Sunday, November 28, 2010

Knots in my stomach

Well, friends, here it is almost the end of November and I have failed miserably in my quest to write and post every single day during the month.  Nope, didn't happen.  Nice try, Jannie Babe.  I'm not apologizing, either.  It is what it is.

Knots in my stomach.  I have knots in my stomach.  Sometimes, when I get knots in my stomach, I become immobilized.  I hate that feeling.  I think I just have a lot on my plate.  I'd say "these days", but I think I have a lot on my plate most days.  The month of November 2011 brought me tears---tears of angst and tears of joy.  The semester is winding down for my grad students and me and I think all of us are just. done.  Christmas is coming and I'm going to Ireland soon.  My work at the middle school is winding up for a busy number of months and next semester, I am teaching not one, but two grad classes.  In addition to the two classes, I have to meet with five or six practicum students 1:1 for an hour each week.  In January, I will have some minor surgery.  On the one hand, I'm not worried about it.  On the other hand, there are things about it that are nibbling at the back of my mind.  It will all get done and it will all work out, but I will probably be a bit nuts by the end of it all.  As the school year winds up in June, our family will head east to finally bury my parents' ashes after a three year wait on the Veteran's cemetery to open in my hometown area. 

Oh, and did I tell you?  We're having a wedding.  Yessiree, Bob, my daughter got engaged on Tuesday!  By Saturday, we had a date, a venue for the ceremony AND the dress.  All that in spite of also preparing and having a community Thanksgiving dinner at our church.  Breathe, Jan, breathe. Now, I'm just praying that we find an affordable spot for the reception.  We only have seven months until the GRAND EVENT, so we are a little behind the 8-ball in getting details worked out.  Many spots are already reserved, so if you could just send some good vibes our way, I'd be appreciative.  :)  Gracias.

On top of all that, I'm having an internal battle that is really causing the knots to accumulate.  The battle stems from the aftermath of relationships.  Being in ministry brings blessings and curses.  I'm dealing with the curses right now.  I think I just expect the best from people even though I know that churches are full of hypocrites.  The rudeness and self-centered-ness of individuals just never ceases to amaze me.  And disappoint.  And hurt.  I'm also blown away by people who use their anger to punish and control.  Although I'm pretty astute at picking up on when people are trying to control me and don't allow them to, I still get the sense of being touched by their craziness.  It's invasive.  Actually, it feels like being touched by evil.  It's yucky.

Despite all of this, I am so thankful. 

There is a story my husband once heard somewhere that he shared one morning in church.  I've thought of it many times over the years.  The story is of a man who lamented that the cross he had to bear was too much.  He prayed to be relieved of his heavy load.  One day, he met Jesus and brought his concerns to him as they walked down a long corridor lined with doors.  Jesus stopped before one door and opened it as they passed.  The door opened into a large room.  In the center of the room was an enormous hill of large crosses, crosses that others had left behind when they found the burden too great.  Jesus told the man to leave his cross, so the man tossed his on top of the pile.  Immediately, he felt a release of strain and stress.  Jesus closed the door and together with the man, continued down the corridor of doors.  Soon, Jesus stopped before a door once again.  As the door swung inward, the man saw that it opened into the very same room containing the discarded crosses, his own teetering at the top of the pile.  As the man stared confused into the room beyond, Jesus said to the man, "Pick one."   The man looked questioningly at Jesus, so Jesus explained.  "Everyone has a cross to bear.  You must pick a new one."  The man, now humbled, stood before the door and gazed upon the mountain of crosses before him.  As he studied the pile of crosses, he saw how large each cross appeared.  The more he studied, the clearer his choice became.  Slowly he walked to the pile and chose his cross.  The cross he chose was the same cross he had discarded.  As he looked at the crosses that others had to bear, he realized that his cross was not so large after all. 

And so, I carry my cross with joy (and knots in my stomach) because when I compare it to the crosses of others I know, my cross seems quite tiny in comparison.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Hey, is anybody there?"

I'm starting to feel the rumblings of a cold or something coming on.  Hope not, Christmas music season is fast approaching and with that comes Christmas solos.  I hate it when a cold interferes with that!  Anyway.

Thought you might like to know that the two blogs I had concerns about are A-okay.  Mocha Momma is just on a wee bit of a hiatus because the creation of her new webpage will take longer than expected.  9 Bartlett is back up, so I don't know what's up with it coming up as deleted last week.  Weird.  Anyway, all is well.  I know you were all losing sleep over it, so now you can slumber.  :)

Something I just saw on another blog jarred a memory I haven't thought about in a while, so I thought I'd jot down a few words about it.  It was one of the funnier moments I've experienced (almost)  by myself.

Waaay back when, I attended the University of Maine at Orono.  I had so much fun my freshman year, I had to have a second one.  First semester GPA the first go 'round was a 1.0.  Second semester was a 1.6.  That's when Dad and the university decided I was going to take a little time off to reassess my college education.  Two years later, after having worked in Quality Control for a factory that made machine guns and shock absorbers, I returned to UMO for a second shot.  Because of my stellar performance the first time, I had to re-take all the courses I'd taken before.  One of those classes was Psych 101- Introduction to Psychology which was taught by Dr. Ellen Lenney.  This was the 70's, and I will just tell you that Dr. Lenney never wore a bra.  She was small-breasted, but it was obvious.  I noticed this every single class.  She always wore a really cool necklace that rested between her itty-bittys.  I didn't necessarily always wear a bra  myself at the time.  Listen, it was the 70's, okay?  But, I digress.

At that time, it was a requirement of the course that we participate in three psych experiments during the course of the semester.  So, one, two, three, I signed up and participated.  I can't remember anything much about them now, but I did participate as needed.  I hated taking the exams for this class.  They were always multiple choice exams and it was too easy to get messed up on an answer.  I dreaded the long walk up to the third floor of the Psych Department a few days after each test.  They would post the test and all the answers on a wall in the lobby area.  One day, I made my way up the stairs and entered the hallway outside the Psych office.  There was the test, posted on the glass doors of a display cabinet.  It was kind of freaky being there.  I mean, come on, it was the Psych Department.  Weird things happened up there.  So, there I was, all alone, a little creeped out, comparing the correct answers to the test with my own.  I mean to tell you that I was feeling a wee bit paranoid for no particular reason.

As I read the test answers, I heard a voice call out, "Hey, is anybody there?"  A chill ran up my spine and my heart skipped a beat.  I seemed to stop breathing for a second or two, as well.  I kept my head very still and kept looking ahead at the answers.  Again, I heard a voice cry out, "Hey, is anybody out there?"  As much as I wanted to keep looking straight ahead and pretend I heard nothing, I couldn't resist a look around.  I tried to look like I wasn't looking for a hidden camera, but I was.  Nope, didn't see anything and there was no one around.  Not one person was around.  By this point, my heart was in my throat, I couldn't breathe and I felt like an idiot.  I was pretty sure that some sick individual had just added a fourth experiment to my requirement without my knowledge or consent.  I refused to play that game, yessirree.  They weren't gonna fool me and use my video in their next candid-camera-foolish-Psych-student-caught-unaware.  Nuh-uh.  Noooope.  So, I went back to checking the answers.  No sooner had I looked back at the test taped to the windows did the voice once more shout out to me, "Hey!  HEEY!  Hey, is anybody out there?  Please?  Is anybody out there?"

Just to my right, I caught something out of the corner of my eye.  A brown paper towel fluttered to the ground.  I couldn't just stand there and ignore it, so I walked the tens steps to where it lay on the floor.  When I picked it up, I noticed writing on it that said, "Help!  I'm trapped in the bathroom!"  I looked up to see a door marked "Men".  I gave a knock, knock, knock on the door and said, "Hello?"  From beyond the door, a voice told me that he was in a wheelchair and he couldn't get out of the bathroom.  The poor guy had been able to get into the bathroom, but once the door shut behind him, he couldn't angle the chair to get out and from the position he was in, he couldn't unlock the door, either.  I went into the Psych office and explained the situation.  Help in the way of a custodian with a key was found quickly and, soon enough, the guy was out.

We laughed and joked about it a little bit nervously and then we both went on our merry ways.  I'm still not quite convinced that I wasn't an experimental dupe.  I guess after 30 years, though, I can stop worrying that I made the textbooks.

I would like you to know that I did graduate from UMO with high distinction, three years after I was to originally graduate.  I decided that something called "studying" wasn't such a bad idea and I reduced my number of nights at fraternity parties to one or two a week down from four or five.  See?  I learned my lesson well.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I hope you are well

I've been thrown for a bit of a loop these last few days. 

First, there is something close to me that has caused me some worry and thrown in some stress for good measure.  There is nothing I can do about that, so this little control freak is having a wee bit of a problem with that.  Um, I'm working through it.  Not well, mind you, but I'm working through it.

Second at the moment is the fact that Dylan's dog, Swayze (now ours), is just standing next to me and staring.  Every once in a while, she gives a little yawn-snort to get my attention.  I can't for the life of me figure out what she wants.  She's been out, she's taken care of business, and I just let her lick the ketchup off my burger plate.  What?  What?  Doesn't she know I'm stressed!!!!!  Ah, but we love that girl.

Third, there are a few bloggers I'm worried about.  Mocha Mama was taking a break because she was having her website redesigned, but was planning to be back in time for NaBloPoMo.  Hello, Momma!  It's November 11 already and you aren't back yet!  I'm worried about you.  She was recently in the audience and got to talk directly to Oprah on her show about a month back.  That night or the next day (the day before?), she fell and bruised her ribs badly.  She also cares for her elderly mother.  Her absence makes me concerned that she isn't healing well or something has happened to her mom.  Mocha Momma, aka Kelly Wickham, is an assistant principal in a middle school in Springfield IL, a single mom, prolific blogger and writer for Teaching Tolerance magazine.  And she's wild about shoes.  That's the short list.  She is truly brilliant, has great insight and perspective on issues of education, race and more, and has a HUGE heart for kids.  Yeah, I'm jealous and she scares the bejeebees out of me.  I'd love to meet her, but I think I would fall so short of the honor that I'll just fawn over her brilliance and wit from afar.  I hope she and her loved ones are well.

The other blogger I'm worried about is Lisa, a blogger from Maine.  She wrote under the blog titles "Living My Life Outside the Box" and "9 Bartlett" with an address beginning "sophie4me".  When she first began blogging, she wrote almost daily:  about life, about decorating, about her children, about her faith.  Gradually, she seemed to get caught by the incessant guilt that appears to hit bloggers on a regular basis---performance anxiety.  She found herself so focused on the "have to write a post" syndrome, that I think she lost some of her passion for the task.  Boy, can I understand that.  Been there, done that.  I wish that I could write on a more regular basis, but life seems to get in the way so often and, sometimes,  becomes too overwhelming to just sit and write.  Then the guilt hits.  Anyway, for the last year, Lisa's posting became more and more scarce.  Some of her posts let on that there were some storms a-brewing.  I could see that her heart ached.  Just the other day, I visited her site to see if there was new post, seeing the last one was from August or so.  Nope, not a new one.  This morning, when I checked quickly before work, my heart took a little leap.  The blog has been deleted.  Not privatized, but deleted.  Oh, no.  Ooh, no.  So, I worry.  I worry about her son, a soldier in Afganistan.  I worry about her teenage daughter who is spreading her wings and bringing angst of her own.  I worry about Blue Eyes, the husband she adores.  And, I worry about her.  Wherever you are, Lisa, whatever you do, I hope you are well.  I hope your loved ones are safe and I hope life is good.  I hope that your disappearance from the blog world is for all good reasons and that you are healthy and happy.  I hope you have peace.

And as for the rest of you, I hope you, too, are well.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Life Is a Song, So Sing Along

Missing a post on this blog one day is similar to when I was in college and skipped a class---miss the first one and it's all downhill from there.  I really wanted to post last night, but after having company for dinner and walking the dog, I had to review my grad students' weekly reports.  Somehow, I keep forgetting that I have those to do on the weekends when I have more relaxed time to do so.  I end up doing them the night before far too often.  I thought about the writing prompt all day and was fairly ready to sit down and write.  My tired body had other ideas.  I like yesterday's prompt better than today's, so I'm just going to go with it anyway!

What was your favorite song this year? Five years ago? Ten years ago? Twenty?

About twenty years ago, I bought a stencil that says, "Life is a song, so sing along".  In many ways, it has become a bit of a little mantra for me.  My husband calls me "Jingle Jan" because I will often break out in a melody, but I usually can only sing part of any given song.  I think my ADD just kicks in and I can't remember all the verses.  I might be having a conversation with someone and a word or a phrase might bring the line from a song to my mind and, because my husband also accuses me at times of having diarrhea of the mouth, whatever goes through my mind has to come out my mouth.  So, I sing.  I have only met one other person in my experience who does the same thing, although I'm pretty sure there are lots more of us out there.  He was one of the principals I worked with several years ago.  He and I would often break out at the same moment with the same line from a song.  It was fun when it happened because it was usually unexpected.

This year, one of my favorite songs is "You Are My Strength" by Hillsong.  It's actually been a favorite for almost two years.  The lyrics and the melody are really very simple.  I think it's the harmony that goes with it and the people I get to sing with that make it so much better than just a good song.  When we sing it during Worship at church, it's like everyone in the room pauses and drinks in the power of the song together.  It really is quite powerful.  We "conspire" or "breathe together" and just drink in the majesty of it all.  My favorite memory of singing this song comes from the summer of 2009.  I helped co-lead a 20-something retreat to Wisconsin for an extended weekend.  Being a musical bunch, we volunteered to provide the music during the Sunday service for a tiny little church in a small town (Toddito--I can't remember the name!).  It was just lovely to feel the warmth and appreciation of the congregation that embraced us.

In 2008, my favorite song was "Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone" by Christian artist, Chris Tomlin.  His music is truly inspired by God.  I don't think he's written a bad piece of music.  Ever.  When my father died that summer, I asked if Jim and the kids and I could sing this song at his funeral.  Prior to the service, there had been the suggestion from a family member that the song Amazing Grace was an inappropriate selection for the occasion.  When it came time, Dylan walked up to the altar and picked up my dad's guitar which sat on its stand near my dad's urn of ashes.  He joined Jordan and me where we stood next to Jim, who was waiting with his guitar.  While Dylan struck the first few chords on that very special instrument, Jordan's beautiful, strong, rich soprano filled the sanctuary while Jim, Dylan and I provided the harmony.  Despite all the music we four have sung or played over the years, this was the first and the only time since that we performed together as our family.  When we got to part of the chorus where we sang the words so strongly, "My chains are gone, I've been set free..."  I felt my father be released from the bondage of lung cancer and  and I knew without a doubt that Dad rose whole and strong and joined Mom, with her once again sound mind, as they walked hand in hand toward the care of another Father.  It was an Awe-some moment of time and I will never again hear or sing that song without remembering it and the tears that flowed from all eyes.

Many moons ago, when Jim and I first dated, Jim played guitar at a family restaurant called the Ground Round in Bangor, Maine.  He'd get paid about $35 a night to play his guitar and sing.  That's how he got himself through seminary.  At that time, I didn't sing anywhere but the shower, really.  Well, Jim called me up on stage one night and told me I was going to sing a song.  That song ended up being "Annie's Song" by John Denver.  I sang the melody while Jim sang harmony.  I think from the first moment we performed it, it became "our song".  It wasn't planned, it just happened.  We've sung that song countless times---at campfires, at weddings, just for fun.  It might not be my favorite song, but it does have a special place in my heart and in my memories.  When we would take high school students on mission trips, they would always ask us to sing them a song goodnight and this would, inevitably, be one of the lullabys we'd sing that week.

I always said I'd have to marry a guitar man because my dad played the guitar and it meant so much to me.  I'm so fortunate that my prayers were answered and that music continues to play such a large part in my life and the lives of my husband and children.  

Life is a song, so sing along.

Monday, November 8, 2010

House Dreams

Side noteMy attempt to write a post every single day got side-tracked on Saturday with the mom angst.  I had written a post, but I accidentally forgot to hit the "publish post" button, so it actually didn't get posted until after midnight.  I was so bummed.  I really wanted to be in the running for some of the nifty prizes that were donated.  :(  Boo-hoo-wah.

Today's prompt is:  What would your dream home/apartment/condo/yurt look like? Where would it be? Who'd live in it with you?

Oooh, this is fun.  Fun, but lengthy.

Long ago in our early days of marriage, Jim and I hoped to buy an old home to fix up.  As I've said before, we were poor as church mice.  Add to that the fact that at that time pastors and their families tended to live in parsonages provided by the church, so we didn't know if owning our own home would ever happen.  It actually happened much sooner that we ever expected.  

Jim finished seminary in December, just six months after our wedding.  The church hunt began earnestly and he was interviewed by several churches in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.  Sometimes I accompanied him on the interviews, sometimes I stayed at home while I completed my student teaching experience.  After one particular interview in Ware, MA, I had great suspicion we'd just found the right fit.  What was the indicator, you ask?  Easy.  He came out of the local 7-11 store with a Diet Coke in his hand and a smile on his face.  "What?", I asked.  He gave a crazy big grin and said, "They get cable here".  Call me crazy, but I was right.  One of the draws to this particular church was the fact that they would lend us a sum of money for a down payment on a house.  It seems the church, against their better judgment, had sold the parsonage right next to the church a few years before.  Perhaps a mistake for them, but a bonus for us.  

The first few months in Ware, we lived in an apartment on a dairy farm owned by a member of the church.  It was great fun for me, an in-town girl, not a country girl (Heck, I thought they dyed beets that color and to my knowledge vegetables only came in cans. True story).  I had a blast helping to deliver calves, riding in the manure truck with Farmer Ed and chasing escaped piglets.  Oh, how much fun we had there.  All that is a story for another day.  

Soon enough, we drafted our wish list  and started the house hunt.  We eventually found a 150 yr old house in town, priced right because it needed work that included every single item on our list.  We found that we had wonderful neighbors who, despite being 90% Catholic, welcomed the new pastor and his young bride to the neighborhood with open arms.  It was a wonderful place to raise the baby girl who eventually arrived and became a therapeutic tool for the neighbors and members of the church.  We bought the house from a family with two teenagers.  The father and the son were both named Richard Nixon.  The father grew up in Louisiana and had planted peach and pear trees in the side yard because he missed the ones from home.  Our first summer, those trees bore their very first-ever crop of the most wonderful treasure.  The peaches were GIGANTIC and oozed and dripped so much delectable juice that we had to eat it leaning forward so as not to get the mess on ourselves.  Poor Mr. Nixon, he never once got to taste those peaches after five years of nurturing them to health.

Five years later, we moved to another church in Massachusetts which had a large manse with old servants' quarters on the third floor.  One week after moving in, we celebrated our sixth anniversary.  Two weeks after moving in, we welcomed a baby boy to our family.  Yes, it was a crazy time.  This move was a huge mistake on our part and, after a year and a half, we left under less than pleasant circumstances.

Jim accepted a part-time position in  a church in mid-coast Maine.  With the move being as crazy and unexpected as it was, we were scrambling to find a new home.  One very snowy February day, we found it.  It was another beautiful 150 yr old home in need of a lot of work.  Two wedding maples graced the path leading up to the front door.  Mrs. Payson, the 83 yr old woman who'd lived in the house for fifty years was shoveling the driveway when we drove in.  She was typical hardy Maine stock.  We really loved her strength and her character and her stories.  Rumor had it that her husband, a local pharmacist, was a bootlegger during the days of prohibition.  A few years after moving in, my dad was doing some repair work in the cellar.  He had to pull down some old lathing on the cellar ceiling.  After just a few tugs, there was a mighty crash of glass and suspicious smelling amber liquid splattered and spread across the dirty cellar floor.  I guess there was some truth to the rumors.  There had never been a washer/dryer hook-up installed in that house, so we just used what Mrs. Payson left us---a very old wringer washing machine.  Let me tell you this---you must never ever put rubber pants through that wringer.  Cloth diapers, yes, but those rubber pants will just make a big popping sound before blowing a hole in the rubber pants. Trust me, I speak from experience.  Just a stone's throw from the house was an old working grist mill---Morgan's Mills, which had the most wonderful grist pond in front in which a steady flow of water passed through with each moment.  It was a truly idyllic spot and the local swimming hole for all the kids (and big kids) in the neighborhood.  When our dug well went dry early one rainless fall, it also became our family bathing hole.  For an entire month, I traipsed down to the mill pond to bathe before going to work as a school counselor.  It was an adventure for this girl.  My kids loved this place and were sad to see us leave.  We were sad, too, but God was calling us to new adventures.

Who knew that adventure would be in Indiana?  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever live beyond a three hour drive from my parents home, let alone eighteen hours and half a country away. Seventeen years after arriving in this flat corn and soybean-heavy land, we are still here.  God brought us here, but not for the church we thought was meant for us.  After five years, we planted a new church start in the former American Legion.  Almost twelve years later, here we be.  After yet another stretch of uncertainty which brought us back to being poor church mice once again, we are settled in what is, most likely, our last home.  I think we are here for the duration, although God sure does have a funny sense of humor and there really is just no telling.  With little in the way of homes to choose from at the time (count 'em---five), we bought a small, and I mean small, three bedroom ranch with a fully open basement.  After nine years, the house is how we want it, with the exception of a few projects like new furniture and wall decor.  BUT...

BUT, if I were to have my true dream home it would consist of a walkway graced by two fifty year old wedding maple trees, peach and pear trees in the backyard, a grist mill and pond down the road,  friendly neighbors with their dairy farm next door and friends and family nearby.  The appearance of the house wouldn't matter just as long as the door regularly opened to find those loved ones on our doorstep, bringing and receiving love.

Oh, and I just might have an old wringer washing machine, too, but this time it would be in my garden planted with flowers gracefully cascading down to the ground.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Mother's Angst

I had a totally different topic to write about today, but the last hour has changed some things for me.  All I will say is that parenting is the hardest job in the world and at any moment gut-wrenching events can occur to turn your world upside down.

With strength given only by God, we get through.

God, please get me through tonight and what the next days bring.

Everyone is safe.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  Some trust has been broken and will need to be rebuilt.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Brief Encounter

I am headed out to a friend's house to unwind with my daughter and her and I'm afraid I won't be back in time to post by midnight!  So, as a Sneaky Pete, I'll just leave this teaser until I return.  Today's question via NaBloPoMo:

"What makes you notice someone?"

Don't hate me 'cause I'm cheating!  I'll finish the post, I promise!

...later the next morning...

Okay, so here's the deal.  I FORGOT MY GLASSES AT MY FRIEND'S HOUSE and I left my spares in my office, so I couldn't finish the post last night.  What a loser.  At present, I am sitting here wearing my husband's readers and my eyes are killing me.  I must persevere!   

There are many things that cause me to notice a person---their eyes, a smile, an act of kindness, looking good in some fashion or just by being beautiful.  There is not just one thing that does it.  It could be something obnoxious, too.  I hate when it's because of a negative.  We seem to be so surrounded by that in our culture these days.

As I sit here and write this, I've begun to realize something.  I don't notice people the way I used to and I will blame it on something I call "Bremenitis".  I grew up on Army bases and in a small town.  It used to be in Army circles that families would embrace one another and be fairly tight-knit.  I can't say if it is the same today.  My parents were pen pals with friends from their days in the service  for over fifty years!  That's amazing.  Because of this and because I am by nature an extrovert, I developed into a person who would and could meet and welcome anyone into my life.  I really love that and I just assumed growing up that everyone was the same.  When we returned to my dad's hometown, the openness continued, at least in my own mind and in my own family experience.  Everyone knew everyone and, as a child, I felt loved by my community.  This continued through my adult years until my late 30's.  Then we moved to this small town in the midwest.  

It took me a while to figure this out, but once I tested my theory, it became more and more evident.  What I found was that people would barely greet each other on the street.  Maybe I should say that they would barely greet me on the street, but I truly believe it is wide-spread.  The weirdest things would happen.  I would meet people through church or meet other parents through our kids' activities.  We could have multiple conversations over a short period of time, yet they couldn't muster a simple "hello" when they would meet me in the grocery store or walking down the street.  I can't tell you  how many times this would happen:  I would notice another football mom coming down the same aisle in the grocery store and I'd be gearing up for a "hi."  The mom would see me coming and turn and look at the shelves as she passed by me.  It wasn't always the same person, but it happened soooo many times.  I'm telling you, it was and is the most bizarre thing!  I always wanted to shout, "Hey, bimbo!  I don't want to be your best friend, I just wanted to say hello!!!"  What I have found is that (many/most) people in this town get stuck for an answer when you say "hi".  Those who don't have a spot in my heart forever because I'm just so grateful not to be ignored.

The saddest part THAT I MUST TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR is that the wounds I have felt from these experiences over the last seventeen years have caused me to become a bit like them.  That is shameful.  It's not that I don't want to reach out, it's that I can't continually put myself out there for fear of being once again rebuffed.  Sad, and very, very stupid.  As Ghandi would say, I need to be the change I wish to see in the world.

I don't want to paint a horrible picture of this community because there really are some wonderful people here.  I just think we need to be kinder, more welcoming and loving toward one another.  I think that is the case everywhere.

Man, how was that for a spin on the question?

Beyond the question of what makes me notice people is the question "What makes me want to know them?"  The answer to that is so simple.  I want to know someone when I detect that they have a heart condition.  Is it big?  Is there room in it for others?  Do they use it for good?  If the answer to that is "yes", then come on over to my house.  There's room for you here, too.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Beauty Is In the Eye of the Beholder

Would you rather be wealthy and ugly, wise and sickly, or beautiful and stupid?

I had to reason this out for a bit before I could answer. I think to be wise is beautiful, but I really don't want to be sick.  I've watched the wise & sick and have gained great insight and awareness from them, but watching them in their illness was heart and gut-wrenching.  It's so hard on the ones who love you.  Being beautiful is good, too, but being stupid would be agonizing to think about.  That leaves wealthy and ugly.  I could handle that.  It has nothing to do with the money, although having the money would help.  I had to think about all the things I love to do---travel, entertain, involve myself in ministry, work with children, shop for bargains, decorate and dress on the cheap,  inspire and encourage others, drink red wine (heh-heh-heh).  One doesn't have to be beautiful to do any of those things, yet having wealth could enable me to do more of them.  Being wealthy and ugly also doesn't preclude one from being wise...How much fun is that?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Here's to the man

NaBloPoMo prompt of the day:  "Describe the plot of the next book you want to read, even if the book doesn't exist yet."

Hmmmm.  Not sure about this one.  Okay, I think the next book I read will be the draft of the biography I'd  write about my dad.  Also included would be stories of my little mum and my sister, Suzanne.  It would be called "Damn Good Soldier" and it would be so awesome that Hollywood would be beating down my door, begging for a stake in it.  The part of me the main female character, of course, would be played by a most amazingly talented and brilliant actress of a certain age.  The plot would be about a seemingly staunch and staid man who showed tremendous courage and determination, as well as the most amazing example of love and commitment to a wife with dementia and first daughter with brain damage and the second daughter who loved him beyond measure.  Everyone would marvel because a man of this character is found so far and fleetingly in men of today.  

Someday.  Someday. is one of my other blogs. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Don't Forget---When You Die Those Rings are Mine!"

Those weren't my words, they were my older sister's and she would often repeat them to my little mum whenever she'd go home for a visit.  Ooooh, boy, did that make my little mum mad.  It wasn't just the ring set Dad purchased for Mom in Alaska one year that brought the comment, but a few other family pieces that she'd long ago decided were rightfully hers as the firstborn daughter.  I'm not sure why she felt it was okay to bring it up time after time, but she did and it didn't sit well with Mom.  Suzanne was a wounded soul and she would often show her ugly side at the most inopportune times.

My little mum was the sweetest thing.  She was kind and generous.  She opened her home to anyone and would not be satisfied until she'd fed them and offered them drink.  She had a cute high-pitched giggle that would end almost as soon as it began.  She had a little French-Canadian accent that always made me laugh when she would talk about the first, second or turd...whatever.  Then she'd wave her little finger at me and tell me to eat poop (in French, of course).  She was so cute.

Ah, yes, well, one day, Suzanne had commented on her right of ownership just one too many times.  When she left the room, my mom leaned in and said to me conspiratorially, "I have half a mind to give it to you just to piss her off!"  Now my little mum rarely said "pissed" so I knew she was steaming.  I just begged her not to because I didn't think I would survive Suzanne's wrath.  Oy.

A week before my wedding, my mom handed me the wedding band that Sue had always claimed.  I don't even remember the moment now, but I know that my mother insisted that I have it and wear it on my wedding day.  She was very insistent and I knew it was important to her for all the right reasons.  So I took it and after twenty-eight years, it is still on my finger.

The worst part, though, the very worst part occurred on my 25th birthday six months after my wedding.  Jim and I were living with my parents because we were in transition.  He'd just graduated from seminary and I was about to start my student teaching.  Jim would be moving to a church in Massachusetts and I would follow him in March once my teaching requirement was done.  My birthday was on a Sunday.  Jim and I walked home from church to a warm and favorite meal Mom had prepared just for me.  We sat down to eat, Mom, Dad, Jim and me.  In between dinner and dessert, Mom placed a small box in front of me.  I had no clue what was inside that box when unwrapping it.  Still clueless, I opened the box and lost. my. breath.  Inside the box was the matching diamond engagement ring to the band I had previously received.  The tears just poured down my cheeks.  I don't know which feeling was the strongest---the joy I felt at receiving something I never thought would be mine or the fear that struck me, wondering just how Suzanne would react.  Oh, dear.

Suzanne lived in Florida at the time, so I was safe for a bit.  I have no idea when my mom told Suzanne about the ring or what was said.  Suzanne never said a word.  Two years later, that drunk driver would change her life forever and I wished for a time that she'd had just a moment to enjoy the rings as her own.

Twenty-six years after I received the diamond ring, I presented it to my daughter on her 25th birthday.  A tradition had been born.  I waited with great anticipation to pass it on. She waited all her life to receive it. Now it's her turn to pass it on.

Monday, November 1, 2010

NaBloPoMo National Blog Posting Month

What are the chances I can write a blog post every day of this month, including weekends?  Slim to none, but I think, what the heck, I'll give it a shot.  You can read all about it and get the daily writing prompt HERE.  I may or may not use the daily prompt.  Give it a whirl, folks.

How would your life change if you didn't have rent or a mortgage to pay, i.e., if your housing was free?

That's easy.  I wouldn't change much other than travel more freely.  Jim and I have never had the luxury until the last few years of traveling outside the country.  Our first trip was in 2005 when a couple from our church paid for us to go on a two-week mission trip to Cebu in the Philippines.  I got my first-ever passport.  Jim had one ten years before because he went on a trip to Israel and Egypt.  Lucky him, but I didn't have the inclination to go to such a volatile spot with young children at home.  Fast forward a few years when the kids were in high school and college and we felt called to take that trip.  That brought forth the very contagious travel-bug, for which there is no cure but more travel.  

Our second trip was to England to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  When we celebrated our 20th anniversary, I told Jim that I didn't want anymore gifts of any kind for Christmases, birthdays, anniversaries for the next five years.  I told him I wanted him to start saving money so he could buy me a special gift for our 25th---"a-big-honking-go-into-debt-diamond-ring."  I meant it, too---for about two and a half years.  When we first got engaged, we were the proverbial poor church mice and I was extremely practical and considerate.  My engagement ring was a modest three-stone ring.  I loved it and love it still (although the stones kept getting knocked out and I eventually had it made into a necklace so I could actually wear it instead of keeping it in a drawer sans stone).  Anyway...I wanted some impractical bling for once.  But, like I said, the desire only lasted about half way through the five years.  After a time, I started to feel guilty.  As I mentioned, I was and still am a bit of the practical and considerate sort.  I just couldn't justify spending that kind of money for just me.  After some hemming and hawing, I decided that we should take a trip to Europe instead.  Jim's childhood friend, John and John's wife, Lynn, were to go on the trip with us.  In fact, we'd be staying with Lynn's college roommate, Lucy, while we were in London.  As it got closer and closer to the month we were to leave, it became clear that John and Lynn were not going to be able to make the trip.  Lynn's mom got sick and went to live with them and their five children.  They could not leave all that behind.  We were so disappointed and didn't know what to do.  After all, we didn't know Lynn's friend, Lucy, and we couldn't stay there.  We were broken-hearted for a time.  What to do?  What to do?  Finally, Jim said, "You know, Jan, I've always wanted to go see Utah..."   I sat there in disbelief and thought, "England.  Utah.  England.  Utah.  Hmmm."  Finally, I looked at Jim and said, "Jim, I am NOT going to Utah!!"  Jim's mouth got teeny-tiny and he said quietly, "Okay."  We didn't know what we'd do about housing, but we determined we were going to England.  We did and it was a wonderful trip.  And guess what?  We stayed with Lucy and her very gracious family.  Her gracious and elusive family.  We could never get them together for a photograph despite trying for two weeks.  

Since England, we've made two trips to Germany and will head to Ireland before the new year.  We eventually did  get to Utah.  With Clella.  And it was a trip worth every moment.

So, anyway, I would not change much beyond the additional traveling.  I love my work.  I love my family.  I love my friends.  I love our little church and I love being in ministry.  I love our finished home that allows us to entertain and embrace those we love and those we don't know.  I guess I might add that I would have people in more often, but since the renovation has been completed, impromptu gatherings happen so much more easily and delightfully.

Life is good.  A life of service is better.

p.s. The pictures will have to come later because they are on my laptop at work!

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Love Story

Being a pastor's wife isn't always my favorite thing.  Mind you, I would miss this life if we weren't in it, but there are just some days when it ain't no fun.  Christians can be such butts sometimes.  In fact, Christians can be butts a lot (and, yes, I think you might find 'butts' in the dictionary under 'Christian', right after 'loving' and 'giving'.  It just goes with the territory) .  I include myself in that statement, so don't think I'm goin' all "holier than thou" on you.  I've got three fingers pointing back at me, too.  Saturday became one of those days that I love.

One of the privileges to being in ministry is that one gets to experience the best and the worst of other people's lives.  I love watching as a young girl grows and matures and falls in love.  I love watching a young boy grow and mature and fall in love.  I love to see them pledge their lives, one to another, especially when you know that Christ is at the center of their relationship.  It brings a new dimension to the mix.  The metamorphosis is a gift to observe and experience as part of the great cycle of life.  It continues to evolve as they fight the battle of the first years and as they add to their family.  It's just a gift to be a part of that.

But love stories don't always start that way...

A few months ago, Jean started bringing Jim to church with her.  They were "just friends" and he was curious what our little church was all about.  We all had a sense that a bit more was going on, but we played along with them, giving a knowing wink to one another.  Jean was a great hostess and made sure that Jim was introduced around.  Jim had a great handshake and when he said he was "pleased to meet you", one had a sense he really meant it.  Unlike many who visit Horizon, Jim came back.  Every week. With Jean.  Time proved that Jim was as genuine as he seemed.  He was a really good man.  As I continued to watch Jean over the ensuing weeks, I noticed the appearance of a light spring in her step.  You might even say there was a bit of a sashay as she moved.  Jim was very attentive to Jean's needs.  It was a different kind of love story and it was blossoming before our eyes.

Jean has been a widow for forty-two years.  Forty-two years.  Her husband died unexpectedly of a heart attack when she was forty years old.  He was a principal at one of the local schools and he died at his desk.  This left Jean with three small children to raise on her own.  She did so by supporting her family as a first grade teacher.  She retired after many years of loving little ones.  Whenever we have visitors to church, I can count on Jean to introduce herself and I know it won't take long before she is learning of their family lineage.  Somewhere along the line she has taught a father or grandfather or aunt or cousin and she's going to figure it out.  In a town the size of Bremen, it doesn't take long to find the connection.  Everyone is related to everyone, except of course for those of us like me who are from away.

Jim hasn't been a widower for quite as long.  His wife, Lucy, died last fall.  Jim and Lucy had lost a son of their own tragically the year before when he was in a cherry picker for work and a power line brushed against his arm.  Jim and Lucy had been longtime friends of Jean and her husband.  I think Jim told me that he and Lucy had been friends with Jean for 62 years.  I don't know the details, but somewhere along the line of the last half year or more, Jean and Jim became companions.  I think it just came naturally from that longtime friendship.  And so, Jim came to church with Jean.  And we all watched.  On Sundays, they go to his church. Jim C said he'd always wondered to his wife, Lucy, why Jean never remarried.  Later, he told Jean's son, "I think God was just saving her for me".

About two months ago, my husband, Jim, came home and with a twinkle in his eye said, "I've got something to tell you".  It seems Jean had visited him at the church office that morning and wanted to know how he thought it would look if Jim and she got married.  My Jim thought it was a wonderful idea.  There was a bit of a catch, though.  They wanted to be married in the eyes of God, not through the eyes of the law.  New marriage gets complicated for the elderly.  A legal marriage would mean that they would both lose financially.  There is the complication of pensions lost and separate families being provided for.  It is a great set-up for stress, tension and hard emotions.  It's not fair, but it is the way our legal and financial systems work in the U.S.  Jean and Jim C did not want to do anything that would be frowned upon in the eyes of God.  If God couldn't bless their relationship, then it just would remain as is.  Because my Jim had researched this situation years before he was able to quickly ease her mind and the planning began.  Jean was still a little hesitant for people to know (she was afraid "people might talk"), but she gave my Jim permission to tell me.  That night at church as she passed by me, she grabbed my arm and said with a bit of a giggle, "You know something, don't you?".  My response was, "YES, Jean, but I have one thing to say to you---NO BABIES!".  "Oh, you," Jean said as she slapped my arm.  I got all warm inside.

A few weeks later, my Jim was in Utah with Clella and another couple and Jean and Jim C stopped by.  Jim C has a vintage car in pristine condition and I kept seeing it drive slowly by my house.  Finally, they pulled in the driveway.  It was about 8:30 pm, but they were hoping to catch me so I could call my Jim to confirm a date for their wedding.  We sat and talked a bit and I asked them a little bit more.  We talked about their children and how they were feeling about this marriage and the love and support Jim and Jean were feeling from family and friends.  Jean told me that Jim's kids were wanting him to move to be closer to them, but Jean said, "I told them it'll be okay.  I'll take care of him.".  She said it with such tenderness and such love.  Her saying that brought tears to my eyes because I realized something.  Jean was content in the thought that she could take care of Jim.  In all the years I've known her, I've never known her to be unhappy in her single life, but there was a settled joy in her statement.  It was lovely.

So, last Saturday morning around eleven o'clock, my Jim and I joined Jean and Jim's families at the home of Jean's son (a third Jim!).   Her son had made the outside just lovely adding a display of flowers for the bride and groom.  As luck would have it, it began to pour as the ceremony was to begin, so inside we went.  The rain could not dampen the spirit of the day.  Jim C was surprised to see my Jim in a suit and tie because my Jim preaches in blue jeans.  "Oh, I told everybody you'd probably be wearing jeans!".  "Not for a special day like this, Jim.".  "Oh, well, you didn't have to do that, Jim.".  (All these 'Jims' are making my head swim!).

As my Jim began the simple yet sweet ceremony, he talked about the vows to be spoken.  The vows would be the traditional vows, but he said the words "til death do us part" take on special significance when the bride is 82 and the groom is 86.  Then the tears began to pour.  I couldn't stop.  When my Jim asked the groom if he took Jean to be his wedded wife, he didn't say "I will".  He said with conviction, "I will!"  When my Jim asked the bride the same, she whispered with equal conviction, "I will".  As they tried to place the rings on the finger of the other, it was not without struggle due to swollen knuckles.  We all laughed out loud as we collectively cried to hear the words of exasperation being spoken back and forth.  I wish I had gotten it on tape.  

 When my Jim pronounced them "husband and wife", there was a simultaneous "Ooh" from the bride and an "Aww" from the groom. 

My heart just danced and I knew I would have to write this down.

Oh, and the honeymoon?  They went to church that night.

 What a gift I received to be present at this wedding.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Living in a Fantasy World

I don't remember why I started thinking of this tonight, but can I tell you what a dork I was as a kid?  Not kind of a dork, but a dyed-in-the-wool-what-were-you-thinking-are-you-nuts-kind-of-a-kid. Quite a while ago, I posted 25 random (that I'm absolutely sure you are dying to know) things about me.  Number 9 mentioned that as a ten year old I was convinced that Elvis Presley was going to wait for me to grow up so he could marry me.  I believed it, really I did.  I can even tell you where I was standing the moment I found out and saw the wedding picture of Priscilla and him.  (I was standing near the side steps  of Joanne Guillemette's house on Brook Street, you know, towards the back by the driveway).  Oh, I cried.  What was he thinking marrying that old Priscilla when he could have waited a few years and married me?  The fool.  Look where it got him, too.  Serves him right.  Sheesh.

I once tried saving a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest.  I scooped that featherless little critter up on a flat scrap of cereal box I found on the street and slowly rode my bike toward home.  With such care and tenderness, I held my treasure in my left hand while steering the handlebars with my right.  I rode down my long street, stealing glances at my new friend as I did so.  I envisioned the friendship we would have, how I would feed it droplets of nourishment so lovingly, how I would teach it to sit perched on my shoulder as we traveled the neighborhood or went shopping and how I would be the envy of all the popular kids because I had something no one else had.  I was so lost in my little fantasy that I never saw the bump in the road that caused me to drop my little treasure and run over its head.  Bummer.

The summer after fifth grade, this little Catholic girl attended Vacation Bible School at the Baptist church a neighbor girl attended.  For the closing ceremony, I got picked to carry the Bible down the center aisle because the head VBS lady said that I could walk in a straight line.  For years, I thought I was something special because I could walk in a straight line.  Wow, just think of it.  I could walk in a straight line.  Stop it now, I can feel your envy.  Don't bother to practice.  I'm already the winner.

From about the time I was nine until the time I graduated from high school, I was convinced, CONVINCED I tell you, that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were going to drive through Sanford/Springvale in their black stretch limo and discover me.  They were going to drive by as I walked to the corner store and Elizabeth would say, "Oh, Richard darling, look at the lovely little girl.  We simply must put her in our next movie.  James, pull the car over".  I always decided what I was going to wear based on this.  You can't be discovered in just any old rag, you know?  My outfit of choice was usually something owned by my older sister, Suzanne.  She always had the nicest clothes, so why not?  The problem was that Sue was over nine years older than me and I was about a foot and a half shorter than her at the time.  One particular outfit consisted of a lovely pink brocade vest and coordinating dress slacks.  The blouse had lots of lovely ruffles and long sleeves with ruffles on the bottom.  The sleeves hung past my hands by a mile and the full and flowing pants bunched up and dragged in the dirt.  Man, I was gorgeous.  Gorgeous, I tell you.  Let me just say that I think James got lost because that twain just never met.

What is the point of this post?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Just walking down Memory Lane.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

20 C + M + B 10

A few Sunday nights ago, a group of youth, along with their group leaders and Jim and me, set out to bless the homes of some of our church members.  When we arrived at their homes en masse, we would explain what we were doing, write on their door with chalk (with permission, of course), and leave them with the following letter of explanation and a piece of chalk:

January 2010

Dear Friends,

On a recent trip to Germany, a local family noticed a series of letters and numbers written in chalk above the doors to many houses, churches and restaurants. When we inquired into their significance, we were touched by the tradition and the significance of their meaning and wanted to share it with others. And so, an idea was born. Could this be a tradition which could be spread throughout the community of B*****, a community rich in German background?

The letters and numbers: 20 C + M + B ...

Their meaning and significance:
*the 20 stands for the present century
*the C + M + B stands for the three wise men---Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. It also stands for the Latin "Christus Mansionem Benedicat" which means "Christ, bless this house". Often a small t would be written above the M to represent Christians.
*the "..."  is where one would write in the present year.

The tradition:  Around the time of Epiphany, celebrating the arrival of the wise men to the baby Jesus, friends and family would visit door-to-door, praying over the home and writing above a door in chalk.  Each year, this tradition would be repeated and the present year would be changed above the door.  This might be written on the outside or the inside of one door in the home.

Our visit:   So, this night you have been visited by the youth and friends of H******* Ministries to bestow a blessing on your home for this new year.

The blessing:          "Christ, bless this home and all who dwell within."

The chalk:    For you, so that you may bless the homes of others.

 There were some in our group who were a little skeptical about the endeavor before we left on our adventure.  By the end, we were all touched by the response we received.  You see, we went with the intent to just do something kind and caring.  What we found we did was to provide comfort to those experiencing unknown pain.  When the tears came and their pain was shared, we were humbled by the omniscience of God who went before us, guided our journey, and brought peace to those in need through the simple actions of a group of teenagers and the bumbling adults who led them.

I hope this is a new tradition we continue annually.

I altered the letter a bit and shared the same tradition with some of my friends at work.  Again, the response was humbling.  You see, when one takes a risk to share the compassion of their faith, they risk rejection.  In many cases, it is with good reason as someone, in the name of faith, has done more damage to the cause with their zeal and arrogance.  But that wasn't my experience at work.  I found the act of caring and extending love was only greeted with gratitude and a desire to pass along to others what was bestowed upon them.

What was beginning to be a month of dread and gray and gloom was transformed when I stopped focusing on my own self-pity party into a celebration of all that was, and is, good.

So, to any and all of you who may chance upon this post---"Christ bless your home and all who dwell within."

Here's to 2010.