.
I had a lot of fun both years, I just chose not to study during one of them.
20. "Life is a song, so sing along" is one of my mottos. I will frequently break into song if a word or phrase you say in passing brings a song to mind. Can't help it. I also tend to make up words to songs because I don't pay attention to what is really being sung. My husband calls me "Jingle Jan".
21. I make wicked good chocolate chip cookies.
22. I'm not interested in the condition of your house, your car, your clothes. I am more interested in the condition of your heart.
23. I embarrass myself on a daily basis and have laughed, I mean, lived to tell the story.
24. I have a cat named Genni, short for Genesis. I believe she found us so she could bring us comfort and healing during a very difficult time at the beginning of a new chapter in our lives.
25. I have two amazing kids, the first of whom will be 25 y.o. on March 19.
Holey-moley. How'd she get so old when I'm only 28?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Honey Bunch

It's Valentine's Day! I'm not big on worrying about celebrating this particular holiday because, of course, every day with Jim is like Valentine's Day (little murmurings and oohs and ahhs can be heard in the background, soft music playing, butterflies are flittering and all is right with the world). Ok, ok! Back to reality.

Jim is my best friend and we don't get our shorts in a knot over man-made holidays. We have fun together and our relationship has only grown stronger over the years. Tonight, Jim will be at church and I will be at the "BIG" 8th grade dance for my kiddos at school. So instead of a romantic evening together at dinner or such, we spent a very romantic breakfast together with members of the high school wrestling team at IHOP. All you can eat pancakes were ordered by all. Yessiree, we know how to do it up right! Now, don't be jealous. Actually, this is one of my most favorite things to do---spend time with young people. Every weekday morning, Jim gets up at the crack of dawn to work out with these guys at the high school. The real coach can't be there because of his job, so Jim fills in. He loves building relationships with these kids. In the long run, it's all about building relationships, not building muscles. This only makes me love him more.

A few years ago, Jim had to officiate at the funeral service for one of three volunteer football coaches/statisticians killed by a drunk driver on their way home from a Friday night game. One of the things he charged us all to do was to "be tender with one another". That struck me and it's one of the things that I have grown to love most about him---he is tender with the young, the old, the hurting. What is not to love about that?

Happy Valentine's Day, Jim.
Jim and Steve with Dahni in the DR. Dahni is a Haitian who put the decorative finish on the church floor. His shoes were four sizes too small for him. Jim and Steve left him their workboots and some sneakers.

Pouring a cement floor at the church
in Hato Mayor.

Totally pooped after a harrowing ride to Sosua, DR.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Big White Marble and Cotton Candy Skies

I woke up earlier than normal this morning when, ahem, somebody got up to go to the bathroom and drew more attention than normal. 4:00am. Wah. I knew I was up for the duration, so there was nothing to do but get up and get to work. My office is a mess anyway and I had tons to do. When I left the house, I backed into our little turn around and was about to pull out of the driveway when I looked up. Against the dark sky, the most beautiful full moon beamed down on me. I had to take time to appreciate it, after all, it won't be back for another month and I might just miss it then. Oh, it was lovely.

My day was crazy hectic. I'm working with a practicum student in school counseling this semester and this was her day to be with me. I'd like to show her a typical day-in-the-life, but there is no such thing. Every day is different and brings great un-expectations. The adrenaline flows and I love it and wouldn't have it any other way, but it is anything but typical. Some days, I put on bandaids. Other days, I'm doing open heart surgery. This was a bandaid kind of day and I think I went through at least a figurative box. Keeps the blood flowing though.

We continued our Operation Nice project for the month. Today's assignment---be on time to class. I'm sure it received a collective groan when it was pulled out of the fishbowl this morning. Yesterday's assignment was "Give somebody a 'prop' today---tell them "Good job!" I got a lot of thumbs-up and "Good job, Ms. D-M!" in the halls yesterday. The smiles on their faces and the pleasure they got from the act was priceless. I just love it. One thing I love is that the kids taking the most risks with these "assignments" are the kids that I most hope to reach--you know, the ones most at risk. THAT makes it a joy.

We also had our annual fundraiser for "Hats for Hounds Day". What's that you ask? Well, kids pay a quarter, get their hand stamped and get to wear a hat in school for the day. We usually raise about $400 and all the proceeds go to Indiana Task Force 1 Canine Urban Rescue Team. This is a volunteer organization that trains search and rescue dogs. Some of their dogs have been deployed for the 9/11 tragedy and after Hurricane Katrina. Our county has been hardest hit in the country with unemployment (yes, we are neighbors to Elkhart where President Obama spoke on Monday). Anyway, our collection was much smaller this year. I was kind of bummed about the participation today, but I had to put it into perspective.

Then I had to deal with manipulating the schedules of ten girls who are giving their teachers fits just because of all the Girl Drama they stir up every day. I spent about two hours after school just doing that . Crazy. Was running late and had to hurry home to try to make a book study at church over William P. Young's The Shack. I was dead tired and really wanted to go home and just go to bed. I'm glad I went. We had a good crowd and the discussion was thought-provoking. Great to hear different interpretations and insights of those there. When I arrived, sandwich in hand, package of Oreos in my arms, I made a comment about having worked so late. I didn't mean it as a lament, just a statement of fact, but a newcomer sitting next to me said, "At least you have a job." That gave me pause. I was not in any way offended, but it did make me stop and think, "Yup. Be grateful" and be careful what you say. Times are tough.

I was tired after work. I was tired before I left for work because I got up so early. The day was busy, I just wanted to snap my fingers, twiggle my nose and be home. But if I'd slept in, I never would have seen that moon. And though my day was long and exhausting, I still have a job, a job I love. And had I not worked for two hours on those ten schedules, I never would have seen the cotton candy sky of pink, blue and white wisps of clouds that led the way home.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Weekly update: School Operation NICE project

Operation NICE has made my school a fun week. The following are a few emails to/from Melissa of Operation NICE to tell her how the project is going. Sorry, can't post pics of my school or kids:

Greetings, Melissa,

I would like to tell you that Day #1 of Operation Nice started quite nicely. We introduced the idea a wee bit and will give them a little more each day. I filled a fish bowl with strips of daily Nice assignments and will pull one out each day of February. Today's assignment was "Tell someone they look nice today." I wasn't sure how all of this would go over, but I was warm-the-cockles-of-my-heart-pleasantly-surprised. I walked by one of my eighth grade girls in the cafeteria and she said, "Hey, Ms. D-M!" I turned to look. She smiled sweetly and told me I looked nice today. I gave her a big hug not because she said it to ME, but because she was promoting Nice and got a kick out of it. She was only the first of quite a few kids I caught in the act. It was fun. During second lunch, I made an announcement over the microphone---"Hey, 7th and 8th graders! Have I told you how nice you look today?" This brought on an outburst. They all "got it" which meant they were paying attention to announcements this morning :-) and they carried on with it, too. What a kick. I think one part that was the most fun today was being able to say it back to them and watch the smile light up their faces.

I hope you had a wonderfully Nice day.

Jan D-M



Day #2 of Operation Nice - today's assignment: Hold the door open for someone. You even said that in the video! After Live Announcements today, I went around school posting the assignment of the day (I'll be sending you pictures eventually). I had the messages translated into Spanish and was posting them up by the classrooms for Beginner English kids. I heard a boy's voice speaking in Spanish. Now, my Spanish is limited, but I do recognize "la puerta" (door) and "Miss!" (sounded like 'meece'). I turned to look and found one of our Hispanic boys holding the door open and gesturing for me to come in (exaggerate the gesture here). He smiled at me and I just kept exclaiming how sweet he was. Then, a classmate of his came to the door to enter the room. The first boy wouldn't let him in. He held up his hand as if to say "halt", then he closed the door. Right away, he opened it again, gestured for the boy to enter and said, "Bienvenidos!" (Welcome). Again, he gestured for him to come in with a little bow and a slow pass of his hand. He did the same thing for his teacher when she got to the door--held up his hand to stop her, closed the door, then opened it again. The teacher enjoyed it just as much as he did. You could see he was receiving as much in the doing as the others were. It was so much fun. I was tickled pink.

You know, the kids feel a little embarrassed to do these things because they are afraid of not looking cool. But, they ARE doing the assignments, they just do it in a goofy way to cover it up. I think it makes my heart happier because they are taking a risk, even if it is disguised.

Greetings, Melissa,

I am pumped to show your video greeting tomorrow!

Day #3, Operation NICE:

As I was walking down the hall this morning, fishbowl filled with assignments in hand and headed for Live Announcements, a young girl I didn't know (she's a 7th grader and I'm with the 8th grade this year) shouted, "Hey, Ms. D-M! Can I draw the assignment today? I just smiled, gently grabbed her wrist and whisked her away down the hall. "Really?" she asked, "I can do it?" Yup. Maybe this was a kid who isn't involved in activities that might get her on air, so it was fun to let her do this. The assignment--Create a Love List about yourself. This was one of the three Love List assignments in the fish bowl and the one I was most concerned about students rejecting. I came prepared, though. I had printed out the Love List that you wrote about yourself, so I read parts of it so they would have an idea of what I was asking. I ree-e-a-lly wanted the kids to have a chance to do this. It is SO important for kids to recognize and love their gifts and beauty and talents before they can more fully love others, you know? It's so important, but it is hard, hard, hard to do it sometimes. Anyway, I cut paper into fourths and brought them down to the cafeteria. Once again, I got on the mic and said, "Hey, everybody, I'm looking for volunteers. I need people to make some Love Lists about themselves. You don't have to do it, but I'd really love it if some of you did." I was able to do this over three of the lunch periods and had a really great response. The kids really enjoyed it and took it seriously. Some are very sweet and tender, others are funny. I intend to post them up near the offices so kids can read them. There is just no extra time in the day! Again, I promise to get some pictures when I have some down time.

On the way back to my office, I stopped by one of our classrooms for special needs kids. This particular classroom of students are more moderate to severe special needs. As I walked in, a student said something to me I couldn't understand. I thought she said I was nice. Her teacher told me that she was saying, "Make a Love List." Aww. She understood.

Day #4 - Operation NICE:

My practicum student and I were headed once again to Live Announcements, fishbowl in hand. I got an idea as I walked down the hall near the special needs classroom. I stopped in to see Whitney taking off her boots and putting on her pretty pink and white tennies. After a quick whisper to the teacher, I asked Whitney if she wanted to be my helper on Live Announcements today. "Yes, I wanna be a helper!" So, grinning ear to ear, Whitney walked with us to the camera room. She sat next to me in front of the camera and continued to smile the whole time we waited for our turn. She was precious. The assignment for today--Give a long distance hug. This is my favorite! What you do is cross your fingers (as in cross-your-fingers-for-good-luck), then you wave them a little bit. You should have seen Whitney. She "hugged" everyone as we walked back to her classroom. When she got to the room, all her classmates were standing and applauded and said, "Yay, Whitney!" Butterflies and giggles in my heart.

What I loved most about this assignments is that it was something easy and the kids could do it with a little bit of fun while connecting with other kids. I saw kids doing this all day long. I saw one girl practically do a back flip trying to "hug" a friend around the corner. Each time I saw kids do it, they laughed and smiled at each other. What a blast. They just did it. They didn't seem one bit self-conscious. It just makes me happy. One last "hug" to me came as I was standing in the lobby as kids ran to catch their buses. Several hugs were sent my way. A brand new male substitute teacher was coming down the stairway on his way back to the office. As he walked by me, he wiggled a hug at me. We both laughed out loud and he said, "That is just so cute."

Have a great Friday!
Jan D-M

(from Melissa)

Hey Jan!

Sorry I haven't written back. I went straight from work to Rent last
night, got home super late, got up super early, went to work, went to
a food show, and just got home. Now I'm POOPED!! But I wanted to make
sure I wrote to you before heading to bed. I'm so excited about the
video tomorrow! I can't wait to hear what everyone thinks. Hopefully
I don't put the kids to sleep with my rambling. :) You are all so amazing
for doing this project. I don't think you can know how proud I am to
be a part of it all. It makes every single minute of time that I've
put into Operation NICE completely worth it.



Monday, February 2, 2009

A Nice Kind of Month

The guidance department at my school sponsors a month of activity in February that we call Life, Love and Learning Month: value life, value love, value learning. This is the seventh or eighth year we have celebrated LLL. In addition to the overall theme, we have a sub-theme. This year, we are stealing the idea of Operation Nice founder, Melissa Morris Ivone. I sent Melissa an email today to let her know how the kick-off went:

Hello, Melissa,

I would like to tell you that Day #1 of Operation Nice started quite nicely. We introduced the idea a wee bit and will give them a little more each day. I filled a fish bowl with strips of daily Nice assignments and will pull one out each day of February. Today's assignment was "Tell someone they look nice today." I wasn't sure how all of this would go over, but I was warm-the-cockles-of-my-heart-pleasantly-surprised. I walked by one of my eighth grade girls in the cafeteria and she said, "Hey, Ms. D-M!" I turned to look. She smiled sweetly and told me I looked nice today. I gave her a big hug not because she said it to ME, but because she was promoting Nice and got a kick out of it. She was only the first of quite a few kids I caught in the act. It was fun. During second lunch, I made an announcement over the microphone---"Hey, 7th and 8th graders! Have I told you how nice you look today?" This brought on an outburst. They all "got it" which meant they were paying attention to announcements this morning :-) and they carried on with it, too. What a kick. I think one part that was the most fun today was being able to say it back to them and watch the smile light up their faces.

I hope you all had a wonderfully Nice day. Pass it on. :)

Oh, by the way, have I told you how nice you look today?