Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christmas past

Today there is bright sun. I love the sun, and sunlight and daylight. There isn't much of it in Syracuse in the winter, so you have to cherish it when it shows up.

My birthday, December 22, is the winter solstice. This means that after my birthday, everything starts to get better; we are on the right side of the calendar; the days lengthen rather than shorten.

My birthday is generally the low point of the year, every year. I survive that (not gracefully, usually), and then we get through Christmas, which is tough, but not as tough as my birthday.

December 26 dawns with a new hope. I always feel so much better on December 26. It might be my favorite day of the year: the day when everything is over, and we have made it, and we can relax, rest, play our new games, read our new books and watch our new movies.

Today is not yet New Year's Eve. December 30, a no-man's-land of a date smack in the middle of the week that falls off the edge of the world every year. Today I will try to take a walk, appreciate the sun, eat healthy food and settle year-end money issues.

It was a tough year. There are a lot of things that happened this year that I was unable to share in the context of this blog, but yet things that our family will remember forever: among them, the tumultuous end to our vacation at the beach and the issues that precipitated it which have not yet been fully resolved.

You should never say, "Things can't get any worse," because they always can, and once you've said that, they always do.

Right now, at the end of 2010, I feel like I am poised on the edge of a knife. Things could get worse, or they could get better. This year will almost certainly bring great changes, and I don't like changes.

Ordinarily, at this point in the year, I am thinking about how best to pack away Christmas, making sure we have sparkling grape juice and ingredients for nachos to enjoy on New Year's Eve. Ordinarily, by now I am relaxed and ready for a fresh but uneventful "new start." Getting a new date book and starting to use it, that is a change I can handle. Getting ready to sell my house, not so much.

Dear Lord God,

Please give us guidance for the coming year. Please, in Your mercy and compassion, let it be a better year than last year. Please help me to be thankful for the many blessings you do bestow and to be patient and trusting about the blessings I want but don't feel I am receiving. Please help me to cherish Your constant and abiding presence with me.

Please answer some questions, direct our paths and provide for us according to Your will and purpose.

Please grant us health, especially David.

Please be our greatest treasure, and use us for Your Kingdom.


Sunday, December 19, 2010


"Christmas is coming on us like a night train!"

I think my dad used to say that.

When the kids were little, we had Christmas books we would read together. I still have them in a drawer in my bedroom. Someday, perhaps, I will have a grandchild to read them with.

One of the books had poems and carols printed amongst gentle Christmas illustrations. One of the songs in that book was this:

Christmas is coming
The goose is getting fat...
Please put a penny
In the old man's hat!

Every time I sang that song to the kids, I would finish by making a scared face with great big eyes and then crying out: "Christmas is coming on us like a night train!" Then we would jump up and run in a frenzy around the living room. Do not ask me why. I do not know.

I guess it is no wonder our family is a little, ahem, eccentric.

Having Lulu away at college has perhaps underscored this tendency towards eccentricity. She is the normal one among us, the one who can understand everyone and interface with anyone. When I am doing my multiple mouth rinses at night as I get ready for bed, she is the one who always knows what I mean when I gesture and make sounds without opening my lips (which would spill fluoride rinse on everything). She just knows what I am saying. Nobody else comes close, if they will even try to guess.

Laura can also understand David and Jonathan early in the morning when they are still grunting and not talking.

The rest of us all have our oddities and idiosyncrasies, but Laura is gracious and insightful and links us with the outside world. This is true even though I used to holler, "Christmas is coming on us like a night train!" at her, too, before the wild dance from the sofa to the kitchen where (if we were lucky) we'd find some Christmas cookies.

Laura is on the ball. She reads context clues everywhere, all the time. She understands things on a deep level. She has a natural ability to discern how people's minds work. She is so good for us. She is Marilyn Munster, and we are Herman, Lily and the rest.

She is scheduled to come home on Tuesday. The weather might be bad, so Shawn is probably going to get her, and I will stay home and vacuum and mix up cookie dough for her to bake with Shannon when she arrives.

And then it will feel like Christmas.

DJ was supposed to have a bronchoscopy on Monday, and then Laura's arrival would have really, totally and completely signaled the arrival of Christmas. However, they changed the bronchoscopy to Wednesday last I heard, and the nurse has yet to call me to give me the particulars, so I guess we aren't even certain of that. It looks like Lu will get home, and the next morning it will be off to the hospital for DJ and me.

I have never looked down the pipe at a Christmas quite like this one. There is a turkey thawing in the refrigerator, but the dining room has not yet been converted over from its current identity as Shawn's work space. I've bought a number of gifts, but as I go through them, I am not finding equal numbers of them for each child. (Please, somebody tell me that parity is over-rated.) We've spent less on gifts than almost ever before, mainly for lack of any good ideas... but for the very first time ever, we have two Christmas trees. One is tiny, but it has lights, ornaments and an angel on top!

Next week: Wrap, bake, get Lu, go to DJ's bronchoscopy, turn the dining room back into a dining room...

Oh, and I have a pretty bad cold.

"Christmas is coming on us like a night train!"

Jesus, please bless us on Your birthday.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Forever changes

The other day I had to mail some things at the Post Office.

It was the middle of a blizzard. We had over 4 feet of snow in over 100 hours of continuous snowfall during the past four days. Today started out sunny and cold, but now it's snowing again. We are supposed to have more snow tomorrow and a "real" blizzard on Monday.

Another year that I forgot to move out of New York.

The autumns here are so breathtakingly beautiful... you get all taken up in the leaves, the apples, the pumpkins, the slanted sunshine and the crisp air after a humid summer, and then winter catches you off-guard somehow. Actually, I really enjoy snow in December. It's January, February, March and April when I don't so much appreciate it.

But back to my trip to the Post Office. It was, of course, snowing, and the roads were slippery, the air blurry with snowflakes, and the sidewalks icy. I was in a hurry. I pulled into a parking spot at the Post Office, not a very good one, because I didn't want to wait for someone to back out of one of those. Figuring I was safer out on the fringes anyway, I parked about twenty yards away and tucked my scarf tightly around my neck before I got out of the car.

I always run when it is cold. I just do. Running minimizes the time you spend in the coldness. Sometimes I remember that I am in my mid-forties and try to start out walking, but the chill always gets the better of me, and in the end I sprint. DJ walks nonchalantly behind me, when he is with me, and once he told me, "I count how long it takes you to break into a run, and I try to guess ahead of time which number it will be."

So, there at the Post Office, under the overhang, along the icy sidewalk at the Bayberry Strip Mall, I jogged toward the blue mailboxes.

I was wearing my fake Ugg boots from WalMart. They are warm, and I don't need to fasten anything in order to wear them. However, they have wide, flat bottoms with no traction.

After dumping my mail into the mailbox, I triumphantly turned to sprint back to my van. And I skidded, sliding on the icy surface.

I did not fall, by a miracle of God. It was just a small slip, just enough to remind me of my fallibility. I kept running, because it was so cold, but I ran more carefully, with less abandon. And as I did, I thought of the cold, hard, pavement below me, covered in snow, ice, water and salt. I could almost taste it, that pavement, and the blood that would have been in my mouth had I fallen and broken out my front teeth and cut my lips.

The accident did not happen, but in my mind I lived it so vividly that my heart raced and I thanked God as I got into my van and fastened my seatbelt.

I thought what a big change it would have been, how one minute I would have been whole and reasonably healthy and pain-free, and the next minute I would have been bloody and broken, and in need of a dental bridge. In only an instant so many things can change.

Life is like that. We live our lives, going about our business and just thinking about the next thing, when suddenly something can happen, something we don't know will change us forever, but afterwards, we realize that it has.

Do you ever notice how so often the things that change us the most didn't seem that significant until afterwards?

You never know what will come of a book you page through at the library, a person you meet, an email you receive, a drive to the country. Sometimes results are not at all what we were hoping, and other times, results are so amazing we could never have dreamed them up if we tried. Sometimes nothing happens, and we are thankful for that.

God knows it all. God has it all planned in advance. That just blows my mind. There is not one thing that has ever happened to any of us that God did not orchestrate to fulfill His purposes. God knows on what count of DJ's I will break into a run, even if I do not know it myself. God knows every conversation we will have, every thought we will think, every action that will follow each thought.

God was there on the icy sidewalk outside the Post Office when I slipped and did not fall.

"If the Lord delights in a man's way, He makes his steps firm; though he stumble he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with His hand." Psalm 37:23-24

I hope the Lord delights in my way. Oh, how I hope that. I don't generally feel as though He would. Usually I feel as though He has a lot of work to do disciplining me to get me going the way He desires for me. But maybe the other day was a kindness from Him to encourage me.

Monday, December 6, 2010

James 1:19-27

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does.

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:19-27

After going for a record time without an outburst, today I lost it.

There are many reasons, most of them honestly logical and justifiable, why I would be angry. I will not get into them, because they would be damaging to discuss. All I will say is that it involves a biology project that Jonathan was supposed to hand in today.

There are other reasons why I am on the edge lately, many things weighing me down and making me feel like the breath of a butterfly could knock me over. These things are not my fault, nor are they Jonathan's fault. They just are. And I need to rest in the arms of Jesus, but I am not doing so well at that.

There is also the issue of my own pride. Once I get the email from the teacher telling me about my child's project and the next due date (because he hasn't been doing so well keeping track of things himself), at that point it becomes my responsibility and no longer his. I'm not sure how this is intended to work. Do the teachers mean to make me responsible? Or is this something I put on myself? At any rate, once I've been made aware, I feel that expectations are on me to ensure that Jon succeeds. So when he lets things go, fails to cooperate, I am afraid that I feel that it is a direct reflection on me, and that, of course, colors my responses.

It was an ugly, ugly morning, all the more so in contrast to how well we had been doing, generally. I feel defeated, sinful, discouraged, and wicked.

I feel unforgivable.

It is very hard for me to believe that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

How will I ever teach my child to do the right thing when I myself continually do the wrong thing?

After it was over, I went into the study and my Bible was open to James 3--"Taming the Tongue." And the first verse in that chapter reads: "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly." And I wonder, how does that fit with "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..." (Romans 8:1)? I feel pretty condemned. Also, I feel glad that I retired from the Bible study that I taught. Last Tuesday was my last one. I'm thinking it's a very good thing.

Jonathan did take something to school to hand in. It is what it is, and it will be what it will be. God is in control, but I don't understand how it works, because I wish He would just control me, me personally, just put His holy hands on me and make me do the right thing before I do the wrong thing, make me still when I need to be still, and calm when I need to be calm and wise with His wisdom all the time. That's what I wish.

Yes, Jonathan made some very poor choices.

Yes, I responded to Jonathan's poor choices very poorly myself.

Yes (and here I am preaching to myself, because this is something I have trouble believing but I know that it is true): Yes there is forgiveness for both of us. Yes, God will pick us up, dust us off, and give us a "next time" when we can do better.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
Ephesians 1:7-8

It is for sinners like me and Jonathan (and everybody else) that Jesus died. This is the reason His precious blood was spilled at the cross. This is why I need to be thankful and believe that His sacrifice is sufficient. I am not big enough or bad enough to out-sin the grace of the cross. I am not beyond the sanctifying power of His Holy Spirit. He is able to deliver me.

To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy--to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.
Jude 24-25

Friday, December 3, 2010


Today I remembered...

When I was little, on Sunday mornings when we were all getting ready for church, my dad would go out to the garage and start the car to warm up, and then he'd come back in and stand by the front door calling out, "Last call for all aboard! Last call for all aboard!" He said "All-a-BOW-ward," just like a train conductor.

Also it was his birthday two days ago (12-1). He turned 79, so he says, "Now I've started my eightieth year."

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I have discovered that I like kefir. The taste took some getting used to at first, but now I like it, probably because it makes my poor finicky stomach feel so good.

It is really good for David, too. Actually it would be good for anybody.

I've been buying the Lifeway brand, and it is delicious: white, thick, creamy, smooth, tangy with a little hint of fizz. However, it is $3.69 for a quart, which comes out to about $0.93 per serving. I can buy the strawberry flavored kind at BJ's for less; I believe they have it for $4.99/two quarts, which, if I am correct, would be $0.63 per serving. But I don't like all the crud they put in the sweetened, flavored kind, and that is still pretty pricey, anyway.

Anyhow, with me drinking it, and David, and trying to get the other people in the family to enjoy its health benefits, I was starting to feel the pinch in my food budget, and I was starting to wonder if this is something you can make at home. Then I ran into a post about kefir on Tammy's blog.

I read the post, and studied the comments and the links. Her kefir looked like the Lifeway kind that I buy. Her little kids like it. Her instructions sounded easy. I decided to try to make kefir.

First, I tried to follow the link she posted to the woman from whom she got her kefir grains. I guess I'm just not that good at computers, and in the end, I couldn't get through to that woman's "shop." But on this site, there are lots of people selling kefir grains, so I ordered from somebody else, somebody in Colorado. The product arrived in just two or three days.

It came double wrapped in two ziplock bags. I opened it up and sniffed. It had a pleasant yeasty smell, a little bit sweet. I put my kefir grains into a clean canning jar and followed Tammy's instructions.

Now, I know Tammy says the first couple of batches won't be good. And so did the instructions that came with my grains. So I was prepared for this. The first batches have not been good.

Someone said they fed their failed batches to their dogs. Since Schubert has had a skin infection and been on an anitbiotic for over 20 days, I figured he needed a probiotic anyway, so I tried the kefir out on the dogs. They do like it, but you can only give them a little at a time.

(This is Schubert, depressed, on Thanksgiving. He had to wear this funnel on his head for 2 and 1/2 weeks. He says, "Funnels are not fun.")

In the meantime, I have all this yucky kefir.

This morning I made pancakes with it, and I thought about the irony. Usually I make Jonathan eggs or whole grain toast with natural peanut butter for his breakfast. We try to be healthy, you know. And now that I am trying so hard to be healthy that I am trying to make my own kefir... I made Jonathan pancakes with white flour, topped with high fructose corn syrup flavored with chemicals and artificial maple flavoring. The heat to cook the pancakes probably killed all the good probiotics and stuff in the kefir, too. Doesn't it just figure? However, Jonathan said of the pancakes, and I quote, "Wow, these are really quite good." (I did not mention to him that they had kefir in them. Also, for Jon, at 6:45 in the morning, that was inspired verbosity.)

In the meantime, my third batch of kefir is brewing on the counter. Third one's the charm, right? This is the one I am nervous about. This is the one that is supposed to turn out.

Up to now , the batches have been thin with clotted kefir curds floating around in them. The thing that scares me is that much of what I read on the internet seems to indicate that this is a normal consistency for kefir. I like the thick, smooth, creamy, store-bought Lifeway stuff.

Aaaugh. I didn't need an extra source of stress in my life right now.

Friday, November 26, 2010


I am thankful to have all my children at home together. I have been very mindful of this, because of the missing girl, Jenni-Lyn. She lived on the very same street where my children had piano lessons for 14 years. She went to their school. She danced at the studio where Laura took ballet. She graduated between Shannon and DJ. She is gone, but I have my four children, safe and snug in our crazy, loud, messy house. My heart bleeds for her family. I pray they find her. I can't even imagine... she came home from college for Thanksgiving break, and the next morning her parents went to work, and when they got home that night, she was gone. I can't imagine the violent snuffing of the intense joy you feel when your child comes home from college. The newscasters call her a "woman." That offends me. She is a girl, her family's girl, her family's baby. And she is gone. I am so thankful for my four beautiful, safe children. I feel a little bit guilty, but I am thankful.

I am thankful for plentiful good food, and, today, I am especially thankful for leftovers! Food can make you feel guilty, too, when there is so much on one table on one day, and you eat until you can hardly move, and then you realize that there are people who are hungry and cold.

I am thankful for a warm house, my wool winter blanket, even my fake Ugg boots that I got for $7 at WalMart. I like these boots because even though they are cheap, synthetic, and a poor fashion knock-off, they are comfortable and they keep my toes downright toasty.

I am thankful for the internet and the way it enables us to keep in contact with people. I am thankful for phone plans and cell phone plans that include free long distance. I am thankful for old photographs and memories and stories and laughter.

I am thankful for my Bible and the passages I read this morning... a bruised reed He will not break and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out... He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to his heart; He gently leads those that have young...Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I am thankful that I have a Savior who shed His blood for me so that I can live with assurance that He has won the victory over sin and death, and although I may face many trials and hardships in this life, nothing can separate me from the love of Christ. Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ.

I am thankful.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Sometimes when you are online, one of those quiz things comes along. You know, the kind that asks you a whole long list of random questions about yourself.

Before you realize that nobody really cares about the answers except you, and that it is just a pitiful way to express your hope that someone out there in the electronic nexxus actually gives a hoot about your preferences, you might fill out the answers. Well, anyway, I did. I admit it.

One question came up now and then on the odd quiz, a question that used to stump me, and it was, "If you could have any super-power, what super-power would you want?"

I've never been much of a comic book reader, so I wasn't even much aware of what ideological super-powers were out there to be coveted. I did see The Incredibles, so that gave me a few ideas: Super strength? No. Elastic body motion? Ugh no. The ability to freeze things in an instant? Um, why??? Super-speed. No. The ability to create a safe force-field around yourself and to disappear? Maybe. That is the only one that holds any appeal for me at all.

Then of course there are things like being able to spew spiderweb from your hands and climb the sides of skyscrapers. Definite no there; I hate both stickiness and heights. And please, don't even mention x-ray vision. No Thank You.

This question always put me at sixes and nines, until a couple of days ago when I realized what super-power I do long for.

I wish I had the ability to heal.

It is a terrible feeling to be the mother and not to be able to make your baby better. This is true no matter how old your baby gets.

David has been sick for so long. My heart just aches. He puts forth such effort, studying, exercising, practicing, eating healthy food. And instead of getting well, he gets his iPod stolen. And then he gets sicker. And then he misses classes. And then school gets harder and harder to keep up with and the dream of becoming a doctor starts to feel as though it might be slipping away.

So as a mother, I pray. I pray and I cook. I boil chickens and I make tea. I make soup. I make doctor's appointments. I buy medicine and supplements. And I pray. I go to bed praying and I wake up praying, and I pray through the day. Sometimes I whimper while I am praying.

Sometimes I come up behind David while he is sitting and studying, and I rub his back and pray, but it usually makes me start to cry when I do that, so then I have to run off because it isn't a good thing when I cry.

I know that God has a plan, but what if His plan is not for David to be a strong, healthy doctor? I know we need to rest in that, accept that, trust that God's alternative is always, in the heavenly economy, a better alternative. It's just hard sometimes to focus on the heavenly economy when we live in the earthly one.

Jesus healed. I love to read in the gospels about how Jesus healed people. He healed a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years; she'd spent all her money on doctors (we can relate to that one), and, desperate, she reached out to touch the hem of Jesus' garment in the middle of a crowd, and when she did, His healing immediately spread throughout her body. Jesus healed people with leprosy, lame people, blind people and deaf people. He healed Peter's mother-in-law of a fever. He also brought people back from the dead, but I wouldn't want to do that.

Jesus' disciples healed a little bit while He was on earth, and more after He had gone up to heaven and sent them His Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul was so filled with the Spirit that Acts 19:11-12 says, "And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them."

If they could heal like that, I sure wish I could, too. Jesus was God incarnate, but Peter and John and Paul were just people, like us. Do I only need more faith?

Shawn says that if I had the gift of healing, I'd never get any sleep.

I would miss sleep. But just imagine the feeling of being a transmitter of God's power to the sick, to be able to touch the cancer patient and see her come back to health, see the pain and nausea and fear melt away. Imagine being able to soothe the stomach of the colicky baby in an instant, to be able to wipe the acne off a teenager's face with the brush of your fingertips, to be able to undo all the effects of fevers, lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, autism and alzheimers. Imagine being able to use your hands to apply the power of God to an accident victim who is bleeding out, to be able to stop the blood flow and knit the bones together and see all the tears around you turn to relief and joy. And because it would be by the power of God who made us and understands everything about us, the healing would be perfect, total, no side effects, no trade-offs.

If I had a super-power, I would want to be a Healer.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jonathan, then and now

This is an old picture of Jonathan that I got developed a couple of weeks ago from a roll of film I'd found.

He was two.

That year, for Halloween, I dressed him in those brown corduroy overalls, stuck some felt reindeer antlers from the previous Christmas on his head, and painted his nose red with my brightest lipstick. "You're Rudolf!" I told him, trying to be enthusiastic. He was less than impressed.

Our family had not been in the habit of trick-or-treating because at that time we went to a church where the cardinal sin was Halloween. All churches seem to have their own definitions of cardinal sins. Some choose Halloween, some choose alcohol, some choose
Santa Claus, and some choose judgmentalism. But that is an aside, and I am not going to pursue it.

Anyway, we had not been in the habit of trick-or-treating, but I had decided that I could not handle one more "Fall Festival" at church, with the screaming, the grabbing, the overload of sticky sugar and the flickering fluorescent lights. I'm sure those Fall Festivals are a blessing to many families, but that year I decided that we would take our chances at being a part of the neighborhood scene.

I loaded up my disgruntled Rudolf in his stroller and started out for the house next door. We pulled up, and I lifted Jon-Jon up to ring the doorbell and then set him in front of the door.

It opened and the kindly neighbors exclaimed delightedly over how cute Jon-Jon was. They gave him a candy bar, and then said, "Oh, you're so cute, why don't you pick another one?" He happily selected another bar and placed it in his plastic pumpkin. I prompted him to say thank you, and they said you're welcome, and there was a happy parting greeting and the door closed.

Jon-Jon stood there on the step, looking up at me with huge, stunned brown eyes. "I ringed da doorbell, and dey gived me tandy!" he said with awe and amazement.

Shawn says that at that moment a door-to-door salesman was born. At any rate, the rest of the evening, Jon had a ball going from door to door, collecting "tandy." To say that he was thrilled is putting it mildly.

Jon was always a master trick-or-treater. He had a seemingly endless attention span for visiting house after house, ringing doorbell after doorbell, long after the other kids would give up and go home to count their stash. He got tall really fast, so in seventh and eighth grade, he wore our Santa suit, and I would buy him a bag of peppermints to hand out to the little kids in the street who thought he really was Santa. By doing this, Jon extended his fruitful trick-or-treating to well after he had hit six feet in height. Even when he was traveling with a posse of kids his own age, he would report to me (with a twinkle in his eye) that the people gave him loads more candy than they gave to the other kids, because they loved his costume.

I thought of that because today is Halloween. Today is also the marching band state championships, so Shawn and I will be at the Syracuse dome watching Jonno compete with his marching band. After thirteen years of being good sports about Halloween in a neighborhood where you get upwards of 200 trick-or-treaters... this year, we are going to vacate and pursue another option.

Marching band is an interesting thing. You have to pay a lot of money to do marching band, because they have uniforms and trips and all manner of props for the field. It is a costly endeavor. Of course, since it is a public school we go to, they don't want to just straight up charge us, so they ask us to fundraise.

I never liked fundraising. Every year, the schools have some sort of fundraising event, and every year, I used to pitch the materials directly into the recycling bin, and nobody ever complained until Jon came along. "Can't I fundraise, please?" he would beg.

When he was about eight, he found a bag of cheap, penny candy in the cupboard, and took it around the block selling single tootsie rolls and dum-dums for 25 cents apiece. By the time I caught up with him, he had over $4, and the entire bag (which was still mostly full) had cost me $1.97. It was supposed to be prizes for my Sunday school class.

When I finally let Jon fundraise in middle school, he won the grand prize. And this with no parental support, no local relatives, and no orders from his father's office. We had a monster of a time trying to deliver the orders, because although he's a good seller, keeping records is not his strong suit. His grand prize consisted of multitudinous cheap electronic gimicky things that had very limited uses and very short lives.

But when we found out we needed to fundraise for Marching Band, at least I did not despair. True to form, Jon proved to be able to sell a box of 50 $1 candy bars in 45 minutes most afternoons.

Except one day. One really hot summer day, Jon went out with his box of candy to sell, and did not come back in 45 minutes. He did not come back in an hour. After an hour and 15 minutes, I began to worry. After an hour and a half, he returned, but he was not carrying an empty box. He still had 12 bars left.

Jon plunked his stuff down on the kitchen table and went to get a drink, complaining of how very, very hot it was outside, and how it was so hard to sell that day.

I looked at the things on the table, and noticed his obnoxious orange mirrored sunglasses sprawled next to the candy box. "Were you wearing these?" I asked, picking them up.

"I needed to!" he replied, "The sun is just beating down!"

"Well, that's why you couldn't sell, honey," I said. "People would feel threatened buying from someone who is over six feet tall and wearing mirrored sunglasses. Next time try a baseball cap. People would love to buy from a boy with big brown eyes and a baseball cap."

He poo-pooed me and insisted that had nothing do with it. However, the next time he went out to sell, he put on a baseball cap and was back with an empty box in 45 minutes.

Moral of the story? Santa suits and baseball caps go a long way when you aren't two-years-old anymore.

Jon in orange

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Bible!!!!

Since my old tan Bible that my parents gave me when I was 15 or 16 is now literally falling apart, I ordered myself a new leather Bible.

It is chocolate brown, slimline (only about an inch thick), and it has LARGE PRINT!

Because I am nearly 45, I need those big letters now.

I am overwhelmedly excited about my new Bible. I spent time reading some of my favorite passages today... just allowing myself to skip from favorite to favorite, which is sort of cheating, but it was such fun!

This Bible is so nice and sort of crisp, especially the gilt edges of the pages. Part of me can't wait until it is soft and broken in, and part of me wants it to stay new and fresh.

I plan to take good care of it, but I also plan to read it a lot.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Wednesday morning

In order to understand my Wednesday morning, I have to take you back to my Tuesday morning, and even a few hours prior to that.

In the middle of the night between Monday and Tuesday, I was awakened when my bedroom door opened to dim light from the hall and the silhouette of one of my very tall children. "Schubert was sick all over my room," Shannon bemoaned, "and I don't know what to do."

"Is he dead?" I asked, because I am always worried that the dogs are going to die. "Is he OK?"

"I can't tell," she replied morosely, "He just keeps wagging his tail at me."

That was reassuring, so I got up to survey the damage: dog puke on the comforter and dog diarrhea all over the carpet. I think we could have counted our blessings that the dog diarrhea was not on the comforter as well, or the pillows, but we didn't feel so inclined.

The next block of time we spent scooping, flushing, scrubbing (Oxyclean spray is amazing stuff, and they are not paying me anything to say that), stripping, rinsing, Lysoling (of course) and powering up the washing machine. I was glad it happened in Shannon's room because (1) For once it was not in my room, and (2) I had a cleaning buddy, o joy! Which was very handy in many ways, most specifically at the beginning when Shannon put Schubert outside out on his leash while I started removing the more solid pieces of fecal waste from her floor. Although this probably indicates that I am a very selfish person, at least I am a thankful selfish person. Also, I was able to keep from total panic at the worst point because we are planning to get new carpet anyway. Of course, we have been planning to get new carpet for about five years. The problem is that we need to do certain other jobs first (remodel the bathrooms and fix the woodwork on the stairs), and I am having a buggaboo of a time finding anybody to do them. But anyway, I was at peace about the carpet. It needed to be replaced before, and it does even more so now, and that is OK.

We decided to get the crate out of the basement and put Schu into it, because the last time he did this (in my room), I got up at 4 a.m. and cleaned my guts out, and then awoke to the sounds of more diarrhea hitting my rug at 6 a.m. So Shannon and I brought up the crate and lined it with two (washable) towels, and the dog went in without any complaints, miraculously.

Then I got into the shower and washed my feet and hands. Towards the end of the episode, Shawn had come conscious while we were trying to figure out what to do with the dog. He walked right across the carpet we had "shampooed", so I asked him to wash his feet, too.

Then I lay in bed and could not sleep. It was, for me, a very unusual state of not being able to sleep. Ordinarily when I can't sleep, my mind races uncontrollably from memory to worry to replayed conversation to grocery list, with prayers interlaced at points where I attain a little control. That night, however, I just lay there with a blank mind and could not sleep. This is particularly odd because it was Tuesday morning, and I had a Bible study to teach. I should have been rehearsing my lesson and praying. But there was just a big, blank, empty void in my head. It was among the oddest things I have ever experienced.

At 6 a.m. my alarm went off for Jonathan. It was time for me to make his eggs and coffee (an aside: I didn't let Jon have coffee for many years, telling him it would stunt his growth. But now that he is 6'3" with a size 13 foot, I decided that his growth could use a little stunting before clothing that fits becomes impossible to find. So I let him have as much coffee as he wants, usually.) I reached over to hit the alarm, through the big, blank void that was my brain, and I heard Shawn say, "Is that for Jonathan? What do you usually make him for breakfast?"

So Shawn was a prince and got up with the boy, fed him, sent him to school, while I lay between my sheets, awake and blank and completely dull, and I rested.

I taught Bible study, went to Wegman's, went home, put the food away, ate some lunch at about 2, and basically had a weird and unproductive afternoon. I tried to find a contractor again, so we can someday move forward on this carpet issue, but no-go so far. Nobody was home for dinner, which was lonely. In the evening, DJ had a jazz concert at Syracuse University, so Shawn and I went to that, through the rainy night.

By the time I got to bed Tuesday night, I was utterly exhausted, physically and emotionally. I slept deep until a certain point when I heard someone up, someone out in the hall, someone approaching my bedroom door.

Predictably, the door opened and there was a silhouette of a very tall child standing in the dim light of the hall. "Oh no." I thought "Oh no." And I could not articulate the rest of what I was thinking, but in retrospect I know that the unformed idea was: Schubert has soiled Shannon's room again.

So when I heard Jonathan's voice, and realized that this silhouette lacked any long hair, relief began to flicker into a warm flame in my heart. It was, indeed, Jonathan. "Mom?" he said in his deep, hard-to-interpret, sleepy adolescent male voice, "What's up? It's like 6:56. Did you forget to wake me up?"

The bus comes at 6:59. But I did not care. My heart was being carried on butterfly wings. There was not dog diarrhea awaiting me in the carpet! Somehow in my confusion from the previous night's events, I had messed up my alarm clock's settings, but I did not care. School doesn't start until 7:45. This was not a problem. No problem at all!

Ordinarily, Shawn and I would scold Jonathan for not having used his own alarm clock. But on Wednesday morning I was flooded with good will. I had enjoyed 45 extra minutes of sleep, and I did not have to clean up diarrhea. I told Jon, "Don't worry, we'll get you to school on time." Then I made him coffee and gave him a slice of pumpkin pie, and we were out the door by 7:12.

Jon ate his pie and drank his coffee and, I think, could not believe what a sweet and happy mother he had awakened. As we drove down Soule Road, I clutched the steering wheel and said, "Jonny, you don't even know, you don't even know how happy I am to be driving you to school right now instead of dealing with dog diarrhea."

I returned home, and started in on laundry and tidying. I made my bed, put an Australian-washed-blue-clay mask on my face and was just switching over a load of wet stuff from the washer to the dryer in the basement when the doorbell rang. It was the dehuey repairman from Sears, come to fix our dehumidifyer (because clearly, when it has not worked all summer, you should fix it in the fall for the winter). I heard the dogs bark. I heard Shawn let the man in. And then I heard them coming downstairs to where I was heedlessly doing laundry, pre-shower me in my hoodie, pajama pants and Austalian-washed-blue-clay mask.

Before they got around the bend in the stairs, I ran over to the area of the basement where Jonathan sleeps, where they would not need to go, and quickly worked on making up the futon he sleeps on, straightening Jon's comforter, which allowed me to have my back to the intruding handy man. As soon as they passed me and focused on the dehuey, I sprinted up the stairs, all the way to my bedroom (and I know that "heart in her throat" is more literal than figurative, when you are talking about how it feels... sort of the way "underfoot" and "at your elbow" are also literal, not figurative expressions, and I remember being a young mother and discovering this).

Safe in my bedroom, I took a nice, private shower and cleaned the mud off my face. After dressing and drying my hair, I screwed up my courage and took the next load of laundry down to the basement... where I found an empty space where the dehuey usually sits, and no repairman. They were gone; he had taken it to his shop to do some sautering.

So that was a second moment of relief in a strange morning, but life has been fairly normal since then.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A tribute

Yesterday I learned that a man had died.

He was L. John Buyse, and he is in heaven now, in a beautiful place, face to face with his Jesus. Next week I am teaching on Philippians 1:12-30, and the theme of the lesson is: "To live is Christ and to die is gain," (vs. 21). Up until today, I've been thinking about "To live is Christ," and the brokenness that demands, that we be broken for others the way He was broken for us. But today I see the sunshine and the glorious autumn leaves and the clear blue sky, and I think, "To die is gain," and I think of L. John and I know that it is true.

He was such a significant part of my formative years. My family belonged to First Baptist Church of Anoka, Minnesota. Mr. Buyse was the song leader there. He was always the song leader, since before I was born until some time after Shawn and I had moved to New York. In my heart and in my mind, he is the prototype, the epitome, the pattern that all song leaders should follow.

As a small child, I did not realize that he was singing when he led the songs. I think I even asked my parents once, "Why doesn't Mr. Buyse sing when he is leading the songs?" He was utterly unselfconscious. Nobody had to remind him, "You are not the focus of the attention; it is about getting the congregation to sing to the Lord." He just simply focused the congregation on singing to the Lord, never imagining that there was another way to do it. His voice was loud and strong, and when he sang, it sounded almost exactly the way it sounded when he spoke. He was never sharp or flat, and he was definitely a leader. He had no need to tell people he was a leader, he just led, and people followed him, in the music and in other areas of life.

Pastors came and went, but Mr. Buyse was always there. "Stand with me and sing hymn number..." I can still hear him saying it. Sometimes on a Sunday evening he would have a hymn sing and let the people in the congregation call out the number of the hymns they would like to sing. Those were glorious evenings. We knew the songs and we sang them because we loved them, and we loved the Lord, and we loved each other. We knew who would ask for which hymn, and we were happy when they did.

Mr. Buyse led the choir, too. He was good at it. Somehow he was always prepared, knew his music, and he cued us when our parts came in. I did not realize that this was a rare thing. I thought it was just the way every church choir director would do it. I'm not sure who organized the music in our folders, but it was always there, always right. The things you take for granted when you are a kid... the things you don't realize must happen behind the scenes. We rushed out of Sunday School, down to the choir area where our robes were hung by size--short on the left and long on the right, or maybe the other way around--and we put them on, turquoise blue with a gold edge on the collar piece (we turned those collars over to pure gold for the Christmas cantatas). We warmed up and then filed up the back stairs and into the choir loft where we opened the service with a hymn of gathering in four part harmony.

It was such a beautiful church: solid, quality, big windows all around and stained glass in the back of the sanctuary. There was a little library at the end of that back hall, where I could check out books and read biographies of missionaries to foreign lands and stories of God's faithfulness to persecuted Christians around the world. There was a special, holy-looking little room set apart for the preparation of communion. And the nursery. I remember spending many an hour in the nursery, rocking the church babies and giving them their bottles.

Mr. Buyse and his wife, Marge, were responsible, I think, for the beauty of the church. I think they had a major hand in designing and building it. Mrs. Buyse's father had been the pastor of the church in former years, before his retirement, so she knew all about what a pastor needs in a church facility.

But it wasn't just the building. It was the people. That was a church that functioned like a church. There was a love that went beyond affection that spread among and between those church members. People accepted each other in spite of their imperfections, put up with each other kindly when they didn't really like each other all the time, validated each other's strengths when they didn't share them (and that is unusual, let me tell you). There was forgiveness at First Baptist. It was a forgiveness that demanded repentance, not a, "It doesn't matter how you live, we love you anyway," but a, "We love you and we will welcome you back with open arms and help you in your struggle." There is a fine line of difference there, and it can make people who want their sins validated feel angry, but I think it is the right way to be.

There were the Buyses and the Looks (Mrs. Buyse's original family). There were Wesps, Wicklunds, Hamiltons, Shepherds, Knutsons, Tices, Swansons, Starbucks, Hanks, and who could forget the Christophersons? And then extended families branched off from all of them. Oh, and the Askrens. Pastor Askren was the pastor during what was possibly the golden age of First Baptist. A number of his kids married into the church and stayed around. When I was little, I thought things through and told my mom, "If it had been Mrs. Askren in the garden of Eden instead of Eve, we'd all be in better shape at this point."

It was really, really a church that felt like family. So many of the women taught Sunday school and VBS and worked with the youth group, in the end you felt like you had about seven different moms. We had Easter breakfasts and Harvest dinners and various potlucks in between, and everything went smoothly and the kitchen was beautiful, and there were plenty of sturdy tables and chairs, and we kids would get hopped up on red juice and go running and sliding on the long expanses of waxed tile floor, marking it up so somebody would have to come along and polish it after we were done. All the dads looked like my dad, just under 6 feet tall with a dark suit and a bald spot. More than once I came up behind the wrong guy and grasped his hand. And then there was laughter, because it was a loving place.

Pastors came and went, but Mr. Buyse was always there, leading, organizing, smiling, laughing, singing (and quietly underwriting, but we really weren't supposed to know about that). He was tall and distinguished, and Marge was tall, distinguished and elegant. Even though the main chunk of my conscious history with them was during the 70's, I never saw either of them wear anything that wasn't classic and in perfect taste. Which is really saying something, when you consider the 70's. I had no idea that they were wealthy until much later in life, because they just weren't about that. They dressed beautifully, but not flamboyantly. Everything was restrained and simply right. (It wasn't until I had moved away and then come back for a visit that I realized I felt shabby next to them in my J.C. Penney basics, accessorized with WalMart.)

Marge was my teacher. I don't clearly remember when she taught us. She taught VBS and youth group, and all manner of things, usually in the fireside room, which was a beautiful room with soft carpet and a fireplace and huge picture windows overlooking the woods. I took all this for granted. The Buyses were always tuned in to opportunities to teach. There was one point where they decided the kids my age (they had a son a year older) needed some more teaching. I don't remember if it was Sunday nights, or what, but John and Marge set up a class together and taught us about the Bible and creationism and timelines (I can't remember everything, but it was very interesting). This was in a partitioned off part of the fellowship hall downstairs, and thinking back, trying to remember, I can't imagine what they were doing without L. John upstairs.

Since those days, I have been a part of many Bible studies, first as an attendee and more recently as a teacher myself. Even before I was allowed to teach, things would come out of my mouth, things about God, His character, His grace, the beauty of His law. In discussion, these things would just come out, and people would look at me and say, "How do you know that??" And I sincerely think that much of it was planted there by Marge Buyse, sometimes in a formal teaching session, sometimes in a less formal discussion. She really poured herself into us, and I have been meaning to write her a letter and thank her, for years. But somehow I never seem to have her address, or the words to adequately express my thanks (or maybe the wisdom to know how to edit the many words that clog up inside me wanting to pour out), and I just get overwhelmed and go make dinner instead or something silly like that.

The end of L. John Buyse's mortal life is, as Shawn says, "the signal of the passing of an era." I am profoundly sad, not for John, as he stands in glory, but for us, as we have lost a man who truly loved the Lord, and led strong for the kingdom. In these days of flashing lights and smoke, pounding drums and ramped up electronics, how I long to hear John's clear voice finish a hymn and launch into a gut-wrenchingly authentic chorus of, "He is Lord, He is Lord, He is risen from the dead and He is Lord. Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord."

May God bless the next generation and raise up those who respect and honor those who have gone before us in the faith. We are losing them now. And it is indeed a loss.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When God hides His face.

My son David has been sick for nearly a year.

He had the flu last December, December 2009. He did recover from that. Last Christmas was the last time he was healthy.

He went to a New Year's party with some friends, and caught something else. He was scheduled to have his wisdom teeth out on January 4, the thought being that he would have the entire month to recover before he had to go back to college where he is pursuing a saxophone performance major along with pre-med. He was sniffling on the way to the surgery. I said, "Maybe we'd better reschedule this." He said, "No, I need to get it over with." He was having pain from his wisdom teeth, so it couldn't be put off indefinitely. He hates to miss school. He hates to get behind in his coursework.

I have kicked myself so many times over this. If only I had been brave enough to tell the oral surgeon that we wanted the procedure done with only local, not general anesthetic, with no tube down DJ's throat, if only, if only, if only...

He got pneumonia. Among other things. He spent the rest of the winter on antibiotics and steroids and albuterol and various maintenance asthma medications. He coughed and coughed and coughed. We medicated him until he was reeling from the medications, and then we tried to pull back and use naturalistic approaches, and nothing worked. Nothing. He has inhaled and nebulized, swallowed pills and drunk liquid vitamins, he has sinus rinsed and nasal sprayed and rubbed essential oils into the soles of his feet. He cut out all sugar and white flour from his diet. He eats protein and vegetables and takes a lunch from home every day because he can't find wholesome enough food on campus. He exercises and usually goes to bed early.

One of his prescriptions was Pulmacort. The doctor thought it would do him more good than his Advair because it can be taken in the nebulizer, so she switched him over. Advair is $187 per month. The Pulmacort was $466. He took it for three or four days, and then broke out in a horrific rash which was probably an allergic reaction, so they discontinued the Pulmacort. Of course, it was not returnable. The rash, however, lasted for three and a half months. Right around the time we were struggling with the Pulmacort, he came down with Bell's Palsy.

Praise Jesus, he did recover from the Bell's Palsy, and he can play his saxophone again.

He didn't get a job this summer; there was too much upheaval in his health at the beginning, and by the time he was stabilized, the jobs were gone. He wanted to volunteer at the hospital, which he needs to do as a pre-med student, but he was still coughing too much, and we were unsure of whether his immunities were strong enough to hold up in a hospital environment.

One week before school started, he got a job through a temp agency, unloading boxes in a warehouse. After two days of it, he was coughing up strings of black stuff. We counseled him to quit the job. He went back to school still coughing.

Through all of this, he has pushed himself to exercise every day except when he is at his very sickest. He has maintained a perfect GPA in school. I honestly do not know how he does it.

Now he is sick again. Sunday night he was having trouble breathing, so he used his nebulizer with albuterol. It made him nauseated and it made his heart pound. He got the chills. He spent the night wrapped tightly in his comforter, feeling his heart race at 130 beats per minute, watching the clock go from 11:00 to 11:30 to 12:00 to 12:30 to 1:00 to 1:30... until he finally fell asleep at about 5:30. He got up at 7:30 and went to college with his sister.

He called home and said he was too nauseated to stay. I picked him up and brought him home. He said he had a feeling like the lump you get in your throat right before you cry, except it went from his throat all the way down into his chest. He had very little appetite. I made him tea and more tea, and bought him Mucinex, hoping it would loosen whatever was in his chest. He took a six hour nap and practiced the piano.

He coughed and coughed. He coughed up stuff that was bright orange. I worked on trying to get him in to see a doctor. Part of the problem is that he is between the pediatrician and finding an adult doctor. Part of the problem is that some of the doctors in the past seemed to hurt more than they helped. Part of the problem is that we have lousy insurance and no doctors want to take him as a new patient.

He came to me last night, his blue eyes pale with exhaustion in his flushed face, and he said, "How long can I take this? I'm tired of this. I've been coughing for almost a year now." It took him this long to express that to me. I have laid in bed so many nights, listening to him coughing and feeling as though I can't take it anymore. And then I feel so ashamed, because he is bearing the brunt of it. He is the one coughing, I only have to listen to it. And I have wondered how he keeps on.

I have prayed and prayed and prayed. I have enlisted friends and family to pray. We have called church leaders to come over and annoint him with oil and pray. I have laid my hands on him and wept and prayed. I have prayed through all hours of the night some nights.

I just want to know where God is. I am so tired. I am so worried. My heart is so heavy. I love my beautiful boy so very, very much, and I can't help him, and God doesn't seem to want to answer our prayers.

I look to scripture for comfort, and I come to passages like Isaiah 45:15, which says, "Truly You are a God who hides Himself, O God and Savior of Israel." This after reading all about His sovereign power. Where is the love? Where is the goodness? Where is the mercy?

God, where are You? Are you tenderhearted and merciful, or aren't You? Are You punishing us for something? I know I am wicked, and I know DJ has wicked tendencies sometimes, but weren't we forgiven in Christ? Don't You promise to work in us through the power of Your Holy Spirit? Are you going to purify us, or are You going to kill us?

God, we need You so badly. You are the only One who understands our bodies and our hearts. We need Your healing power and Your sustaining grace.

Please don't hide Your face from us. Please turn Your face towards us and show us Your goodness and Your lovingkindness.

We need the old priestly blessing from Numbers... "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace." (Numbers 6:24-26)

God, you have promised never to leave us nor forsake us. Please show us that You are keeping Your promise. Please show us that You are faithful and loving.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why I never answer my phone

Actually, I'm not exactly sure why I don't answer my phone.

I answer my phone for only two reasons:

(1) If I am definitely expecting a call from someone for a specific reason, or
(2) If I see the name on the caller ID and it is someone I want to speak to.

If I do not see a name or recognize the number, there is about a 1% chance that I will pick up. Sometimes in these instances, the person is actually someone I want to speak to. If, in that case, the person leaves a message identifying himself (or, more likely, herself), I will make an effort to get to the call before he hangs up.

Sometimes I do not answer the phone because my hands are immersed in a cooking project. This happened yesterday. I was making a Good Neighbor Apple Cake, and I was at a point where I needed to stay applied. Shawn called me to let me know his progress on his drive home from PA. I would have taken that call if I could have, but I just couldn't.

Sometimes I do not answer the phone because I am in the laundry room, or vacuuming, or scrubbing the shower with the bathroom fan running. All of these activities preclude me from hearing the phone. If I am expecting a call back from, for instance, the doctor, I take the phone with me to these locations, or carry it in my pocket, but I refuse to be tied to the phone on a regular basis.

Often, I do not answer the phone because other people have removed the phones from their cradles and they are not anywhere that I can locate them to check the number to see if it is a call I would want to take. This is a fairly common occurrence at our home. Sometimes even if the caller starts to leave a message, and it is somebody I really would like to speak to, I still cannot locate the phone and I run around the house like an empty plastic grocery bag in a windy parking lot, unable to find any phone to answer. We did not have this problem back in the days when the receiver was attached to the phone by a curly cord.

As I mentioned earlier, 99% of the time, I do not answer the phone if I do not recognize the number. I figure that if it is a valid call (i.e. a call that is not a telemarketer or a politician or The March of Dimes or some other guilt-inducing charity), they will leave a message. The exception to this rule is when Jonathan is out with friends and I know he might be calling at a certain time. He does not have a cell phone (because we are mean parents), so he has to contact us via his friends' cell phones, or their parents' phones (which I guess makes us freeloaders, but I gladly loan my phone to his friends when they need it). So if Jon is out, and it is time for him to be checking in, and an unfamiliar number pops up, I do grab that call.

I do not enjoy talking on the phone. For one thing, my dogs have a tendency to bark when I am on the phone. This is like when I had little kids, and they were as good as gold until the phone rang, and then they became alien changelings who got into all manner of trouble, and it was even worse when they were quietly destructing something somewhere than when they were screaming. In fact, it is probably deep in my subconscious, horrible memories of acute trauma suffered when I was on the phone when my children were small, that makes me dread the phone today. I had no issues with the phone before I was a mother. I liked it. No more.

So, I just tell people to email me. I wish more people would email. These days, everybody uses Facebook instead. I have a terrible time focusing when I go onto Facebook to handle communications. I think, "I need to send Holly a message about those pictures." And I get on Facebook where I see that I have a bunch of notifications, so I check on them. I respond to a few, chuckle at a few, go to my homepage to see what is up with the world, get lost in somebody's youtube clip, and suddenly realize that an hour has passed and my toilets still need to be cleaned. So I run out of the study and start working on the toilets, only to remember, halfway into the job, that I never sent the message to Holly that I meant to send her in the first place.

This is my life as a ditz.

I am trying to develop a new habit. Before I go in to the computer, I tell Shawn the specific jobs I need to accomplish and how long they will take me, suppose 10 minutes, and then I say, "So, if I am not out of there in 10 minutes, can you please check on me?" The problem is, he is on his own computer and forgets to save me from mine.

Computer addictions are like food addictions. They are very tricky to manage, because you can't just go off them, 100%, the way you could if you were addicted to drugs or alcohol. You have to learn how to manage them. The modern world can be a hard place to live.

But at least caller ID helps me avoid unwanted phone calls.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

About God, to God

A couple of years ago, my husband and I heard a currently fairly popular preacher declare, in defense of modern worship music, "In the olden days, we sang songs about God. Now we sing songs to God."

Shawn pondered on that for a long while. It stuck with him.

Once when my brother was visiting, we went for a walk, and Shawn related that statement to Paul and asked him, "Do you think God is more pleased when we sing about Him, or when we sing to Him?"

Paul never answers a question quickly. After walking in silence for awhile, thinking carefully and looking at the road, he raised his eyes and responded with slow, measured words, "I think God is most pleased when we sing about Him, to Him."

Modern songs are very simple. There can be great beauty in simplicity, but there is also beauty in intricacy. I think it is a grave sadness that many church members simply no longer possess the vocabulary nor the ability to interpret poetry that would allow them to comprehend the glorious truths expressed in some of the old songs.

I fear that in a number of the new songs (not all, certainly, but quite a few), we get so caught up in singing to God that we forget about who He is, and instead focus on our own feelings and actions: "I'm singing... " or "Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say..." And all of a sudden, what we think we are singing to God becomes mainly a form of self-expression for our own thoughts, feelings and ideas. If we are not on guard, our worship can quickly become all about us rather than all about God.

Here is a song that is about God, sung to God, in praise of His attributes. And it comes from 1 Timothy 1:17...

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish -- but naught changeth Thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All praise we would render; oh help us to see
'tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee!

Now that is a song we can sing to God, about Himself. I'm not sure that it's accurate about the angels veiling their sight as they adore Him, but other than that, I think it's a pretty wonderful expression of the magnitude of the Lord.

Friday, September 17, 2010

New Day

Yesterday was a bad day.

I tried a lot of things to get into a better mood. I even listened to a sermon online by my favorite pastor (Colin Smith) from my favorite book of the Bible (Philippians), and while it calmed me briefly, even that failed to have a lasting positive effect.

We had people coming over, which terrified me. How could I have people over when I was in such a mood? Finally, I went into my bathroom and just prayed. I asked the Lord to carry me, protect me, and particularly to protect the people around me from me.

The Lord is good and His mercy endures forever. That's all I can say.

I went to bed early. I told DJ, "This was a very bad day. I am ready for this day to be over."

DJ said, "Some days are like that. You just have to throw in the towel, go to bed, and hope for a better tomorrow."

Today my dog is really, really sick and I have to take him to the vet. But even so, I feel so much better than I felt yesterday.

I am thankful for a new beginning. I am thankful for a new day.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bad Mood

Today I am in a Very Bad Mood.

I cannot even remember the last time I was in a mood this bad. I feel like I hate everyone and everything, although I know I can't possibly hate everybody. At least, I hope the Holy Spirit in me would prevent that, even when I am at my worst. My bad mood feels like a belt that is too small being pulled around the waist of a person who is too big: a choking, squeezing, painful, humiliating feeling. It's sort of like the emotional equivalent to a horrendous case of food poisoning, and I am smack in the middle of it.

And I don't even have PMS, so there isn't even that hope of it passing in a few days.

I am in such a bad mood, I went to Wegman's today, and I thought, "Maybe I should buy myself some flowers. Maybe some flowers would cheer me up a little bit." So I went to look at the flowers. A dozen roses are $9.99 at Wegman's these days.

I looked at the flowers, and I hated all the colors they had to offer. Hated them. That's how bad a mood I am in today.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A few observations

Today I will make a few observations:

First Observation
Those mothers who are all "Yay! Rah!" about the first day of school, the ones who wait all summer for it to happen so they can get their kids back on the school schedule, the ones who feel celebratory when the bus drives up... THOSE moms must be morning people. I am not a morning person. The school year is literally killing me.

Second Observation
6' 1" is a very nice height for a young man to be. David is 6' 1", and sometimes I think he might feel just the littlest bit short, because Shannon is also 6' 1", Shawn is 6' 2", and Jonathan is 6' 3". But I think David is a very good height for a young man: nice and tall, while still readily able to find ready-to-wear clothing on the racks of most department stores. This is a good thing.

Third Observation
When we put in our current internet service, it was connected to our cable TV service. We have a bottom-basement cable package that enables us to get only 14 channels for something like $13 per month. Before the world switched to whatever it is that forces everyone to either get cable or buy some sort of interpreter box, my only motivation for getting cable was to cut down on the technological paraphernalia sticking out of my TV set. But I digress. The point I am trying to arrive at is this: we did not get enough channels to enable our internet service to work. Having never taken physics, I do not understand this, but it has to do with the bandwidth on our signal (I think). Anyhow, in order to actually hook up our internet, they had to give us some rogue channels, one of which is ESPN... kind of. And by "kind of", I mean that ESPN comes in black and white with no sound.

Now this is perfect, as far as I am concerned. We can watch Monday night football again, like we did before it went onto ESPN, but now it is blessedly SILENT. Also, the picture is just as good as the pictures on my parents' old black and white TVs that we used to have when I was growing up, so there is a sense of sweet nostalgia. Last night we had a cozy family time on the sectional in front of Monday night football, silent, in black and white. There was conversation, and homework got done, and Shawn poked away at work on his laptop, and I curled up with a massive volume of P.G Wodehouse and a cup of tea, and read while keeping a lookout for sightings of Michael Oher. Bliss.

Fourth Observation
Yesterday I stayed off the computer except for about 5 minutes when I checked my email because Shawn told me (in a phone conversation) to look for something in particular. I stayed comepletely off the computer and did not visit Facebook even once, and yet I had an epically unproductive day. This is very discouraging to me. I hope I get past the jet lag that strikes me when the school schedule swings into gear. I am dying. Fibromyalgia is my nemesis. At one point yesterday, I just ached through and through... head, neck, joints, legs, and my eyes were as heavy as grocery bags with gallons of milk in them. Finally I staggered to the sectional in the family room and laid down with a blanket. This was, of course, the highlight of the day for the dogs. I was on my back with my knees up. Piper occupied my stomach, and Schubert slept on my feet. I kept telling myself, "Got... to... get... to ... get... something... done..." I felt like I had a 200 lb. weight spread across my entire body (of course, that might have been the dogs...). It was a chore to draw a breath. Finally, something changed, and I felt empowered to open my eyes and sit up. I thought it must be about 11 .a.m. It was 1:22 p.m.

Augh. I had approximately one hour and 20 minutes to get things done before Jonny would arrive home. I tried to spring into action, but it was more like a slow, painful lurch. I got some laundry switched over, tidied the kitchen, made the beds, folded the clothes, pulled a chunk of ground beef out of the freezer so I could make spaghetti for supper, and worked on the drain in the kids' shower (which is giving me fits). I am afraid that I am the laziest woman on the face of the earth. And that was a day with no computer. Sigh.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

my prayer

Dear Jesus,
please help us all,
and show us Your will for our lives.
Please grant us each day the health and energy that we need
to fulfill Your purpose and plans for our lives.
In all that we do, help us to put You first,
and may the desire to know You
and to serve You
keep us focused on Your beautiful face.
Please help us to remember,
in every trial we face,
that is is not about us,
it is about You,
and it is Your gift to us of
Your presence and
Your fellowship
that we should seek above all else.
As the enemy tries to discourage and distract us,
please show us that
You are stronger,
You are greater, and
You are sovereign.
Lord Jesus, it is hard for us to face troubles
and even just changes.
Please help us as summer fades and fall comes,
bringing busy schedules
and stress to our children.
Help us to trust You and to find Your will.
Help us to be able to rest in You
and please give us the peace that
comes from confidence that
we are walking in the ways You have laid out for us.
Thank you that You are always with us
and that nothing comes as a surprise to You,
that nothing is frightening or overwhelming to You,
nothing is too difficult for You.
We lift every area of our lives us to You
and say, "Daddy, please fix these for Your good purposes."


Thursday, September 2, 2010

How'd I do?

Yesterday's list (not necessarily in order):

1. Get Lu's things ready to drop off to Anne and Joe so they can take them to her when they go to Ohio. Fortunately, I bought the things I needed to buy (hangers and an umbrella) yesterday after dropping Jonno at marching band practice. This meant that I did not make tuna noodle casserole, but it was 95 and too hot to run the oven anyway.
I did this. I actually did it quite well, I think.

2. Actually take Lu's things to Anne's house.
Amazingly enough, I did this, too. I bought a new laundry basket because one of my old ones was falling apart. I was going to throw out the old one, but then I realized that it was the perfect size to fill with Lulu's things, and she can throw it away (or even keep it if she has any use for it). So at approximately 9 p.m. last night, I dropped off a laundry basket full of Lulu's stuff for Joe and Anne to take to her over Labor Day weekend. Yay for me.

3. Empty the clothes left in Lu's laundry basket into the bin I bought so that Shannon can have her laundry basket since I took over Shannon's for myself while she was in Chicago.
I did this, too. It took about 2.7 minutes. I also (finally) finished unpacking from all our travels and put the suitcases and duffle bags into the basement where they belong. On the downside, I am pretty sure that I've lost my khaki capris forever,which is really too bad, because they actually fit me and were comfortable. They were one of my only pairs of capris that I could wear without a belt. I wonder if they are hanging on a hook in the bathroom of the bed and breakfast where we stayed in Evanston?

4. Organize the laundry room (OK that is probably way too ambitious, but it does sorely need to be done).
No, I did not do this. To be perfectly honest, I did not really expect that I would. However, I did reorganize some cupboards, because I have lost the heartworm tablets for the dogs, the ones they were supposed to have four weeks ago now. I wonder how many cupboards I will have to reorganize before I find them? I am feeling rather sad about this.

On a brighter note, I went to the market in Bayberry yesterday and bought peaches, yellow squash and ginger gold apples. It was a hot, sunny day and I bought all yellow produce. I spent 11 of my 12 dollars. Lucky for me, the man knocked the price on the peaches down to $8 for the big box of them, rather than $10. Otherwise I couldn't have gotten the apples.

When I got back, the peaches were still very warm from sitting out in the hot sun most that 96 degree day (I went at 2:30 in the afternoon, so they had been out in the sun probably since 9 a.m.). At home in my air-conditioned house, I picked a peach from the top of the pile, a bruised one that I thought had better be eaten quickly. I rinsed it off and sliced it and popped a piece into my mouth. It was as warm as peach pie, and SO delicious. In the end, I ate four or five peaches yesterday. DJ says, "Well, we have a lot of them, and they are ripe, so we might as well eat them before they go bad." That's my boy.

Last but not least on my list for yesterday...

5. Pay some attention to Jon and his school schedule. With the craziness of getting the older three settled in their respective college situations, it can be easy to neglect the issue of Jon going back to school. It is familiar, after all, a familiar place, a grade that three of our children have already navigated, not a lot new. But it is new for him; he's at a new building this year, even. I need to remember him and let him know that he is special, too.
Um, yeah. Jon spent the day with the youth group working on preparing a house the church owns for a new pastor the church just hired. After working, he went with some buddies from church to one of their houses to hang out, eat breakfast for dinner, and play basketball. I picked him up at about 6:10 in the evening, and rushed him home to get ready for his karate class at 6:45. As he was changing into his karate clothes, he casually mentioned that he didn't think he could stay for his second karate class because he had 10th grade orientation.

I cannot, honestly, explain the emotions I felt at that moment. Aghast is probably about as good a word as any.

I told Jon to go to karate, I would figure out how to get his schedule, and I had DJ drive him to his class. Then I called Jon's friend's mother who told me, "My son's orientation is at 7:30 tonight, but we are the last half of the alphabet. I think the first half of the alphabet was at 6:30." Well, by then it was 6:35, so in my sweaty clothes, no make-up, hair pulled back in a messy clasp, I ran out to the van (fighting tears because I am a total wimp) and raced to the high school. Fortunately , Jon is my fourth child and I know where things are. Unfortunately we have a new administration that is changing things up.

In the end, I got Jon's schedule, which is the important thing. At least, that's what I tell myself. I did not stay for the second presentation in the auditorium (having missed the first one). I hope this will not come back to haunt me. I needed to get home and make dinner. I was going to grill the chicken I had marinated. However, someone who grilled the last time left the jets on LOW, so the propane tank was empty. Some days are just like that. We tried to stir-fry it instead. We had stir-fried marinated chicken with yellow squash, red peppers and tomatoes, all topped with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Weird but tasty.

Today my goal is to stay home and not spend any money. I need toothpaste and evening primrose oil, but I am committed to figuring out how to make do. Anyway, I only have $1 left in my purse.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Look at the date...

I thought it was the last day of August today, but it is the first day of September. That's the way I am. I am usually behind, and I often miss things.

Today's list (not necessarily in order):

1. Get Lu's things ready to drop off to Anne and Joe so they can take them to her when they go to Ohio. Fortunately, I bought the things I needed to buy (hangers and an umbrella) yesterday after dropping Jonno at marching band practice. This meant that I did not make tuna noodle casserole, but it was 95 and too hot to run the oven anyway.

2. Actually take Lu's things to Anne's house.

3. Empty the clothes left in Lu's laundry basket into the bin I bought so that Shannon can have her laundry basket since I took over Shannon's for myself while she was in Chicago.

4. Organize the laundry room (OK that is probably way too ambitious, but it does sorely need to be done).

5. Pay some attention to Jon and his school schedule. With the craziness of getting the older three settled in their respective college situations, it can be easy to neglect the issue of Jon going back to school. It is familiar, after all, a familiar place, a grade that three of our children have already navigated, not a lot new. But it is new for him; he's at a new building this year, even. I need to remember him and let him know that he is special, too.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A good book

Last time I posted, I said I was the one without issues, but since then I have developed at least two, although one was resolved by a trip to the doctor this morning.

It was quite the indignity, but there you have it. It's over now, gone, snipped off with the assurance that it is 99.99% likely not to be cancer. Off to the lab with it, and all I have to do is go home and change a bandaid a few times. Whew.

Did you ever notice how true the old adage is, "It never rains, it only pours..." ?

Emotional avalanches are sweeping me away right now. What I would like, what I would truly love, would be to lose myself completely in a Really Good Book.

There is an utter dearth of Really Good Books out there. They are all about sex, first of all. Most of them are written by women. Although I would like to be an author, one of the things that seems to continually stop me is my memory of being a small girl at the Anoka Public Library, seeking a good book, and automatically putting back on the shelf anything written by a woman. I was too little to have learned this from anything other than my own experience with books. The books by men were just always better. Nowadays that is even more true, because not only are about 90% of books written by women, 99% of the books written by women are written by avid feminists. If there is anything I can't stand it's a book written by an unapologetic feminist who is acutely aware of herself in every way except the way she comes across to people who realize (not think, realize) that her position is flawed from the outset.

But this is not a post to lambaste feminists. I have many moments when I share sympathies with them, at any rate, so it would be hypocritical for me to act as though I thought I were better than they are. Many of them are very kind and real and generous and honestly trying to help each other. I just don't like their writing. Ever. I don't like rock music, either, and I recognize that this is a matter of taste, although it feels in my bones like a matter of morality.

There are some women writers I liked. I liked Lucy Maud Montgomery, Madeleine L'Engle, and particularly (and perhaps surprisingly) Maud Hart Lovelace.

I am having a terrible time reigning myself in today. I think it is because of the Tremendous Effort I am making not to think about or address certain other subjects that are bothering me, refusing to box up nicely into compartments in my subconscious. Very little of what I have written so far even reflects what is in my heart. My words above are like the flash of the camera that comes before the real flash, so that just as the picture is taken, you open your eyes and take the brunt of the piercing light directly against your retinas.

A good book is what I need. One written by a man, preferably British, ideally Christian. It should have beautiful scenes written in the English countryside, and cozy Christmases, an intricate plot with much suspense and many diverse and complicated characters and twists of events. There should be boarding schools and princesses, secrets from the past and delectable feasts. The noble characters should display their bold hearts and strength of character that spreads to strength of body, fighting battles against a seemingly invincible enemy and winning because it is simply right that they would. A really good book should have the plot of a Dickens novel, the timing and voice of C.S. Lewis and the poetic pathos of Chaim Potok. It should also have a happy ending... although, the ending must be unpredictable as well as happy.

That's all I want. I guess it's probably too much to ask.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Being overwhelmed is nothing new to me. A friend once told me, "You are the most overwhelmed person I know." That was probably fifteen or sixteen years ago, when the overwhelmedness mostly centered on small children who kept me up at night and smeared various substances all over my walls and floors during the day.

Now the small children have all grown to be bigger than I. And so have their issues.

Let me backtrack. I believe that I have some of the greatest kids on earth. They bring me joy beyond what I had dreamed possible. However, when you love deeply, you also hurt deeply when things go wrong. And you feel deeply when things are uncertain. And you just tend to worry more, even though you aren't supposed to worry, you are supposed to trust God.

There is a verse in 1 John that says, "Perfect love drives out fear." I am not exactly sure what this means. It seems like, as a mom, the more I love, the more I fear... I fear that they will experience pain and disappointment. I fear for my own potential losses. I doubt that this is what the verse is about. It probably has more to do with the love of God, although the book itself (1 John) is about how we need to exhibit God's love in our own lives. It's just something I've never understood, and something that makes me feel overwhelmed, guilty and inadequate when I worry about my kids.

And my husband. I worry about him, too. These days it seems like everybody close to me has a big need of prayer. The other night I was trying to pray and sleep, all through the night. I couldn't sleep, so I would pray. Then I would fall asleep, and wake up a bit later feeling guilty that I had not prayed through everyone's issues. That spurred me on to pray some more, which led me to fall asleep again, but by the end of the night I am pretty sure I had gotten to each one of them. I woke up in the morning and I actually felt a certain sense of peace, until I started thinking about it all again.

God is in control. God IS in control. This is the truth and besides that, He has a plan and a purpose for each one of us. It has just been hard for me to rest in that truth lately.

There was an old song that went, "It's me, it's me, Oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer..." I am the one without a specific issue right now (except that I need a paying job, and don't really want one). But I think I might be needing as much prayer as any of us.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tip of the island

Today we walked out to the easternmost tip of the island.

We have stayed on the eastern tip twice. It is beautiful out there, and somewhat desolate at low tide. The wild, untamed view is rather ruined by the buildings on Ocean Isle, particularly the lone condominium hi-rise that juts up all by itself. But at the same time there is something comforting about the civilization you can see across the channel.

We walked down at low tide with the sun starting to pass behind us to the west, and the wind at our backs. Lu has pointed out (wisely) that it is safer to go to the beach in the afternoon because then if you lose track of time and stay too long, the sun is getting weaker rather than stronger, and you are less apt to burn to a crisp than you would be if you went out at 10 a.m. We left at 2:30, intending to do some shelling.

The tide pools were bath-water hot, and filled with interesting little things. We found a number of conch shells, but the ones we found all had creatures living in them, so we couldn't keep them. Walking through the tide pools reminded me of earlier trips here, and I thought how wonderful and strange it is when you come to the same place for vacation over and over, and things that were a unique, impressionable experience the first time become treasured memories of familiarity. There is something so otherworldly about expansive stretches of water-rippled sand sliced with long streams of warm salty water. It is like another world that is not very hospitable to the thirsty human on a 95 degree day in the sun.

DJ and Jon swam the channel to Ocean Isle and back. The channel was calm and waveless, a nice place to rest and cool off after the long walk. We sat in the water up to our necks and just hung out for awhile, and then I needed to head back.

I had a little trouble on my way back. The wind picked up ferociously, and I got sand in my eyes. I felt a bit frightened at one point, alone on my way back to our "camp" of an umbrella and four beach chairs. I couldn't see and my eyes began to tear something awful. I took a couple of breaks where I turned backwards and rested with my face away from the wind. Finally, I went out into the ocean and rinsed out my eyes with some salt water, which was all that was available.

Eventually, I made it back to our beach house and the air conditioning actually felt heavenly. I refreshed myself and rinsed out my eyes with cool water from the sink and a washcloth. Then I headed back to the beach to meet up with my people again.

The waves were rough and rambunctious by then, and although I tried to swim, I was too tired to stand up to them, so after a rather short period of cooling down and rinsing off (if you can call it that--more like a short period of being pummeled by violent saltwater that insisted on splashing in my face), I went back to the beach house with a bunch of the others, and we got showers and started dinner.

A shower can be one of the most heavenly things in the world. Clean and fed, we watched some TV and the kids are playing cards now. It might sound like it wasn't a very nice day, but actually it was pretty wonderful. Shawn and I even got to see the sun set over the marsh.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why I love the beach....

I love the beach in August, right now, when the water is as warm as a bath, but the waves are wild and exciting.

I love getting a different beach house every time, but I like this one enough to get it again.

I love seeing the little toddlers digging intently in the sand, as if it were the most important job on earth.

I love watching a plump two-year-old prancing about in her outrageous ruffled bathing suit and floppy sun hat, lifting her knees high above her reflection across the wet sand.

I love the sight of a seven-year-old racing delightedly out of the foaming water, dragging a net on a stick behind him, reaching for his grandpa's hand with all his heart.

I love pretending not to notice the young mother photographing her baby boy who is sitting in the deep, warm moat of a sandcastle.

I love the twelve-year-old doing cartwheels on the damp, firm sand, just because she can.

I don't even mind the happy man with a beer strolling through waist high water with his friend. They smile, breathe, relax.

The sound of waves, wind chimes, pelicans and whooshing ocean breezes across the dunes fills my ears along with sand and saltwater.

I settle under the shade of our umbrella and try to read with sticky salt on my arms, but there is so much happiness all around me, I just can't concentrate. Blue sky, white clouds, gray sand, green water and every imaginable color of beach towel surround relaxing people everywhere.

Nobody cares if the kids get dirty. There is always a washing machine at the beach house. And a shower. When you get shampoo in your mouth after an afternoon in the Atlantic, it actually tastes sweet.

And when you go to sleep at night, you find yourself feeling like the waves are still rolling you back and forth. I'm so thankful that God made this place.