Sunday, March 30, 2008

No good time for a malady

I was all prepared to write a rant of sorts about the overdone nature of the modern kid’s birthday. However. You’ve been spared said rant, because we’ve had to postpone our boy’s big birthday celebration. The day before the festivities, as preparations were in high gear, the child had the nerve to spike a fever out of the blue.

And it suddenly put everything in perspective. Nothing else in your life is good when someone you love—especially your child—isn’t well. Or, perhaps I should say that good things still abound, but you can’t savor them the way you’d like to, because you’re all wrapped up in the wellness issue.

I have some ladies in my life, and whenever I see them, I am reminded of this perspective lesson. These women face the daily battle of caring for and supporting a daughter who is ill. And we’re not just talking flu or virus here, people—we’re talking illnesses that require miracles to disappear.

In one case, the daughter is older, a woman in her own right…but still in tremendous need because of the health-related struggles she faces. Another daughter is college-aged, a child-woman. Yet another is a girl, nearly a teen in some ways but in many ways still very much a completely dependent little child. And the moms of these gals are pretty amazing. They inspire me and others around them—with their tirelessness, their determination, sometimes with their unending faith in God and his healing powers, and at other times in their sheer will to get through each situation. In every case, these ladies inspire me to just be thankful, to count blessings, to look back and focus on wonderful times instead of zeroing in on the far less numerous hard times. And it’s not just the moms who inspire; dads too, even entire families, are all team members in this unceasing mission to love a loved one.

So, we’ll celebrate the birthday a week later, assuming the boy is up to the challenge with no fever in sight. And through the second housecleaning, the second round of shopping, the flurry of guests and cake and wrapping paper that follow, I will thank God: I’ll try to remember to be grateful that this fever, already passing today, was just that: passing. It was not a part of everyday existence. It was something to get through in a couple of days, not a challenge to endure for months, years, perhaps a lifetime. It was a hiccup in the life of a healthy kid.

Which is pretty darned small, when you consider the alternatives.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A weird sort of camelot

I saw an old friend today. Reminiscing with her reminded me that many of Todd’s and my friends happen to be people we met at an old job. The same job where, conveniently, we also met each other. It’s odd; I exchange Christmas cards with one lady I taught school with, I'm still close to a gal with whom I suffered through a year at a law firm…but I keep close tabs on about 10 folks from that one communications firm, not counting my husband, and I stay loosely aware of the whereabouts of at least 10 more.

Why? What is it about the time spent there that keeps us in overlapping social circles? Most of us have discussed how it’s unusual, and the only thing we’ve ever come up with as far as explanation is that this particular company hires great people. Not to sound smug, but they really do. I met some of the brightest, most creative people I’ve ever known when they were my co-workers at that firm. I still wonder how I made it through their doors. Desperation on their part, I guess. ; )

But it has to be more than that. I can’t help believing there’s a deeper reason for us to keep reaching out to each other, even now—especially when you consider that the vast majority of us are no longer employed by this company.

I have a theory, and I’ve decided to dub it “The Camelot Factor.” When I first joined the firm, and for about two years after that point, the company was profitable and popular; they made every effort to wear that success well. The leaders didn’t do everything perfectly, by any means, but by and large, they were generous and kind. There were numerous off-site meetings, some rather luxurious, and there were parties and celebrations for every possible achievement. Even when people left the company, they received commendations and a luncheon of some sort. There were funky, artsy clients that amounted to great freebies and discounts for us. There were a number of singles there, most of whom actually liked each other. The result of all this is that a great number of my work memories are of genuinely good, fun times.

But the Camelot Factor requires more than festivities, perks, and social outings to seal that bond between workers. It also requires a majority of folks who are comfortable with who they are and who they’re becoming. It requires a lot of people in similar circumstances, with similar interests. It requires a shared appreciation for hard work well done, and respect for each other. Maybe it even requires some shared suffering. But not just suffering—Lord knows I’ve suffered at some other jobs, and still never formed any lasting bond with my colleagues.

For me, the romance of the place remains rose-tinged because, even though it drove me crazy by the time I left it, I honestly started to like myself when I worked there. I started to feel as if I had something to offer, talents to explore, amazing people to befriend and learn from. When I first started there, I felt so blessed to be part of it. I wonder if my former colleagues recall the same sort of glow, in themselves and others they knew there.

Even now, having chosen to leave the firm years ago, I still carry that blessing, those friends, that wide range of experiences and lessons learned there. I still feel pride that I was part of it in its shiniest days. Stupid, misplaced pride, perhaps—but I can’t deny that it’s in me. Mostly, I am grateful for the many contacts from those days whom I still enjoy on an almost daily basis.

It certainly was no Camelot. And yet—it was quite a “congenial spot,” if not for ever-aftering, then for making memories.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Joy and deliverance

On Friday night, I went to the movies, right in the comfort of my own chilly basement. I watched "The Passion of the Christ" once again. I'd seen it in the theater when it first came out, and since then I'd been working up the nerve to see it again. I sat on the futon, alone, and I watched the events unfold on screen. And because I was alone, I was able to watch with utter abandon. I was permitted complete emotional expression, short of howling loudly enough to wake my son upstairs.

It was heart-wrenching. I sat there, sobbing, watching our Lord accept punishment that He didn't deserve. And yes, it was Mel Gibson's interpretation, and Mel has done and said some unholy things in his life...but by golly, he stuck to the story from the Bible pretty darned well. I couldn't tell myself that this was a good movie. It's a true story. It happened. I believe it, and the film would have been hard to watch even if I'd known it was totally fictional. It's not fiction.

I commend Mel for telling the bloody tale in a way that broke my heart, just as it should. It's one thing to read the words "crucify," and another altogether to grasp what a crucifixion entails. Thankfully, the ugliness of the crucifixion stands in stark contrast to the One who withstood it out of sheer love. Love we didn't earn, can never earn, can only receive and be humbled by.

The words below are from one my favorite church songs, a contemporary song called "In Christ Alone." I hope the words fill you with joy just as they do me.


In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
'Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost it's grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Brought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
'Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand


Happy Resurrection Day to you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Getting so big…sort of

Last week was a long, painful one. It was potty training boot camp here at our home. It was not fun. It needed to happen, the time was right, but fun was not had. The whole experience has reminded me, though, of how we humans resist change—especially change that involves growth.

We played hardball with the boy, and simply talked about the merits of underpants for several days, warned him that there were no more diapers after Sunday, etc. And then, we started putting him in tiny tighty whities. Well, not whities, exactly—there were small Thomas the Trains emblazoned on them, so they weren’t all white. But you get the idea.

Of course, I did a lot of laundry during those days. I covered the upholstered furniture with sheets and blankets. We had an encore viewing of Elmo’s Potty Time, a lovely instructional DVD that a neighbor passed to us after their youngest had mastered the art. And we talked about potties. And pee. And the other. Endlessly. After a couple of days of being stuck at home in wet clothes, the kid’s incredibly strong, stubborn will began to break. There were touch-and-go successes, and then more successes than failures. And then, number 1 was accomplished. We haven’t slipped up with number 1 for almost a week. Number 2? Another story. He still prefers to sneak off somewhere and do what he shouldn’t. We’ll keep working on it.

But what was most difficult about the week, and continues to be difficult, is my son’s sudden and suffocating need for me. All the time. Constantly. I used to be able to run downstairs for a few minutes to do laundry, check email, clean cat litter, and he’d be fine, singing to himself, talking with his toys, whatever. No longer. Now, if I’m out of his sight for a moment, he starts calling for me. He finds reasons to “need” me:

“Mama, come see how cute my animals are. Mama. MAMA!”

“Mommy, help me build baseball stadium out of Duplos. Mama, come here!”

“Where are you, Mama? Come in my room! Please!?”

He’s suddenly incapable of entertaining himself, even for a minute. It’s been making me crazy. And I didn’t get it, couldn’t see why this is happening, why he’s regressing in this area. I only knew I wanted to poke my eyes out. Many times. More times than I had eyes.

And then I thought about it, and I think I understand. He’s made this giant step—a step toward bigness, a step that undeniably moves him away from babyhood. We keep talking up the big kid idea, trying to glamorize it. And he’s not stupid; kids are pretty good at reading between the lines. If we’re making such a big deal about it, then being a big kid must not be all good. There must be a price to pay for independence from diapers.

So, he’s clinging to his mom. He’s taking that big-boy step in one area, but he’s still holding tightly to Mom in other areas. Yeah, Thomas undies are cool, but being a little boy is cool, too. Going to the dinosaur museum was great! But staying home and snuggling on the couch watching “Arthur” is nothing to sneeze at.

And aren’t we the same way? Change?! What!? No! I like things the way they are! I like my dirty, stinky pants! I don’t want to be clean and dry and mature! What’s so great about growing up? If it’s so wonderful, then how come people are so crazy about babies and little kids? Aren’t they just jealous? You know it!

Change and growth are tough, even when they’re in our best interest. Thank goodness there are dinosaur museums, and carousels, and roller coasters to tempt little boys to use the potty. Thank goodness that as adults, we can look back over our biggest life changes and see how they’ve stretched us, expanded us, made us stronger and better than we used to be. If we choose to see things that way, perhaps we can begin to embrace change for the catalyst to improved conditions that it often is.

Perhaps. Or perhaps we'll just find a quiet corner and happily soil ourselves.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Craft store? or personal office and daycare?

So, the craft store where I work a few hours each month was hosting a big, free event yesterday for kids. For several hours, tables were set up in the lobby with a handful of different projects for kids to work on and take home. To put it simply, we were mobbed by people. It was insane. There was no lull. For 5 hours, kids and big people milled around the tables, made messes, had fun, and were replaced by more bodies that did the same thing.

Another poor, hapless fool (a.k.a. fellow employee) and I were the “monitors” for the tables. We were to direct visitors, get kids started on projects, assist the littlest kids, push the products we were using, keep the tables somewhat clear and neat, and encourage people to sign up their children for the store’s craft club.

Now, this was the biggest store event I’ve worked thus far. We had scads of people. Scores of hordes. Or at least it seemed that way to me. And it was tough keeping on top of the whole affair since new children were arriving constantly; I was directing their guardians to sign the guest list, trying to encourage sales for the sponsoring company, making sure everyone was sharing supplies, keeping track of said supplies so no one walked off with them, trying to limit kids to one of each project, etc. You get the idea. Busy. All in all, it was a success. And a learning experience.

I’m starting to learn what I can expect at any of these types of activities, large or small. I can expect to see really delightful kids, little faces that light up when doing crafts, sweet voices that sing and burble as they tell you where they’re going to hang their creation or whom will receive it, that sort of kid. I can also expect to see a few brats, kids who are used to getting whatever they want and who throw fits when their every desire isn’t immediately granted. I can expect to see a bevy of attentive moms and dads and grandparents, and even some aunts and uncles thrown in. Some of them may be overly attentive, but either way these adults are obviously concerned about their kids and want to give them fun, creative activities and opportunities to try new things. All this is good to see—because it gives me hope for this future generation of kids, knowing that they have loving adults, role models, paving their way.

And then. There’s the other adult. The one who annoyed me. I can expect to see her at these events, too.

I don’t even know for certain whether she was a mom. I’m pretty sure she was. She waltzed over with her two stylishly casual young boys, was not friendly to me, and pretty much deposited them in my care so she could take phone calls. She barely noticed what they did, even when they showed her. She responded to their questions in perfunctory fashion, all the while directing her animated responses to the people with whom she conversed by telephone. She paid no notice while the boys did multiple copies of projects instead of just one, and didn’t say a word when one boy became bored and found a book for sale to bring back to the table, where he plopped down and thumbed through it. At the craft table. Where space was at a premium. She felt no guilt about taking up a chair while she established her temporary office. And not just any chair: my chair, no less. On my side of the table. The boys deposited coats on more chairs, wandered around, and she made phone calls. They set their happy meal boxes on the floor by my chair, proceeded to spread happy meal prizes on the table with the craft supplies, left their unfinished projects on another table to eat up more space… You get the idea.

I took a short lunch break. I came back. She was still there, on the phone. So were the boys. Working on what might have been their third try at the project. By now, I was beyond being polite. I reached over her head for some supplies, and she started to get a clue. I moved some of her personal items to retrieve supplies hidden under them, uttering an insincere “Excuse me,” and she replied with a breathy apology and moved the pile of crap. Until I was finished getting the stuff I needed. Then she set her crap down again.

By the time she finally left with her kids in tow, I was inundated by more people and didn’t witness the departure. She did have the courtesy to take her garbage with her, thank goodness. I think I might have bolted out of the store with it, seeking her, if she had “forgotten” it. How stupid that this woman is the one I remember best about today’s affair. Why do I care? But I do. I see her in my mind, and I can imagine her SUV. I can picture her housing development, built fewer than 5 years ago, with some silly name that sports at least one silent, unnecessary letter “e” (Summit Inne, Mountain Pointe, etc.)

And I shouldn’t be that way. I shouldn’t assume. I don’t know her. Maybe she’s ill, and really needed to sit down. Maybe those phone calls were very important. I’m sure there’s more to the story than what I saw.

But. I still suspect that the illness she suffers from is an acute case of Entitlement. She had to waste some time, and there we were, for her yakking enjoyment. The event was free, so that meant no rules. No one asked her to get up off her duff, so that meant the seat was hers for as long as she liked.

I’m so afraid that soon—if they don’t already do so—this woman and her entitled cronies will outnumber me and all the other semi-normal, semi-humble people in the world who realize that the craft store is not our oyster, nor our babysitter.

Quite often, people are just hard to love. Heavy sigh.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Deep thoughts about Easter

Easter is fast approaching. It’s funny; for some reason, “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” got stuck in my head last week, and I was humming it. Marcus asked me what I was singing, which is nice, since sometimes he simply asks me to stop…and I was explaining the song, and singing the words for him. Then I felt bad because it’s such a stupid song. I mean, who can sing about a rabbit “hopping down the bunny trail” without feeling a bit foolish? And then I felt guilty because Todd and I really do want to rear a God-fearing, God-loving child and Easter is sort of the benchmark of the entire Christian faith—and here I was minimizing it by singing about some ridiculous phantom bunny.

So I tried to explain what Easter really is. I said, “Honey, Easter isn’t about a bunny at all. It’s about Jesus. Jesus died, but he came back to life on Easter and now He lives forever. Easter is a joyful time because Jesus is alive forever. We should sing a real Easter song.” And then I sang “He Lives” for the kid (well, I sang part of one verse because that was all I could remember—yeah, I stink). Not long after that, maybe the next day, I was absent-mindedly humming the stupid bunny song again and my sweet, wise son reminded me that Easter wasn’t about a bunny; it was about Jesus. So true. I agreed wholeheartedly and, quite literally, changed my tune.

But oh, out of the mouths of babes: a few days later as we were driving, my sweet boy asked me the following very tough question: “Mommy, why did God have Jesus?” I kid you not. This is what he asked me. I even had him repeat it to be certain, and then I said it back to him to be doubly sure. And that was honestly what he’d asked me. Now, how do you answer that? He’s going to be three years old next week. Three. How would you respond?

I tried. I said something like this: “Well, Honey, God made people. And when He made them, He gave them the ability to choose things. But we people didn’t make good choices; in fact, we chose a lot of really awful things. We made bad choices. And God was disappointed in us. So He sent Jesus, Who didn’t make any bad choices ever. And now since Jesus lives forever, He talks to God about us and helps God forgive us when we do bad things.” I know, horribly inadequate and terribly simplified, but he is still so little. I don’t want to overwhelm him with details, or with the truth about the suffering and crucifixion.

His reply? “Okay.” Which often sounds like “otay.” That was it; he hasn’t brought it up since. And yes, for all you people who are worried, he’ll still get an Easter basket. He’ll get plenty of sugar and cute things and eggs to find on Easter morning. But hopefully, he’ll remember this short little discussion in the car. My prayer is that he’ll be joyful not thanks to a sugar high, but because he has Jesus to talk to God about him. A 3-year-old may not need that intervention yet, but if he’s anything like the rest of us, he will. Oh, he will.

I pray the same prayer for myself: joy and gratitude all mixed up with a side of chocolate.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Earthly voices

I am not a singer. I’ve never been. Often, my mom has reminisced about singing as a tiny girl, singing with her siblings, even singing on the radio; we've always known she has a pretty alto voice. In high school, my best friend had a lovely voice, too; she fronted the jazz band while I honked away on my giant tenor saxophone—not nearly as intriguing as sultry vocals, I well knew, but it was the best I could do. A couple of people in college told me I was a decent singer, encouraged me to try…but I was so busy being unrestrained and unscheduled at that point in my life, I just didn’t have time to seek out any real singing opportunities, and then I was finished with my degree and all those golden chances had drifted out of reach.

Fast-forward many years, through several embarrassing karaoke attempts and the growing realization that this was not a talent of mine. All that time, I sang in the car, in the shower, to myself. I sang when I knew I wouldn’t offend anyone. I had pretty much abandoned the whole idea, yet in my head was hidden the musical knowledge I’d stored there: piano lessons as a child, 8 long years of band geekery, adoration of symphony and its many instruments, all rolled into a safe corner of my brain to remain intact but unused.

And then, we found our church and began attending regularly.

I won’t lie: the reason I came back after that first week was because of the music. It was just wonderful, inspiring, soul-touching stuff. Sunday after Sunday, I drank it in, and slowly, the dream came alive again. I refused to acknowledge the re-emergence of the dream for many months; the choir was too good, and I could never hang with them. It was enough just to hear the music and add my quiet, dubious voice to the beauty.

And then, one day, it wasn’t enough. I thought to myself, what have I to lose? I can try, right? If I stink, I can live with that—at least I will have given it a shot, and I'll know with certainty. I worked up my nerve and finally called the church to inquire. But. They weren’t currently accepting applicants. I had to wait. They would call me back during open season. (I didn’t like the sound of that at all—open season?!) I bided my time. I figured they’d lose my name, would change their mind, perhaps disband; I almost forgot about the whole thing… Almost.

Months later, they called. I set up a tryout, terrified even as I wrote it in the calendar. The day rolled around and I was literally short of breath. What had I been thinking? I had no right singing with these people. None. The worship leader would immediately label me the sham that I am, order me from the rehearsal room, warn me never to return. I’d be unable to show my face in church ever again.

I reported for my tryout, and lo and behold, the worship leader was very personable and gentle. He asked me what part I thought I should be, and I made my best guess. Then he made me sing “Amazing Grace” while he played along on the piano; I stank up the room, voice quavering, face twitching, plagued by uncertainty and shame.

And then. Grace was exemplified and the kind-hearted, foolish fellow invited me to join choir. I accepted, with much trepidation and insecurity; when rehearsals began in the fall, I sat slumped in my seat, surrounded by seasoned singers. But wait! We began to work our way through a song, and I heard wonderful voices, but also mediocre voices, and even an off-key voice. Some people could read music, but many could not. A few of them could hit every note on the page, but most of them were just like me—with a limited repertoire of tuneful sounds. Why, they were normal people! They were not, as I’d suspected, musical geniuses. These people were everyday people, some of whom could sing amazingly well…and others who really could not sing any better than me. Even more amazing was that as weeks passed, slowly but surely that stash of musical notes, terminology, and symbols began to creep back into my awareness. Now, four years into it, I feel more at ease about my contribution to this wonderful team of voices. And I hear, with amazement and joy every time, how the combined effect of all those varied sounds creates a wonderful sound. Flaws are camouflaged, strengths are heightened; we all become one voice, be it hushed, sweet, jubilant, or victorious—but always grateful.

And it’s a funny thing: when I try to sing in the car, with the radio, along with contemporary music, I still am quite weak. My voice cracks, I can’t hit notes, I make myself hoarse. It’s ugly. But when I’m singing for church, I can sing better. Honestly, I can—it’s not my imagination. When I use my voice for that purpose, to glorify God, my voice is stronger, a little bit more true. I’m still not great, but I can say with certainty that I am my best singing self when I’m belting it out for that awesome audience of One. I wonder if my song-mates have had the same experience. I wonder if they, too, are most melodious while worshipping God through song—when the pressure's off to sound perfect, when it's sufficient to be humble and sincere.

It makes me ponder what other undiscovered abilities we might unleash in ourselves if we could travel beyond our own preconceived notions and just step out in faith. I hope to discover more possibilities, in me and in everyone around me.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Haiku for you

Our sun, working harder every day to actually have a presence among us!

Courtesy of Wikipedia:
Haiku is a kind of Japanese poetry. It was given this name in the late 19th century by a man named Masaoka Shiki by a combination of the older hokku (発句?) and the haikai (or verses) in haikai no renga. Haiku, when known as hokku were the opening verses of a linked verse form, haikai no renga. In Japanese, hokku and haiku are traditionally printed in one vertical line (though in handwritten form they may be in any reasonable number of lines). In English, haiku are written in three lines to equate to the three parts of a haiku in Japanese that traditionally consist of five, seven, and then five on (the Japanese count sounds, not syllables; for example, the word "haiku" itself counts as three sounds in Japanese, but two syllables in English, and writing seventeen syllables in English produces a poem that is actually quite a bit longer, with more content, than a haiku in Japanese). The kireji (cutting word or pause) usually comes at the end of either the first or second line. A haiku traditionally contains a kigo (season word) representative of the season in which the poem is set, or a reference to the natural world.

And now, hopefully for your entertainment, I present late-winter haiku, in the English tradition, by Mel:

Mean, wonderful day.
Tease me with such warmth and shine,
Then yank them away.

Wet, wet, falling rain,
Puddles, lakes where there were none.
What shall flood today?

Weary of cooking,
Pondering yet one more meal…
Ugh—what can I make?

Had tomatoes, but
They were store-bought, hence no taste.
How I miss homegrown!

There sits the yard/swamp,
Melted igloo, dead brown muck.
We used to play there.

I know it is true—
To be grateful, one must miss
The *star we so love.

*the sun, of course!

It’s coming, people! Hang in there! And please remind me of the same!!!