Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hodgepodge on a Stick

It's almost 1 a.m. and I have a sore throat, so this is going to have to be brief before bed. (Try not to clap too vigorously.) 


1. What is something you'll never forget about the age you are right now?

Well, considering I'm forgetting things quite often at this age, I'm not sure I'll "never forget" anything later.  Is that clear as mud?   

One thing I hope I never forget is how good it feels to finally, finally, finally, be starting to feel free of legalism in its many and varied forms.  My whole life I've struggled with looking a certain way, acting a certain way, trying to measure up to what I perceive (or was flat-out told) was expected of  "a good Christian."  And when legalism is forged into your being through people who are not free themselves, it is bondage.  

Our pastor (new church as of about 8 months ago) just preached Galatians 5:12 which I've never ever heard preached.   I've heard verse 11 and 13 preached, but 12 ? No. I'm sure preachers everywhere have been afraid to be fired for preaching certain verses, but not our pastor. It is absolutely the best feeling to be being set free in ways I've never experienced. 

I don't have to worry whether God thinks jeans are inappropriate in church. Certain people think they're taboo; God is not like us.  I don't have to admit that I'm not reading certain books that are going around the church.  I don't have to serve in multiple ways in order not to feel like a slacker. I am free. "It is for freedom that Christ has set you free!"

2. What's a household chore you've never done? How have you managed that???

I have done them all. Seriously.   Frankly, I'm curious to see how spoiled some people might answer this, because I am stumped.  Although, I have a friend whose mother had a housekeeper, so my friend didn't know how to clean a house when she got married.  In my opinion, that is a disservice to children and their future families. 

3. Does nature shape our personalities more than nurture? Explain? 

I have much to say on this topic, but am too tired to be erudite.  My short answer is this: we are born with a certain personality that, for the most part, wouldn't change much, regardless of how we were nurtured.  But I do think that nurturing influences the degree of expression of a certain personality.  Nurturing isn't necessarily limited to home life, either.  For example, a mother may let her child be dramatic and manipulative, but sooner or later, a teacher, classmate, coach, spouse, or boss will put a stop to it. So the personality is still there, but the expression is hampered. 

4. Friday (February 28th) is 'Something on a Stick Day'...funny because Zoanna over at A Penchant for Pens recently sent me an idea for a question relating to this topic. What's your favorite food eaten on a stick? 

Really? There is a" Something on Stick Day"? Who comes up with these things, and what do they do in real life?   I was only trying to come up with a theme for my son's birthday party --how about a stick theme?-- and was thinking of food to serve on a stick:  kebabs? corn dogs? Chinese?    (In the end, we had nothing on a stick because he thought 'sticks" was a dumb theme.)

Anyway, cotton candy is my favorite food on a stick!  I can't say "cotton candy" without remembering how I was pranked by my son and his wife (then girlfriend) at the beach one time. 
They tricked me into thinking that the machine I saw at the flea market was a cotton candy maker, so I got all excited and sort of ran ahead of them. Got there and asked how much was the cotton candy. The lady just put her arm around me and said said in a sicky sweet Southern accent, "Oh, honey, this iddn't cotton candy. This machine is making the stuffing for teddy bears."  I turned as red as the machine itself, while Steve and Ambrey just doubled over laughing. 

5. Which of your five senses do you treasure most, and why?

My sight.  I think I could imagine sounds, and I could survive without taste and smell, but would be very fearful and sad without the ability to see.  Wow, but if I couldn't touch or be touched ? Gosh, what a loss. 

6. What's the best music, theatre, or sporting venue you've been to? What made it great?

Best theatre--local college near here because of the memories I have of playing Amaryllis in "The Music Man." My dad was a River City Volunteer fireman, and my older sister was a Wa Tan Ye girl.  It was one of the best summers of my life, having my dramatic side nurtured!


7. It's the last week of the month...in five words or less bid adieu to your February. 

Goodbye, you pasty white boy. 

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

So much for being brief...

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Then Sings My Quilter's Soul

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I bought  a huge bin of fabric from a widower who had the painful task of selling the contents of his late wife's quilting studio.  She'd been sewing for 25 years and had accumulated quite the stash--and excellent taste in quality, I might add.

I assured the man I would use the fabric to make things of beauty and love that would bless people, particularly children. My plan is to make things for my baby niece, and also doll quilts (7 this year, for starters) for Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

After paying my $75 for this motherlode of happiness, I came home and immediately sorted it  by color. The line of an old hymn sprang from my voice: "Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee..." I'm sure my grandmother, who used to make dolls and quilts, would sing that while she sewed.

I get such a craving for oranges every time I see this citrus fabric!

Blue with red hearts Fabric-- I made little treat bags for 26 first graders and their wonderful teacher and her co-worker and of course, for my Valentine birthday boy.

 My favorite in the entire lot was this purple and yellow floral one below.  I have already started a purple pinwheel doll quilt from this assortment.

My younger sister loves grey wolves; I think I'll make a pillow for her. Of course I'll turn it rightside up.
  I started another doll quilt from this pink stack, as well as a car seat quilt for my baby niece.

Duckies and butterflies, how cute!

This fabric excites me--so much movement!

Of course the sunflowers always make me think of my Kansas friends and family.

My mind is spinning with project ideas. If only life didn't get in the way of sewing all day!

But at least my soul is singing just thinking about it!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Diplomas, Retrievers. and Girly Bags

Our third child, Stephen, graduated  from college with a degree in Computer Science---a whole two months ago!  But I am just now recapping the day?

Life goes by in a blur.

In some ways, postponing the writing of a major life event has its advantages. The main one is that you've filtered out the trivia and retained the moments that got sealed in your brain or impressed on your heart.

Little snippets of memories that may or may not have been captured by the camera.

Memories such as:

-purposely leaving the big camera at home because your daughter-in-law is by far the better photographer and is certain to have hers with her

-deciding that a Big Deal Day like Your Son's College Graduation is the ideal time to learn how to take pictures on your new phone,

pictures so good (or so bad)  that could ostensibly last forever in cyberspace.

-realizing that, without your daughter-in-law or sixth grade son to alert you, you might accidentally be   taking a video of a couple's back and draining your battery

-loving the man who has worked so hard, sacrificed so many of his own wants, lived frugally but generously, and saved so diligently to put his kids through college so that they could graduate debt-free

-and noticing that the boy is wearing a hand-me-down shirt from the older brother who is taking the stage soon

-asking yourself for the 998000th  time, "Where did the last 22 years go?  Wasn't I just holding a baby in a pink and blue striped knit cap while I wore a hospital gown?  And now he's wearing a  cap and gown of a whole different sort."

-wondering if any other parents are as proud of their kid as you are of yours, if anyone else could love the way you love, and conclude the answer is "yes," and it moves you to tears that God fills millions of people at the same time with crazy love for one, two, three, four, ten, or twenty kids they call their children.

You scan the gymnasium full of distinguished black and gold stripage, and enjoy watching the interpreter through sign language.

And you watch as he awaits his turn to take hold of the very thing he has worked five long years for:
his college diploma.
You remember all the nights when you wake at 3:18 a.m. and he is still working on a computer programming assignment in his room. 

And during finals, when he humbly asks you to drive him to school so he can sleep an extra hour in the car, you are glad you are still a stay-at-home mom who can say "Sure!"

You stay at home to raise another goofball 

who tells you he's gonna make a lot of money as a gamer someday if he practices enough.
Ahem. Good one, son.

 You are grateful that your graduate is willing to pose patiently for Mom who doesn't know the meaning of taking "just a quick shot right here."

He suggests that group photos be done a little ways off because of the all people wanting shots here.

He gladly carries her heavy purple bag with the pink laptop cover, as long as it's closer to her.  He is secure in his manhood, but has his limits.  You look at the bag and think, "granddaugher's diaper bag someday?"

 Well, you might actually have let the thought slip out your mouth, and the couple giggle nervously.
Gee, Mom, one thing at a time already!

They love that the school mascot is the retriever. Each of them had a beloved golden retriever that 
they would take on walks in the park as they fell more deeply in love.

(His eyes were closed, but the family was rushing me to move along, so I didn't shoot twice...

that he knew of.)

  You snap pictures of him because he is just so darn cute.  And did I mention the pride?

I  think this should be a two-part series.

After all, it  shouldn't take as long to read a blog post as it does to earn a bachelors degree, right?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

12 Word Hodgepodge

My baby just turned 12 on Valentine's Day; hence, 12-word answers today.. 

1. What's the biggest change since your childhood in the way people think or act?

Entitlement thinking, leading  to entitlement actions. Someone owes me  because I'm awesome. 

2. The Olympic Biathlon involves cross country skiing broken up with either two or four rounds of target shooting. Which part of that would stress you out more? Or would you love them both equally?

Cross country skiing would stress me out. Shooting's a blast (quite literally)!

3. February is National Canned Food Month...what is your most often purchased canned food item?  What was in the last can you opened?

Tomatoes are what I most often buy. Last opened? White albacore tuna.
4. What river (anywhere in the world) would you most like to cruise?

I think this question was asked before. I'll say "Beautiful Blue Danube."

5. It's the middle of the night and you can't sleep...what do you do? Count sheep? Toss and turn? Watch television? Or do you get up and do something productive?

Complain to self, then pray. If still awake, I'll read or write.

6. How important is keeping your cool?

"A fool vents all his feelings; a wise man restrains them."   (*Proverbs 29:11)

7. I've got white stuff on the brain so why not run with it? White lie, wave the white flag, white knuckle it, white wash a situation, or white as a sheet...which phrase could most recently apply to your own life in some way? 

How about white glove? Monday I cleaned inside AND behind my oven!

8. Insert your own random thought here.

I went to Walmart for the first time in 3 years yesterday. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Days Like Stones

Tonight is February 13th.

Tonight it's snowing like it was a year ago,  a wet, cold, relentless snow.

But tonight, February 13th, 2014, is a night for remembering what might have been, and to give thanks.

One year ago tonight, my husband suffered a life-threatening event at work and was rushed to the ER.   Our oldest son, who works in the same office, called  911 and then called me, trying to be strong.

It was 5:15, and I was checking email before starting dinner, when the phone rang. Something must be wrong.  Ben doesn't call; he texts, but he wouldn't be home with his wife yet. And he leaves work at 5:00.   When Ben said, "Hey, Mom, are you sitting down? Don't freak out, but..." and his voice was shaking, and then said, "Dad might have been electrocuted..."  well, I freaked out.

As he went on to try to explain, it wasn't electrocution, but  he said Dad's  hands tingled at his computer,  he had a sudden pain and numbness up his left arm,  his chest felt tight, he was short of breath ,he looked dazed, and wasn't  processing his answers very fast when Ben was trying to figure out what happened.  "The paramedics are here now, Mom. You probably oughta get to GBMC as fast as you can."

We didn't know if it was stroke, a heart attack, an aortic rupture coming, or what.  I need a pastor!  I need a pastor and we don't have one! I thought.    (We had left the only church we'd known for 17 years, under painful circumstances.)

I kept turning circles in my basement. What to do, what to do, what to do! How do people without a pastor cope? How? How? How am I going to do this without a pastor?  I was a mess.

The only person closest as a spiritual comfort in crisis, besides my own parents,  was our friend Gary. I called him, crying, trembling, desperate, afraid, told him what was going on,  and he said, "What can I do for you? Who do you want me to call?" I told him to call Arie, a pastor who had left that same church but who was dear to us nonetheless. Arie really cared. I knew he would come to the hospital with his wife, my good friend Marilyn. I knew Gary would make the call.  He asked me if I wanted him also to come to the hospital, and I could barely squeak out a humble, "Yes...please!" Paul has always considered Gary one of his best friends, no matter how much time or life stuff comes between get-togethers.

As I drove the Baltimore beltway at night, in snow, alone, under extreme stress,  I was facing the possibility of being a 47-year-old widow and I was scared to death.  To become a single mother with a son on the verge of adolescence was just unthinkable.

I had to quickly arrange for my parents to come take care of him that night.

  And I had an old blind dog who couldn't control her bladder anymore and was in a lot of joint pain but was still hungry and thirsty and walked briskly and responded to loving kindness.  On top of the immediate stress, our daughter's room was all packed up;   she had been planning to move the first of her stuff out that very night.

My heart was racing over my husband, aching for my children, guilt-ridden about the dog, homeless as far as a church,  and overwhelmed at the thought of how fast my nest was emptying. And I had no control over any of of the circumstances.

I drove to the hospital as fast as I could, legally, in mesmerizing snow.  A half mile from the hospital I could no longer see white or yellow lines in the road.  I gripped the wheel tighter, leaned farther forward, totally tensed up. Suddenly, straight ahead,  I saw I was not in the center lane, but was in a turn lane. Seconds before hitting a concrete median, I hit my brakes. Then I sat there, cars zipping by, and thanked God for his protection.

A peace washed over me and I merged backed into traffic.  I thought of the Rich Mullins song with the lyrics, "Hold me, Jesus, I'm shaking like a leaf. You have been my King of Glory, won't you be my Prince of Peace."

When I arrived at the hospital, Paul was sitting up, doing much better .The kids were there. Gary was there. And a little later, Arie and Marilyn were there.  I felt such comfort and gratitude when Arie said he was honored that we called. "I'll be your pastor any time, for as long as you need me, guys. I mean that."  And I know he does.  I know, even though we are settling into a different church, Arie would be there for us if we called.

My word for 2013 was Peace. Little did I know it would be the first of many tests of my faith, tests that ask the heart-probing spiritual question, "Do I trust God or just say I trust Him?"

Paul was diagnosed with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), which can mimic a heart attack or stroke as we found out.  It is now under control with medicine and careful diet, but the episode changed us.

February 13, 2013, was the first of many days in 2013 that will remain in my mind like stones in the Jordan River, placed there by Joshua and the children of Israel to always remember God's faithfulness to them and their children forever.  He had been a cloud by day, to protect them from the scorching sun, and a fire by night to guide and warm them.  He had led them out of Egypt, out of bondage, into freedom. He was their Peace. I was beginning to get a glimpse of what that really meant.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Hodgepodge: Players, Slayers, and Way-ers

I'm finally relaxed enough after being paranoid of security enforcement all day.
Our little school took a field trip to the
Walters Art Gallery and the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.

If you get too close to a painting, you might set off an alarm.

If you walk a hall alone en route to the ladies' room while musicians are tuning their instruments,
your potty jig might be misconstrued as suspicious behavior.
We all know it's an indisputable fact that tuba player slayers are 
midlife moms with teeny tiny bladders.

1. Are we always responsible for our actions? Are there any exceptions?

Although, when I fell at the gas station a couple weeks ago, I was not responsible. It was my car's fault I had to stop for gas. It was the gas station's fault they had pumps made of metal that cause big bumps (still there) when one's head collides with them. It's the concrete's fault for being tougher than my knees. It's the banana peel's fault for not decomposing in five minutes rather than needing to be thrown out. It's the trash can's fault for being too far from my car door. It's my shoe's fault for getting stuck in the car when it should have come out and given me a second leg to stand on.

2.  Has anyone from your home town become famous?

Uh, yeah! The Superbowl Champs of LAST YEAR,  the entire Baltimore Ravens team, people! You remember the game, right? It was a nailbiter, with opposing teams coached by the Harbaugh brothers and all that wonderful drama!  Sadly, our purple reign is over.

But....closer to my real hometown (an hour north of Baltimore), one of our streets is named Kimmie Way, for former Olympic skater Kimmie Meissner. 

I can do one better on this answer, and provide the name of an infamous person from our hometown: John Wilkes Booth.   Can't remember the last time a skater and a villain were in the same paragraph. Oh, wait! Yes, I do. Does the name Tonya Harding sound familiar?



3. January was National Slow Cooker month. Do you own a slow cooker/crock pot? Did you use it last month? What's a favorite dish you make using a slow cooker or crock pot?

I have a 6-quart Crock-pot that I used several times in January and once thus far this month.  Oh, how much more energy I have to cook at 10 a.m. than at 5pm, so instead of having Long Day/Short Temper Syndrome at dinner time, I feel more like June Cleaver as I smile and say, ever so sweetly,  "Ward? Beaver? I made your favorite--beef burgundy."  And they smile back and thank me, ever so politely, for being the best cook in the whole wide world.

Uh-huh, right. Talk about a crock.

4. How do you feel about private companies collecting data about you?

Nervous with a side of irritated, smothered in powerlessnes

5. The Games of the 2014 Winter Olympics kick off with their opening ceremony this coming Friday....will you be watching? Which Winter Olympic event would you most like to see in person? Have you ever been to Russia? Any desire to go, Olympics or otherwise?  

Yes, I'll be watching. I'd love to see women's figure skating in person.  Yes, I've been to Russia. My daughter and I traveled to Moscow and Vladimir with Global Aid Network in 2006 to deliver humanitarian aid and share the gospel there. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

6. Share a good or bad sports related memory from your childhood or teen years.

I was a high school cheerleader in a Christian school, where boy/girl relationships were strictly taboo. Hand-holding was punishable by after-school detention. Kissing would result in suspension. I remember the time I was recently broken up from my boyfriend, a basketball player, but my two best friends (also cheerleaders) were still together with their boyfriends.  One night, on the way home from an away game, my friends secretly locked lips with their boyfriends near the back of the bus, while I sat back a little farther, moping and feeling sorry for myself.

The next day, all four of them were summoned to the office and consequently suspended. Apparently their sins had found them out.  Then they got to spend quality time feeling sorry for themselves in the library, as well as suffering a zero for every missed assignment and test given during their suspension day.

7. What's a must have song for you on a work out play list? If you don't work out, run, swim, bike, walk, or anything else that could be construed as 'exercise', then what's a song that motivates you to at least get up off the couch?

My favorite music to exercise to is a CD (yes, a CD) of hymns by Selah.  Not that I've listened to it lately. I might not have exercised since CDs went out of popularity.  

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

The concert  we attended this  morning was titled "America the Beautiful," performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra . While I thoroughly enjoyed the music, there was one part that really irked me.  A female soloist sang "America the Beautiful" but instead of the lyrics "God shed His grace on thee," she sang, "We shed our grace on thee."  I was offended as a Christian and as an American. Certain things should never, ever be messed with!

Monday, February 03, 2014

Monday Melange

A melange (may-LANZH) is  grab bag, a potluck, a medley, a potpourri, an assortment, a variety. You get the idea.  Melange is French, and anything French is an instant pick-me-up, similar to a bouquet of flowers delivered "just because." 

1. I have been wanting flowers "just because" but haven't received any.  I think I will deliver some to myself this week just because it's been a very long winter already and just because I can only take so much grey and white and slush and mush. 

2.  Why haven't I shown pictures from my son's graduation from college yet? He walked across the stage December 20th, shook hands with some distinguished looking folks, and then breathed a sigh of relief that his five years of getting his BS in Computer Science had finally ended.  We were extremely proud of him, and extremely grateful that his internship turned into a full-time, well-paying job in the field he loves.  He declared, "It's so much easier not to have to work part-time AND go to school!" 

3.  Fast forward to tonight, when I find out via Facebook that he has decided to start his master's degree program! Oy. 

4.  Our daughter started her master's program last week. She had been dreading it; her days are already stressful with 26 first-graders and her evenings grading papers and planning ahead. However, she is going through this program with the same Christian friend she was in undergrad school with, in their cohort. Then, on the first night, the kindly, older, innocent-looking professor cracked everyone up by making a slip of the tongue. He was going to address the rules about cell phone use. He inadvertently said, "I know how important it is for you all to be sexting--
I mean texting--!". The dear old man turned 50 shades of red.

5.  This Friday night is the science fair at school. My 6th grade boy and his curious dad have successfully built a battery-powered motor.  I'm not sure who's been having more fun, but the fun ends when Mom helps with the writing portion. The boy likes to skip introductions and get right to conclusions, and has a fondness for starting sentences with conjunctions. And that is not proper, given the pseudo-formal audience of science geeks and teachers on the judging panel. 

6. Tomorrow we have a field trip, barring weather aggravations. We are visiting the Meyerhoff to hear the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Walters Art Gallery. Not being an art teacher this year, but rather just a chaperon and yearbook photographer, I will do my dead-level best not to play the educator role. Wish me luck. 

7.  Chaperon is another French word. Be still, mon coeur

8.  My oldest son and daughter-in-law moved into their new home last weekend and said they couldn't wait to start renovations. Well, I thought they meant "can't wait till spring" but noooo....They waited exactly one week. Now, thanks to her uncle who is a contractor, they took down a wall in their foyer that was blocking the views. And they painted the faux red brick a crisp white.  (Faux is French. I'm on a roll.) I haven't seen the redo in person, but am quite impressed with pictures on Facebook. Were it not for Facebook, would I really know what my kids were doing in their lives? 

9.  Eight is enough. (Did you watch that show way back when?) I get the feeling people stop reading after the 1259th word. Oui

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Peace: Reflections on 2013

Every year for the past several, I have prayed for a word to dwell on for the coming year.  In 2012 the word was "majesty." I spent twelve months meditating on, studying, and beholding God's majesty. Despite what would seem obvious, His majesty was something I had to search for in the wreckage of earth unless it was painted in the sky. I had to force myself much of the time to list my thanks, to be grateful for what I had, or had known, in the messiness of our lives that year.

In 2013, the word was Peace. The word came to me during the Christmas season, when I was anxiety-ridden and in a deep pit spiritually and emotionally. So, despite the beautiful, calming definition of the word peace,  I immediately thought negative thoughts:

-Oh, no. One of my parents is going to die! 
-Paul and I are going to go through a rougher time and I'll have to fight for peace.  Otherwise it will elude me.
-I'm scared to find out the answer to "Why peace?"

Well, January had me in marriage counseling alone, which was okay, because my counselor was so good, so intuitive, and asks such probing, thought-provoking questions that I have to "dig down deep" to find the answers to my own problems, independent of my husband's.   The counseling really wasn't so much about marriage as about me at that point. I was broken.  I needed to be healed. I didn't even know the depth of my pain nor the source of my restlessness.

The number one toughest question my counselor asked was this: Do you feel like you just don't belong anywhere?

You know she's right on  the nerve when all you can do is cry and nod.
I didn't feel a sense of belonging as a wife (felt that my husband in his successful career was getting along fine without me).

I was not sure where I belonged in the lives of our three grown kids who had flown--or were about to fly--the coop by spring. They were in meaningful careers and had significant others consuming their schedules.  I felt they didn't need me, and since my identity was inextricably tied to them, I was lost. Midlife and the thought of a nearly empty nest was paralyzing and choking me.

We had no church family.  After 17 years in our old  church, where I'd enjoyed close relationships with many people, we were now homeless.  But we chose to leave that church for several painful, powerful reasons. Trust had been badly eroded and we were both dying spiritually. We were both depressed and angry. Our adult children had been wounded and disillusioned there. They were now hunting for their own churches, and had their own anger and trust issues.  Thank God they didn't walk away from Him! Thank God they still wanted to go to church somewhere! That is huge!

It was January, and we were now in our seventh month of searching  for a new church to call home, For a place to belong.  The hunt was exhausting; some churches I liked, Paul didn't, and vice versa. It was hard every Saturday night to ask, "Where are we going tomorrow?" and hear back, "I dunno."  To wake up Sunday and ask, "Where are we going this morning?" and hear back, "I guess _____ because we have time to get ready before 10:30."   In all my life, I had never dreamed that we'd meander, wander like nomads, from week to week on the hunt for a church. I  wanted to belong somewhere, to settle in --without settling on--a church, more than Paul seemed to.  At times I felt like a bloody cavalry rider strapping  a bleeding general to the saddle, disoriented, staggering, wondering if we were retreating from, or advancing toward, the front lines of battle.  Worse, there were moments I had to remind myself that the bleeding general is my friend, not my foe.

On top of that, I had been teaching high school art as a volunteer, so I wasn't officially on the faculty with all its rights and privileges. Moreover, I wasn't confident that I was making a difference in the lives of my needy students.  I was pouring a lot of time into the class without a thanks from the students. (If you want warm fuzzies, teach first grade, not eleventh.) I had an hour a week with them; could they see Christ in me? Or was I so transparent that only my joylessness showed?

Where was my peace? This was  only January, and I felt none.

(To be continued...)