Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wise Men Still Seek Him

We saw the sign on our way east last week.

“Santa Claus, Indiana.” Now there’s a name. I figured it must be the location for the Big Guy’s summer home.Then I read another sign—Santa Claus Christmas Store. But there was no time to stop. The last time we saw our newest grandbaby she was a month old, still learning to focus her eyes.

Seven months later, she’s a crawling, standing hurricane-about-to-happen, and we couldn’t get to Kentucky fast enough. Indiana would have to celebrate Christmas without us.

But today is different. This morning we kissed that sweet little red head goodbye and headed west back home. Today the tears come and go like temperamental waterfalls. So when that Indiana billboard showed up again, it was exactly the right medicine for my sad little heart. Christmas always cheers me up, even on December 28th. I have a feeling they celebrate it year round in these rolling Indiana hills.
We parked facing a life-sized replica of Santa himself. Two more clones, dressed in red plastic velvet, completed the welcoming party as we stepped up on to the sidewalk. Once inside the store, time stood still in this town where it’s always December 25th. The entire length of one wall displayed foot tall Santa’s in every collegiate color combo, footballs poised for a mass launch. Ornaments adorned every wall, and shoppers wandered aisles of Lenox nativity displays near rooms of discounted Christmas trees. I stood delighting in a display of whimsical Rudolph figurines when a gentle voice on my left broke into my thoughts.

“And remember to brush your teeth daily,” he was saying. I turned to see who was talking.

“And say your prayers every night, ok?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” young voices answered.

Around the corner I saw him--it was the town’s unofficial mayor, Santa. On the 28th day of December, the jolly old elf was still making house calls. I had to listen in and see where this was going.

In a room straight out of my North Pole daydreams, full of giant candy canes, toy trains and brightly embellished cascading garlands, two young children stood facing a familiar figure seated in a red velvet high backed chair—a guy who should have been resting at home with his boots propped up. To my surprise, there sat Santa himself—I know it was really him because his beard was real—imparting the wisdom of the ages to these two latecomers. I was mesmerized.

“Now you know why we celebrate Christmas, don’t you?” he was asking the young brother and sister. They nodded yes. “You know whose birthday it is, right?” he followed up. They nodded again.

“And if you take some time every day to talk with Him, well, things will always go a lot better for you in life,” he concluded. “Okay,” he finished up, “let’s have a hug.” And he gathered the two kids up in his arms to face the camera flash with big smiles. I stood amazed.

I’ve never seen Santa talk about Jesus to kids before. He stood up, hugged the children’s mom, too, and the family waved goodbye to him and his fellow elves who stood ready at the camera. I had to talk with this guy and find out where he found the courage to cross into forbidden territory, telling complete strangers—and children at that—how even Santa knows what Christmas is really about.

“Excuse me,” I began, “I heard you talking to those two kids, and I’d like to take your picture, if that’s all right.”

He seemed surprised by my request, but posed good naturedly.

“I’m not afraid to tell people the truth anymore,” he explained. “Every morning I get up and ask God what He wants me to say before I come in here. This is a ministry for me, and I love it. I’ve found my purpose this year,” he concluded.

We let our kids believe in Santa when they were growing up because it didn’t interfere with the solid foundation we were teaching them about the birth of Jesus. Last Christmas, I searched out an ornament I’d seen and wanted desperately to hang on our tree. It depicts Santa Claus kneeling, hat in hand, at the side of a manger where the Christ Child lays. I don’t think Santa competes with the true meaning of Christmas, and that little ornament shows how he can be a complement to the reason for the season.

Today, I met a man who brought that ornament’s representation to life, living it out truthfully because it’s part of who he really is. “I’m here to glorify God,” this Santa told me. “It’s my ministry to point people to the true meaning of Christmas. I hope the store will invite me back next year to do it again.”

Finally, Virginia. The solid proof to the answer given you all those years ago in The New York Sun. There is a Santa Claus. You can find him worshipping at the feet of Jesus. In Santa Claus, Indiana.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas To All And To All A Good Night!


Tonight is the night.

It’s Santa’s big scene. Cookies await him, milk’s in a glass, stockings are hung on the bookshelf with care . . . since they won’t let us have a fireplace in our town. Scrooges. We fixed ‘em though—we bought a DVD of a crackling fire.

You do what you gotta do. Pretend if you have to. When I was a kid, we lived in a trailer in California. Not only did we NOT have a fireplace, we didn’t even have a house. (Even then, real estate was crazy expensive.) I was pretty anxious about how Santa was gonna get inside with all his loot until my dad said they’d leave the door unlocked for him. That should have worried me, but dad was always packing. Which should have worried Santa. I guess they had a secret code worked out so the Big Fat Man With The Long White Beard wouldn’t leave with any flesh wounds.

There’s a lot of fantasy at Christmas. Sometimes even the ‘make believe’ is make believe. My husband and I did some shopping at a Home Goods store a few weeks ago. For a shopping addict like me, that’s like Christmas all by itself. I like Home Goods a lot better than Ross or TJ Maxx—it’s bigger, full of great stuff at the holidays, and a lot more tidy. In December, it’s loaded with elaborate wreaths, sparkling ornaments, and dozens of embroidered stockings. But on this day last month, we stood looking kind of confused at one display of decorations.

It started with the angel shelf sitter. She had a sweet, well, angelic face and was wearing. . . a bustier. Really??? I have no words. We decided it was a quirk. Until we saw the St. Francis of Assisi angel who was shelf sitting next to her, which in itself seems highly inappropriate somehow. I just don't think they should be hanging out together. That’s a unique idea, too—a celestial monk blessing forest animals who perch on his wings. It’s a good thing he had wings, though. ‘Cuz apparently he’d had a knee replacement gone bad. At the end of his hips were two springs connected in the middle by a glass bead joint. It still makes me shudder thinking about it.

We began to inspect the shelf more closely. To the monk’s right stood a fourteen-inch-tall cloth doll dressed in a faded red dress wearing a tall, pointy red hat. On the front of her apron were pockets we could only assume represented Advent since they were each numbered. The problem was there only eleven of them, in random order, between one and twenty-five. I looked around with no success for a matching cone-head doll wearing an advent apron with the other fifteen. Hmmm, I thought. Another communication failure on the outsource contract.

There was a plethora of nutcrackers, none of whom would ever make the grade in a traditional German Christmas celebration. They represented doctors and firefighters and hula dancers (okay, maybe I made that one up) and the ultimate—a sushi chef nutcracker, complete with rice rolls and chopsticks. That’s what did it. Finally, it hit me.


This is it. This is where Santa does his Christmas shopping. In Home Goods.

And this was The Shelf of Misfit Toys.

I’ll never watch Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer the same way again.

And I bought the sushi nutcracker.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Nativity


“. . . hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor,” the Bible reads in 2 Timothy 2.

Well, they should.

We live in a neighborhood surrounded by lush green fields where corn, potatoes and sorghum grow. Some farmers across the street harvest alfalfa—I love its fragrance when it’s freshly cut. Other fields yield acres of snowy cotton puffs that soften the desert landscape. But all I reap from any of these crops is the view. It all belongs to the farmer.

Which, for some reason, made me think about raising kids. I guess after giving birth a couple of times, I always think about my two children when I see the word “labor”. The hardest thing I ever labored over was my kids.

By comparison, pregnancy and childbirth were the easy part. We labored for twenty-three years to raise our kids as mature adults, who know God intimately, love others honestly, think for themselves, and have strong characters.

It’s a tall order, I guess. And they aren’t perfect—in part, I think, because they didn’t have perfect examples. But I wasn’t called to make them perfect. I can’t “make” anything. I was called to love, nurture, train, and release them. I did all I knew to do, and then some.

I did not know how to answer all their questions or relieve all their fears. I spoke into their lives anyway. I did not know how to educate them. I did it anyway. I did not know how to heal all their wounds or carry away their sorrows. I held them in my arms and prayed to the One Who could.

And now they labor in their own fields. Between the two of them are three little girls who rely on them for love, protection and guidance. It is no small calling. It’s demanding, confusing, and sometimes frustrating beyond all description. Joy and delight are also in the mix, but that’s the easy part. The hard part is in knowing that failure at some points is not an option—it’s a certainty.

Wouldn’t you think—if you were God—that you would place babies in the care of people who actually knew what they were doing? And wouldn’t you--if you were God—place your Son, a/k/a Savior of the World, in the care of professionals? Adults with experience who wouldn’t learn how to parent on the fly, or wouldn’t be practicing on your kid while they figure it all out? Wouldn’t you?

Well, I would. If I were God.

He didn’t.

I’ve been trying to figure out why.

Why does God give the care of innocent, impressionable lives to inexperienced, fledgling adults like us? And how could He take such a risk as to place the infant Messiah in the care of sinners? What is it about becoming parents that changes us?

We don’t learn to be sacrificial until we love someone more than we love our own lives. We may never show our warrior hearts until we’re standing between our children and the enemies who threaten them. And when the time comes to let them go, we’re only able to do it because we’ve already spent years on our knees learning to turn them over to the One Who loves them more than we do.

In the beginning, we don’t know how to do any of these things. The arrival of each miniature monarch demands that we do them anyway. And as we become sacrificial for them, we see the sacrificing heart of God. When life has them backed in a corner and we don’t know how to help, we watch our Warrior God ride in on their storm as we cry out His name. When we look into the nativity and see the only Son of God, we know He already knows what it means to let go of the One He loves.

In the end, it’s all His work—the whole thing. The growing us up along with our kids—He’s the Gardener, cultivating our hearts. When it’s all said and done, He’s the One reproducing Himself in us.

I heard Beth Moore say once that God’s glory is the way He makes Himself recognizable.

It’s a beautiful thing to see. And I’m enjoying the view.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Woobies


Woobies make everything better.

My darling little granddaughter, Juliet, has a woobie. Soft and satiny, it looks like a rabbit—ears and everything—that morphs into a miniature blanket. She can’t sleep without it. It’s her best friend. She lies down without a fight as long as Woobie is in her arms. Sweet comfort in pink velvet, her mom or dad pick her up, hand her the rabbit, and she clutches it to her chest with one hand, simultaneously puts her middle two fingers from the other hand in her mouth, and then cuddles into the curve of her parent’s shoulder. Snuggles and Woobie. Together they make everything right with her little world.

He usually waits for her in the crib. He hardly ever goes missing that way. Juliet’s mommy got a back-up in case of an emergency, but Jules wasn’t born yesterday. She knows her best friend from the “fake woobie”, and won’t be conned by an imposter. The only way her parents can sort of fool her, if necessity or desperation arise, is if her room is totally dark before they try to bring in the understudy. She’s got to be pretty tired, even for that. And chances are the stand in will still be tossed out.

Last fall, Juliet went on her first plane ride and, of course, Woobs did, too. By the end of the trip, the floppy eared guy with a rattle in his head became more important to Jules’ mommy than her ticket and ID. Now she and Juliet’s daddy joke that Woobs is the most valuable possession they own. But after sixteen months as the star in Juliet’s firmament, he’s getting a bit tattered from being dragged all over the place. So what will Juliet’s mommy do when, eventually, Woobs comes undone? “I’ll patch him up as best I can, I guess,” she told me. Of course. When it comes to woobies, there are no substitutes, no stunt doubles. He’s irreplaceable and priceless.

Now that our little angel is up and walking, bumps and bruises are more common. But as long as Woobs is around, there’ll be no broken hearts. After one recent misstep that left Miss Juliet fallen on her pride, her daddy picked her up in his strong arms, handed Woobie to his weeping daughter, and watched the tears dissipate. “Woobies make everything better,” he told me.

I smiled. "Yes, they do," I answered. Then I sighed. I wish I had a woobie.

Monday, December 19, 2011

It's Just Eleven More Miles


“About the time we hit I-40, I’ll be ready for a break. Get some sleep and then you can drive for a while.”

On the road again, we’re traveling the old fashioned way—by car, anti-TSA style. It’s how our pioneer forefathers did it, but we have more horses in our horse power. After a hectic week of preparations, we’re off to spend our first Christmas with our son and daughter-in-law since they had a baby. It’s Kentucky or Bust.

My husband does most of the driving, but I spell him a little so he can nap. I did my part on the first leg this morning and snored all the way to Gallup, New Mexico, where we stopped for gas and bathrooms. Still a little groggy, I bought some caffeine, switched seats with Rob, and we took off.

With Rob snoozing now in the passenger seat, I put in a Christmas CD, nibbled on homemade cookies, and admired the snowy prairie landscape while I drove. It all felt so holiday-ish. Every so often, Rob would slip out of his coma and ask how I was doing, which is partly code for ‘need a restroom?’

“Doin’ fine,” I’d tell him. I didn’t drink all my Pepsi. I’m a big girl—I could hold it. I just knew I could wait til Albuquerque for a pit stop.

I don’t know what happened. One minute I was fine. The next, I felt like a water balloon about to bust. I needed a bathroom now.

Sensing a storm, Rob woke up. “Still doing ok?” he asked, rubbing his eyes and adjusting his seat.

“Yeah, I…I’ll be fine til Albuquerque and then I’ll need a restroom.”

He pulled out the map. “That’ll be in about forty miles,” he said.

Nature nudged my bladder and an exit magically appeared on the horizon. I squinted.

“There’s something over there,” I began, edging toward it like a hound on a hunt. “Maybe I’ll go ahead and stop now.”

“Well, it’s just a plain gas station,” Rob said, “but there’s a big intersection coming up in eleven miles. I think I remember a big travel plaza there.”

He’s almost always right. Ninety-five per cent of the time he’s right, and when we’re driving, his average shoots up another twelve points. So I turned off the blinker and kept driving. He encouraged me as I began shifting in my seat. “It’s only eleven more miles,” he said. My own personal Life Coach.

“Here it comes, exit 126, but . . . um . . .” His average began to falter. “There aren’t any buildings at that exit,” he ended.

“What?!!” I said, swerving a little on the road. “You said exit 114 had a whole bunch of bathrooms. Where are they?”

“Now the sign says exit 140 has the bathrooms. And I never said exit 114 had a bunch of bathrooms.”

“You sure did! Back where that dumpy gas station was you said in eleven miles there’d be a bunch of bathrooms!”

“No, I said there was a big intersection at exit 126, but there aren’t any buildings there. I said that while we were at exit 114.” I ignored my number confusion and cut to the chase.

“So you just assumed there were bathrooms at exit 140 because the map showed a big intersection?”

“Yeah.”

Silence. Silence and pain. Silence and plots of pain. But mostly, silence.

Then came the cheerful chatter. From the guy who never has to go to the bathroom because God gave him a bladder that can hold three cans of Diet Coke and four cups of coffee all at once. He can’t even spell diuretic. I could spell it when I was three.

“Look at that sign over there,” he began and then tried to distract me with reports of wind velocity and antelope descriptions. I didn’t answer him. I was too busy holding my breath so I wouldn’t create any bladder vibrations.

Finally, I looked at him. “Just for the record,” I began, “this faux pas of yours more than makes up for that unfortunate Battle Creek, Michigan, detour I took us on in ’94.” He began to snicker.

“You’ll be fine,” he said, “it’s only eleven more miles.”

As we crested the last hill before exit 140, a distant mirage of buildings refused to evaporate. It was the Promised Land. I edged out two semi’s who, recognizing the look of desperation on the face of the woman in their side view mirrors, stayed in the right lane where they belonged. I blew into the parking lot where there was no available parking, drove to the front door, threw it in "P" and yelled over my shoulder as I ran inside, “You’re in charge here!” A few minutes later I was a new woman, celebrating life, liberty and my new-found happiness. I walked outside without a care in the world, hiked across the parking lot towards our Tahoe, and gave a friendly knock on the locked door to . . . no one. There I stood in 45 degree weather without a coat or key or husband. I lay my forehead against the driver’s window and cursed the Pepsi-Cola company.

A few minutes later, reunited with Rob and with him in the driver’s seat, we got back onto I-40.

“You realize,” I warned, “this is so going on my blog. When I said Kentucky or Bust, I was using it figuratively!”

He acted like he hadn’t heard a word I said. Just sat there staring straight ahead, looking like he was busy concentrating on speed limits and work zone warnings. But those shaking shoulders gave it away.

It was the best laugh he’s had in a month.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Icing on the Cake


“YaYa, do you remember when you and I went to the dog park?” My three-year-old granddaughter, Allie, and I were headed home from a shopping spree at Target when she charmed me with her question.

“Yes, I do!” I replied.

“Do you remember when you and I saw a big parade?” she followed up.

“Yes, I do!” I answer, delighted that we’re making memories she’s old enough now to remember.

Why do you remember?” she asked me. At three and a half, she’s spent the last year adding the question, “why?”, to every other question, like icing on a piece of cake. But I’ve figured out how to get around it. I turn the “why?” question back to her. So that’s what I did today.

“Why do YOU remember those things, Allie?” I asked, feeling a little sneaky, and kind of proud of myself.

“Because I love going places with you, YaYa,” she answered.

And she won the question and answer game. I was washed out by tears.

Three-year-olds don’t play fair.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Airing My Dirty Laundry

I hate doing laundry. It’s just so . . . needy. It annoys my inner soul. It annoys my outer soul, too—the part that hates being naked and forces me to sort and separate. Bah, humbug.

When I was a newlywed, I had a friend who sent all of her laundry out. I know! Who deserves that kind of luxury? Plus, I thought they only do that in Singapore or New York City or something. She didn’t sort anything—just piled it into giant bags, handed it off to a driver who magically appeared at her front door once a week, and the next day they brought it all back, clean and hung up. That woman was my hero. She had her priorities straight—life is too short to waste time folding underwear.

I, on the other hand, had devised an entirely different way of handling weekly washing. Since I didn’t have a dryer, all our clothes hung outside on a clothesline under giant oak trees. Where they stayed indefinitely. It looked like a garage sale in our backyard. Whenever we needed something to wear, we went outside, searched along the clothesline and brought in that day’s outfit. (I’m pretty sure even Jeff Foxworthy would drop his dentures at THAT redneck confession. I’m so embarrassed.) Then I set up the ironing board and my husband did the pressing. Did I mention I also hate ironing? Well, it was (and still is) an act of self-protection on his part—he thinks it’s tacky to wear uniform shirts embossed with the brown outline of a sole plate.

In my own defense, we lived in sunny Florida at the time, so all those laundered clothes smelled sweet and fresh from hanging out in the sanitizing sunlight for days at a time . . . which lightened their color somewhat . . . and provided creature comfort for tiny life forms. Hmm. I guess that didn’t do much to rationalize anything. To my horror, twice Rob and I were awakened in the night by the sensation of tiny feet crawling on our sensitive skin. That’ll jolt you out of a deep sleep. The first time it happened, I instinctively grabbed my assailant and threw what turned out to be a giant palmetto bug (known in these southwestern parts as a sewer roach) across the bed where it landed feet first on the bare back of my comatose husband. Wow. I didn’t know firemen could jump that far.

Two weeks later, I flung a two-inch centipede from my neck in a move that should have earned me a brown belt in ka-ra-te. My sensei would have been proud. Rob was just grateful I missed his innocent body that time. Honestly, I think the clothesline should have been located far away from the oak trees—to discourage hitchhikers—and closer to the house, making it easier to bring in petrified laundry.

I’m happy to tell you, though, that since I joined a twelve step program for sudsaphobes, I actually have clothing hanging in my closet. It’s not generally the stuff I need on a daily basis—those items are hanging in our laundry room—but winter coats, outdated shirts and formal wear definitely give the illusion of a proper closet. The other night I told my husband he didn’t need to go down the hall to locate his socks because I moved the clothes baskets into the living room in case one of us wanted to practice folding. Now he can conveniently search for his shorts while he watches Monday night football.

Hey, at least they’re not hanging outside under a tree.



(Photo courtesy of nick see's photostream at Flickr.com)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicksee/4975593085/

Friday, December 9, 2011

Remote Control Hell


I’m in remote control hell.

Remember the good old days—when only toy airplanes had remotes? Now everything except the microwave comes with one, each with a minimum of fifty-seven buttons on them. As far as I’m concerned, most of those buttons are nothing more than wasted plastic which should be reported as a crime against humanity. They only exist to drive me crazy.

When I was a kid, I WAS the remote control. Anytime my dad wanted to channel boogyboard—come on, you can’t call it surfing when there are only three stations—I was the one who got up off the sofa and changed the program. I turned the knob. On the TV set. With my own hands. Watching TV used to be aerobic—for kids.

Sounds downright primitive, doesn’t it?

The sad truth today is I don’t even know where the power button IS on our TV set. Is there one? And if I ever get snowed in out here in the desert—okay, fine, if I ever get DUSTED in out here by a haboob—and run out of batteries, I’ll be stuck with a 55 inch TV and one network. ‘Cause our TV is so beautiful, it didn’t come with channel changing buttons lest we diminish its aesthetics. Which leads me to the real definition of a haboob—he who relies on electronics to run electronics.

I had to buy a special box to corral all the remotes it takes to run our house—it’s the size of a suitcase. There’s a remote for each of our three TV’s, the DVR, the two DVD players, the VHS (stop laughing), and the sound system—which is ironic because none of these devices talk to each other. There’s a remote for the ipod base, our CD player, our floor fan, my digital photo frame and our overhead light. Some people’s homes even have remotes to open and close the drapes, but I think that’s just being lazy.

Last night when my husband came home from work, he scared me by walking into the house through the front door. “Why’d you come in THAT way?” I asked with concern. He started to reply, “Because I live here,” but thought better of it. “Because the batteries died on the garage door remote,” he answered instead. I think if we staged a revolt and threw all the remotes in the trash, our whole house would deflate like one of those giant vinyl Santa’s lying face down on my neighbor’s lawn. I’m telling you, it’s a conspiracy by Duracell to take over the world.

This month we bought a new television. That changed the rules of the game completely. Our old Sony TV—the 50 inch son-of-a-gun that cost us two thousand dollars five years ago—wearied of my ineptness and went postal on us. The whole TV screen turned a pukey shade of green and couldn’t be repaired, thanks to a design flaw Sony refused to admit to until a class action lawsuit changed their minds. As one of their victims, they offered us a three hundred dollar discount if we’d spend another seven hundred on a replacement set they were trying to clear out of their warehouse in Taiwan. We politely declined in sign language.

Which forced us to take a risk on another foreign manufacturer’s version. And now I have to re-write my house/dog sitter’s book on how to survive when she stays here. Particularly how to use the, count them, THREE remotes it takes to turn on the TV and all its appendages so she can watch “Twilight, The Series”. You laugh, but with all these remotes lying around, her very survival depends on my brilliant novella. Of course, she’s nineteen and has probably been writing user manuals since she was three. I should have asked her to give ME a demo.

The other night, after pushing every conceivable button on the TV remote, I still couldn’t get Wheel of Fortune to look right. I hollered into the kitchen for some husbandly advice.

“Honey,” I whined, “you made the TV screen bigger and now Vanna looks fat. How do I make it normal again instead of freakish?”

Big sigh from the kitchen.

“Just push the menu button,” he responded.

“Which one is the menu button?” I asked.

“It’s the little gray one next to the miniscule dot marked THI.”

I squinted at the black remote with the black buttons.

“I pushed that one. Now there’s a tiny box in the upper corner of the screen and no sound.”

“Then you pushed the HTI button. That one’s next to the one you want.”

“Which one do I want again?”

I swear he aimed a remote at me and pushed something. I haven’t been able to talk for a week.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I'm Dreaming Of A White Christmas


It doesn’t snow here. Not the sticking, piling-up-on-the-ground kind, anyway.  Every couple of years a few flakes will escape a cloud en route to Flagstaff and settle on top of a saguaro for photographers to ogle. It happened this morning in Scottsdale. But it doesn’t snow at my house.  The last time there was official measurable snow in Phoenix was 1937.  I can dream of a white Christmas all I want to, but a dream is all it will be as long as I hang my stocking in a house in the desert. 
I do my best to get in the Christmas spirit, though. I love to sit in my chair, snuggled under my Wal-Mart quilt while I drink a cup of hot decaf, and watch the LED lights on our pre-lit artificial tree. Thanks to Pandora, the sounds of George Winston’s “December” float up easily from my laptop and set the mood while I watch a DVD of a crackling fire on my HD television.
Ah, Xmas.  I can fashion quite a holiday atmosphere when I get all my props in place.  But one thing always eludes me.  It doesn’t snow here. If only it would.  I’d never get out of that comfy, cozy chair.
Where did I get the idea that snowlessness diminishes my Christmas, though?  I did a quick search of Christmas carols and realized only Irving Berlin’s grammy winner sets that bar so high.
Don’t you hate to question beautiful little unrealistic ideas of how things are supposed to be?  And questioning traditions is sacrilege! I mean, that’s why we call them traditions—because they’re . . . traditional.
My daughter asked me last month which part of the Thanksgiving meal was the most important to me.  She and her family wanted to change up the menu a little—maybe grill some burgers. “Well, to me, the turkey and gravy are essential,” I told her, “and I love chestnut stuffing, with mashed potatoes on the side.  And your dad has to have homemade cranberry sauce.  But that’s about it. Maybe some pie for dessert.”   Change Thanksgiving?  What was she thinking?? The next day I heard that our Pilgrim ancestors didn’t dine on turkey at all for their first American feast.  Figures. I bet they grilled hamburgers.
I remember how disillusioned I felt when I found out December 25th isn’t the actual date on Jesus’ birth certificate. Turns out he was probably born in summer or fall.  See, that’s when shepherds are out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night—when it’s warm.  It snows in Bethlehem in December; but even with all that white wooly fluff for insulation, smart little sheep don’t bed down at night in snow drifts. Even Jesus didn’t have a white Christmas.
So what is it that my heart is really looking for while I pursue traditions?  Contentment? Security? Peace?  If I can’t have a real tree anymore because we’re allergic to them and they’re a fire hazard anyway, is that a deal breaker?  If the kids grow up and move away and have their own lives and no little voices wake us up at five a.m. to see what Santa brought, will that throw me into a depression?  If the economy is bad and the Grinch does steal all the decorations and presents, can he steal the song in my heart, too? 
If I never live where it snows, can I still enjoy Christmas? What am I REALLY dreaming of, if a snowy Christmas morning isn’t the panacea I’ve always believed it to be?
I’ve watched so many Hallmark movies, I think I’ve been blinded by the tinsel.
Far away from all the wrapping paper and decorations and exhaustion, a baby sleeps while angels celebrate and shepherds stare at Hope disguised in swaddling clothes. A teenage girl recuperates from childbirth and wonders what qualifies her to mother the Son of God. And a world bathed in darkness for thousands of years squints in the first Light since creation.
It’s time for me to pause.  To let go of unrealistic expectations.  If snow in December was all that great, there’d be no such thing as snowbirds. It’s time to relax, refresh and rejoice in the promise of God’s unconditional love and the Package in which it was wrapped. ‘Tis the season . . . to let go.
I think I just saw a snowflake fall.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Peek-A-Boo


The moon followed me home tonight.

I caught sight of its bright, lopsided smile as soon as I got on the freeway and couldn’t stop staring. It was HUGE! Ginormous, even. But definitely lopsided. I don’t know what you call a two-thirds harvest moon, but that’s what it was.

And it was in a playful mood.

At some point when you’re doing seventy-five on a freeway, you have to stop staring at glowing celestial orbs and pay attention to traffic. Which, apparently, hurt the moon’s little feelings. Because when I glanced up to marvel at its enormousness, it wasn’t there anymore.

How could it just, disappear like that? I mean, the thing was not only the size of a house, it was absolutely neon. I quickly glanced over my shoulder and out the back window. Maybe the freeway curved when I wasn’t paying attention. Nah, that wasn’t it. Or I was driving faster than the speed of light. Yeah, that actually was a possibility. Where the heck did it go?!?

I gave up and went back to the corn maze of thoughts that distracted me from my playmate in the first place. Guess the earth rotates faster than I realized, I thought to myself. Searching the dark night through the windshield, suddenly there it was again. Just a little piece of it this time—an odd glowing wedge peeking out from behind . . . a cloud? No, it was a clear night. What on earth was it hiding behind? How could it possibly play peek-a-boo with me when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky?

It grew a little bit, shrank down, disappeared for a nano-second, reappeared in another mutation of itself. A virtual lava lamp in the sky, it slowly morphed from one bright shape to another, never entirely revealing itself, rising and falling like a roller coaster in slow motion. Finally, I realized who its silent partner was—the Superstition Mountains. So dark was the night as I drove further east into the desert, I couldn’t make out the huge mountain range at all and forgot it was even there. Until the moon began playing hide and seek behind its back and the Superstitions cried out, “ollie ollie oxen free!” in protest.

Chuckling at its own joke and nodding at the stars who twinkled their admiration, the moon stepped out into the open and took a little bow. “See ya later,” I offered silently. “Thanks for the entertainment!” And I turned south away from its celestial stage. But I was never in control of this chum's antics, and circling the roundabout near my neighborhood, I caught sight of the jocular orb in my peripheral vision the way a child on a carousel sees a smiling parent just before another dizzying turn. “There’s no getting rid of you, I see,” I laughed, enjoying the attention on my lonely drive home.

It was a big moon for this late at night. And the question is: how can something that bright conceal itself in the middle of a cloudless ten o’clock sky? It hides in plain sight. It never moved at all. The mountains conspired playfully with my perspective and only gave away the moon’s hiding place when they tired of the game.

Safe at home, I stepped outside in the backyard with my faithful dog who always waits for me and together we waved good night to the celestial nightlight, now leaning casually against the black backdrop. I know it’s keeping an eye on things.

Playing peek-a-boo with the moon. How wonderful.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To The Unknown Soldier In Walgreens



I was in a hurry. He was in my way. This stop at Walgreens was just another item on a to-do list that I didn’t feel like doing and now, well, there he stood, right in front of the shelf I needed to reach. I waited impatiently for a minute or so, glancing at my watch while he considered his purchase. Finally, my pressing schedule forced me to interrupt his concentration with a barely polite, “Excuse me?” He stepped back as I reached quickly for the buckwheat pillow I’d come to buy.

“Do those really work?” he asked as I turned to go.

I should have made this my last stop, I thought with annoyance.

“They’re not too comfortable at first, but they really support your neck and head,” I replied. “My husband can’t sleep without one now.”

He listened intently, considering my rapid endorsement. I hoped my courteous answer was enough to let me off the hook here. I had three more stores and the post office to hit before I took everything home where I still needed to start dinner and . . .

My checklist was sidelined as I realized he was speaking to me again. I smiled stiffly, tuning back in until he finished so I could leave.

“I was a prisoner of war in World War II,” he was saying. “They gave me a roll of old material for a pillow. It was all I had for three years, and it was hard as a rock.” Here he smiled and ended, “I’m afraid this doesn’t look any more comfortable than that was.” Then he shook his head, turned, and stiffly walked away.

He had cleared the aisle and rounded the corner before I could think of anything to say. And now it was too late. His tall form, now slightly bent, still communicated strength and character. His gait, slow and deliberate, modeled confidence born of hardship. It’s odd how you can tell so much about a person without even knowing their name. But I never asked his name. Didn’t ask to shake his hand. Never even said thank you. And I never saw him again. Speechless and ashamed of my self-centered agenda, I made my purchase and left the store.

It was a moment born of serendipity. And I missed it. I had an opportunity like none before and none since--nearly fourteen years later--to thank a hero. But I didn’t recognize it. Late one sleepless night, about a year afterwards, I journaled the experience in a letter to the editor of our newspaper, hoping the stranger might at least read my belated appreciation for his sacrifices. But I don’t know if he ever saw it. Just like I never saw him until it was too late.

How much I miss when I walk through life with my head down. I wonder how many other wounded warriors walk silently beside me in anonymity. There are more and more of them now, much younger than this gentleman, putting it all on the line so we can retain whatever freedoms are still left to us.

So once again, to the Unknown Soldier in Walgreens as well as to the others who walk in your shadow, thank you. Only you and God know what you have given and suffered to protect us. May God bless you and your families. And despite ignorant hearts like mine, may God continue to protect the safe harbor He made of these United States of America.

We don’t deserve it, but so far, we are still the land of the free because of the brave.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Love Song In The Wind

Wood Wind ChimeI wept in the wind tonight. Lured outside by a distant flash of lightning, I brought my tea and grieving heart and sat outside alone on the patio.

When will my wounded soul mend?” I pleaded through escaping tears . “Will I ever give thanks and see beauty in these scars?” I looked up to the dark sky and silently accused my Creator of tardiness. Abruptly, my thoughts—dark like the evening clouds—were interrupted by lyrical notes. A cool breeze tousled the wind chimes, offering a joyful song composed by the passing storm. My wind-kissed tears dried as I listened to the jubilant harmonies.

Chimes don’t ring on their own. They offer gentle melodies directed by light breezes, but they play a symphony in a storm. My life has broken places only recently recognized that I must grieve before I can go on. But healing will come. And even while I mourned this night, God sang a love song to my heart--echoed by the concerto of the chimes--comforting me.

Encouraged, I spoke into the storm. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities . . .” then stopped, not remembering the rest of the verse. The sky lit up in affirmation. So I continued. “Stand, therefore, (in the armor of God.) And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will mount garrison over your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” The sky illuminated encouragement. I kept speaking truth into the threatening face of the gale. “Peace give I to you. Not as the world gives.” “”Don’t let your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. I’m going to prepare a place for you.”

There’s a place for me. Unique, special, created just for me by the Lover of my soul.

The dark cloud moved off, taking the lightning and thunder with it. The chimes swayed slowly, exhausted and spent, while hope consumed my tears.

I am accepted. Included. Beloved. He rejoices over me with singing.

And plays a love song in the storm.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Class of '71


I went to my first-ever high school reunion last weekend. It was my husband’s. Forty years ago he and The Class of ‘71 graduated high school, never to hear from one another again. Then came Facebook. Social networking arrived, baby boomers took it over, and all those seniors who were going to change the world showed up on the web last year with gray hair and grandkids.

I met some of the crowd Saturday morning for breakfast and a tour of the old high school building. They were a nice group of people and I could see why Rob wanted to connect with them again. We walked the hallowed halls —now in a spooky state of decline—while the nostalgic seniors laughed and reminisced in the shadows of their alma mater. Standing near open, empty lockers covered in the dusty graffiti of generations of students, Rob’s classmates peered at my name tag and tried to place my face. Wish I’d been gutsy enough to make something up and see where it went. Something like, “I’m Rob’s twin sister, Elva, remember me?” After 35 years of marriage, ten of them spent here in his hometown, I know a lot of his childhood stories better than he does. To this day, every time we go down Siesta Drive, I beat Rob to the punch and point out Kenny Hipp’s old house. I’ve never even met Kenny Hipp.

Saturday night was “the dinner.” We walked into the banquet room of a local hotel and I had the sensation of stepping into a time capsule. Or a cliché. I couldn’t help it—as the DJ spun that timeless 70’s hit, “Jeremiah Was A Bullfrog”, I was transported back to the insecurity of my own high school years and immediately began dieting.

Nametags in place, drinks in hand, we quickly absorbed into an American oddity known as The High School Reunion. “Hi, how are you?” became our mantra as we worked our way through the crowded room.

A slender gal with a self-conscious smile and familiar first name entered stage left on the arm of a man who looked like he’d rather be in a dentist chair than this room of strangers.

“Isn’t that your tenth grade crush?” I quipped to my husband, Rob, as I pointed out the attractive woman.

“I don’t know,” he said, squinting. “It could be.”

I knew it was. Sheesh. Maybe I did attend school with him—I spotted her before he did. Then again, that’s a good thing, right?

Settling in at a table away from the blaring music, I began sorting the guests into two categories: alumni and spouses. It was pretty easy to spot the spouses—they all wore the same uncomfortable look on their faces.

Across from me, an abandoned husband sat in gloom, giving short answers to my persistent questions as I looked for some common ground or interesting tidbit to run with. We planned to be here late partying with all the other 50 Somethings—Rob’s parents said to have fun and not to worry about knocking on their door when we got in—so I jumped right in to acting social and making friends.

“You said you have three children?” I asked. “Do you have any grandkids?” It seemed like a safe question.

“No grandchildren,” he replied. “And I don’t want any.”

Guess I won’t be bragging to you about mine then, I thought. Okey, dokee. I grabbed a piece of cake and stuffed my face so I’d quit making small talk. It killed five minutes.

An auburn haired lady on my right sat in silence with a yearbook in front of her. My husband’s yearbooks had long ago been eaten for lunch by termites—sad story—so I asked if I could look through the one she guarded.

“Well,” she answered slowly, “it’s not really mine. It belongs to a dead woman.”

Hmm, I thought to myself, it’ll be pretty hard to ask her permission to look at it.

“But you can read it,” she continued cautiously, “a friend of mine found it at an antique store.” Her eyes widened. “I guess that means we’re all antiques!” she exclaimed, and sobered at her own realization.

This was going to be a long night.

I looked around the room in desperation to locate my husband. Across the crowd we made eye contact. He nodded happily, raised his beer in a cheerful salute and returned to his conversation. I should have brought my knitting, I thought dryly.

With my dessert gone, I began to look for more uncomfortable spouses to interrogate. It was either that or start head banging to the music. A woman with dark hair and an expression to match had taken a seat next to me. She picked at her food while avoiding eye contact with the rest of the table, especially me. But I’m no quitter.

“Hi,” I said boldly. She looked at me in surprise, nodded and turned her attention back to her plate.

I leaned towards her and confided, “I’ve never been to one of these before.” I struck a chord there and she brightened.

“Neither have I,” she replied. “In high school I only had two friends.” Nibbling her sandwich absentmindedly, she turned away to gaze wistfully at the door. I began to gaze wistfully at it, too.

“This is not going well,” I muttered. With no other lonely people to annoy with my unappreciated wit, I made a mental note to take up drinking before the next reunion.

Striking out in the friendship department, I left the table of martyrs to search for the restroom. That killed another five minutes. I looped back into the noisy room full of inebriated laughter, wove my way through clusters of cheerleaders and thespians, and wandered out through the door the dark haired woman was memorizing. I figured three more loops like that and I could eat another piece of cake. In the hotel foyer I picked up a tourist guide with things to do in Sarasota. If I left now, I knew I could get in some shopping at the outlet mall and pick up Rob when the party wound down.

Instead I got that second cake slice and sat down next to the grandchild-less man. He stared, knowing I’d already eaten a piece. I didn’t care anymore. I’d already stopped dieting. As the last bit of icing disappeared from my plate, from out of nowhere a familiar voice whispered in my ear, “Can I get you anything?”

I turned around to face my husband, my own high school sweetheart. The love of my life for the last 37 years, I knew I could count on him to get me anything, anything at all. And at that moment, I knew exactly what I wanted—the very thing that would make this day complete. I’d had dinner. I’d had two desserts. I took a nice walk. I’d visited the facilities. There was only one more thing I still needed.

“Yes. Can you get me a cab?” I begged.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Nature Calls


I should have realized something was amiss by the sneering half glance the woman gave me when I came through the door. Her snicker followed me as I headed back to the ‘corner of doom’. I felt my pulse quicken.

At a tiny gas station in east Texas we stopped for coffee and . . . The Bathroom. Strikes fear into your heart just thinking about it, doesn’t it? I should have listened to my inner coward.

The vacant ladies room door swayed ominously in the breeze, creaking a warning to “Beware.” Cautiously I entered the darkened hovel and peered into the . . . fragrant . . . abyss. Oh, Lord, I thought, so this is what a weapon of mass destruction looks like.

With my elbow I flipped on the light switch and a turbo charged engine roared to life in the tiny room. It was the hand dryer on the wall. Defensively, I smacked the wall and flipped the light off. The blower noise stopped. I rubbed my throbbing ears. Weird. Maybe it was just a short in the circuitry. I flipped the switch back on and was rewarded by 100 decibels of deafening machinery. I shut the light off again, stood with legs crossed in the silent darkness and considered my options. I could pee in the blackness or drive a hundred miles to the next dump on Interstate 10. I chose option three: recite ten Hail Mary’s and take my chances with the dying dryer. I closed the door and turned the lock with my knuckles.

“Well,” I thought as I sat down, “at least no one will try to walk in on me with the sound of that racket.” I hurried anyway. I glanced around the room, thinking my mother was right: you can get disfiguring diseases from a public restroom. Who knows when the Health Department stopped in last—they’re probably afraid to come here, too. Flushing the handle with a piece of toilet paper, I vowed not to have any more water or Coke for the rest of the trip. It’s dangerous to drink and drive, anyway. It leads to bathroom stops.

I turned on the faucet, pumped out some soap and lathered up like a surgeon. Rinsing the suds off, I ignored the running faucet—I wasn’t about to touch that thing now—and put my dripping hands under the dryer which had stopped blowing after I sat down. Hmm, so it comes on with the light switch and shuts off at the toilet. Now it wouldn’t come on at all. I moved my magic hands around it with wizard-like flourishes, hoping for a motion sensor. Nothing. I turned the light switch off and back on. Still nothing. My pants were buttoned and I was decent, so I opened the door, and the jet engine sprang to life. Figures.

Hands finally dry, I grabbed another wad of toilet paper and turned off the faucet, shut the light off with my other elbow, and headed outside to the safety of my sanitary truck.

“Have a nice da-a-ay,” the cashier said with a smirk. Smart aleck. She knew I’d need antibiotics soon.

I broke my temperance vow as soon as I got back in the truck. What can I say? I’m a sucker for iced coffee. And, true to form, thirty miles later I was begging God again for any little port-a-potty on the side of the road. Talk about a short memory. There’d been a sign four miles outside town advertising Dauna’s Grocery Store, and my eyes lit up until my husband said, “She can’t even spell ‘Donna’—what makes you think she can keep the bathroom clean?”

I knew he was right. I couldn’t risk it. We stopped instead at the town’s token gas station where it wasn’t hard to find the facilities. The door had a huge “Hunters Welcome” sign on it, with another sign reading “Unisex Restroom” above that. Awesome. I could hardly wait.

I should have waited. It covered all the bases worthy of being named ‘unisex’. A baby changing table on one wall, a urinal next to the unisex commode, and toilet paper dangling down to the dirty floor which was covered with—oh, you don’t want to know—next to the sink with the chipped concrete counter. A fly paraded on the toilet seat—two eyes focused on the dirty spray bottle of disinfectant on the tank’s lid, the other three watched me. I covered every possible surface with the abundant toilet paper and thanked God for small favors. Then, holding the handle with a wad of Charmin, I flushed the toilet, skipped the gummed up soap dispenser and the crusty faucet handles, and unlocked the door with more toilet paper. I pulled open the door handle with a final piece of toilet paper, making a mental note to advise the cashier that they were now out of toilet paper. I figured he wouldn’t care much. He was a man. I headed straight to the truck for a bottle of Purell in the glove box. God bless whoever invented that stuff.

A quarter of the mile down the road we passed Dauna’s cute, tidy little grocery store, and I glared at my husband who hadn’t needed to use the Hunter’s Haven of Horror.

“Look at that!” I exclaimed to Rob. “It’s a big country store with fresh jams and fruit. And the sign says Clean Restrooms!” Then I gave him ‘the look’.

“So did the last one,” he said dryly. “A great big one on the front window.”

“What?!!” I rolled down the window and let out the fly who’d followed me out to the car.

“Get out, you hitchhiker!” I yelled at it, and quickly rolled the window back up. It was Rob who snickered this time.

“You know,” I began, ignoring his dubious sense of humor while I bathed in hand sanitizer, “you and I could write a book warning people about all the crummy places where they should never stop when nature calls. I bet it’d be a best seller and we’d make enough money to retire.”

“Yeah!” he exclaimed, excited about the possibility of retiring on dirty money. “And we could call it “The Don’t Make The List Book!”

I think we might do it. It’s my gift to all the weary women travelers on America’s highways. And if it doesn’t work—if they won’t buy my book and save themselves while there’s still time—I’m gonna put up a roadside stand and sell toilet paper and Purell instead.

'Cuz, trust me, they’re gonna need it.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reality Shows


I am heartbroken. Disillusioned. Unenamored. Discombobulated.

My ventures in blogging have led me to a terrible discovery. I read it on someone else’s blog, but I knew it couldn’t be true. It had to be a vicious rumor. Probably came straight out of The National Enquirer, and now she was capitalizing on a sensational accusation. How can you trust an anonymous writer on the Internet, anyway? There’s no accountability leading to no credibility which, of course, always leads to instability.

So I decided to google it.

Ohmigosh. It’s true.

My very favorite go-to show, ‘House Hunters’, is lying to us. Those picky home buyers never choose between the three places they walk through. In order to be chosen for an HGTV episode, an applicant must already have a contract on an existing home. Then they re-create the house hunting process with two additional homes that will never really be considered, and Ta-Da! We’re all sucked in to a fake reality show.

I am destroyed. Undone. Inconsolable. I bet those aren’t even real people they’re filming.

Now I’m suspicious of every other live or filmed-live tv show on my set. For example, I no longer trust anything on 'The Tonight Show'. While the band played on (or did they?) in last night’s intro, dozens of people hiding offstage in the darkened Stage Right and Stage Left suddenly rushed together onto the floor—like the Red Sea after the Israelites crossed—converging at once on Jay Leno, who stood expecting them as though he himself were Moses.

You can fool me once. You can fool me twice. But . . . well, I forget how that one goes. Here’s the deal. My keen intellect focused in immediately on what was really going on there. Those aren’t studio guests. They didn’t stand in line for hours hoping to become part of the studio audience. Jay doesn’t keep Purell wipes in his pants pockets so he can eradicate germs from his hands after he greets strangers. I figured it out—those aren’t visitors at all. Those are his neighbors, cousins, nieces and nephews, his tax consultant and his dentist! Paid fans! Each of them with their own dressing room and wardrobe staff and wigs and fake moustache collections.

Oh. Now I get it. They weren’t trying to shake his hand. They were reaching for their paychecks.

“That one was probably his mother!” I proclaimed to my husband who had closed his eyes during my tirade, pretending to be asleep.

I knew he wasn’t really sleeping. Reality doesn’t exist in my house either.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ostriches

God knows I prefer to stick my head in the sand. The last thing I want to do is put my name out there for someone to attack. I hate confrontation. I can barely get through “devil’s advocate” debates without dissolving into tears. If I could just be passionate without being dramatic, confident without being emotional. I believe I am being rational, though I worry that others will accuse me of saying the sky is falling. But I think the sky IS falling. The protective bubble of human rights, individual rights and constitutional rights is about to burst like the vaporous canopy that once covered the earth God created. Every culture on earth has a great flood story. The canopy above collapsed, the ground broke apart and it took a year before the waters receded.

Floods destroy.

I’m not just a hormonal, menopausal woman looking for a purpose in life who has decided to take on the TSA for a hobby. I’m a sensitive adult who couldn’t even watch a YouTube video last month showing a six-year-old being patted down in an airport. My God. What has happened to parental rights? Who will protect the children? More than that, who will console and counsel them after the trauma?

We need heroes.

Where are the men who will protect their women and children? I heard a phrase used during “The Undefeated”, a documentary about the way Sarah Palin was ripped apart by the media and politicians when she ran with John McCain in his candidacy. Everyone stood back and let her take the hits. The men who could and should have stepped up to defend her but did not were called ‘eunuchs’. Pathetic.

Long live Ignorance. So long, Chivalry.

Hang in there, Freedom. A Hero may show up yet.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tornadoes


I want to see a tornado. Not up close and personal. More like, distant and anonymous. The last thing I want to do is tick off a maniacal funnel of blustery wind and have it chase me down. I’m already on the run from a few people like that.

No, I want to get in a truck with my darlin’ (cuz he’s not afraid of much of anything) and drive due – whatever – towards some big black cloud in the distance, as long as it’s spewing hail and rain and lightning and thunder. You know, like the one Dorothy enjoyed.

My closest friends can’t believe it when I tell them I want to see a twister. “You?!” they say incredulously. “You’re afraid of being afraid! Why would you want to run after something that could tear you to pieces? On purpose?!” Well, I don’t WANT it to tear me to pieces. I just want it to pose nicely while I take its picture.

I don’t know WHY. Maybe chasing a tornado is my version of thrill seeking. It’s not like I want to bungee jump or anything. You could die of a stroke doing that. And I don’t want to see a tornado destroy lives or property. I just want to see one drop down out of a distant lightening-lit cloud, spin around threateningly in the middle of nowhere, and then close up shop and go home. You know, a little floor show with gusto.

It’s inevitable that my passion for rain would come to this. You can’t adore the wet stuff as much as I do while living for thirty years in the desert like I have and not have something snap. Look what happened to poor Moses. He ended up leading three million people into a raging river after spending that much time staring at cactus. Dehydration can do funny things to you.

Maybe if I get to see a tornado in person I’ll get over wanting to see one ever again. It would be a kind of shock therapy for the naive. And, I’d like to point out, it’s not my fault that I have this obsession. If TNT would quit showing “Twister” once a week while I’m channel surfing and play “The Sound of Music” instead, I might decide that singing while running away from blood-thirsty Nazis is a lot more fun than running towards a cyclone. Probably not, but maybe.

My sister took up scuba diving for fun once. She wanted to stare deadly ocean animals in the face while she invaded their natural habitat. Nobody called HER crazy. They all admired her love of the outdoors. Later she strapped herself to a stranger who hurled her out of an airplane at 13,000 feet so she could feel the wind in her face. She bought the video tape and the whole family applauded when they watched it. “You’re so courageous!” they gushed. My husband has spent thirty-five years bringing home a regular paycheck because he crawls into blazing infernos armed only with a combustible oxygen tank and a water hose. Everyone calls him a hero.

So the least people can do is admire my fascination with deviant weather anomalies and tell me to take an umbrella. It worked for Mary Poppins. And she’s practically perfect in every way.

A Snake In The Chapel

There was a snake in the chapel today—way up high, wrapped around one of the ceiling rafters. Perfectly camouflaged by the dark beam, it was hard to see him at first. I couldn’t tell from where I cowered in the corner if he was a venomous viper, but I didn’t really care. The point is, snakes don’t belong in chapels.

Most of us staring up at the trespasser were frightened to see him in attendance. Our first thought was that someone should get him down—not us, of course, but someone. Now. Before he slithered out of sight and re-appeared under a pew. Holy gatecrashers, Batman. Can you imagine the chaos if he tried to cozy up around the organist’s feet?

A couple of men stood directly beneath the interloper, scratching their chins and discussing strategic modes of attack. The snake yawned, bored, rearranged his head under his viper pit—and went to sleep.

He was a silent intruder. A mute disrupter. A secret spectator. But his presence did what serpents always do--it distracted us. Nobody could concentrate on worship with a coiled snake balanced overhead. We focused on our fear and how to get rid of it—and the snake, too.

Maybe what we should have done was just sit down –a couple of rows back from the “drop zone”, of course—and enter in to the holy of holies as planned. Why worry about the reptile overhead aiming for your coiffeur like a skydiver at a state fair? It’s not like he could land on his feet, anyway. And quit calculating the trigonometry you’d need to scale the summit of an eighteen-foot ceiling using a six-foot ladder.
The snake would be the least of your problems if the theory of gravity wins out over your Pythagorean theorem.

Okay, so I wasn’t one of the mighty men bent on removing the charlatan from God’s sanctuary. When it comes to spiritual warfare, I’m the one with flat feet and poor eyesight begging to be excused from hand to hand combat. Or in this case, hand to . . . vertebrae. Eewww. My husband, my hero, tried to see if he could knock the reptile down with one or two well-aimed, smooth stones. I just hoped his catch was as good as his aim.

We stood around in that chapel for a good forty-five minutes and never figured out what to do about the snake. No one had a ladder big enough. There weren’t any smooth stones lying around. The best we could do was take a picture of the crazy thing sleeping in the shadows overhead. It did absolutely nothing but show up, and our focus was destroyed. We gave our full attention to the disturbing creation instead of its Creator and left the chapel the same way we came in: frustrated, confused and a little defeated.

We haven’t changed much, have we? I think this is the same conflict that threw the whole human race into a tailspin in the first place.

Picture this: a snake shows up in Eve’s kitchen, acting like he belongs there, promising to improve her menu options, and the next thing you know, we’re all eating leftovers out of a dumpster. Why? Because she hadn’t been through Spiritual Warfare 101 and never learned how to tell a snake where to go? Or maybe it was Adam’s fault. After all, he had the throwing arm but didn’t pick up any rocks. Never mind the biggest question of all - snakes could talk? The bottom line is this: the only threat to their peace was the lie the serpent fed them. And they swallowed it - hook, line and sinker. Just like we all do.

It’s all about what we believe. Did you know the word ‘lie’ is hidden in the word ‘believe’? I just noticed that. Hidden lies. Interesting. We can believe truth or we can believe lies. We’re faced with both in every situation. And whether or not I pick up five smooth stones to exterminate the enemy when he tries to intimidate me, or choose instead to huddle with the rest of the frightened army, my response to the challenge begins with what I believe about God.

I can recoil from peace, let vain imaginations control me, and slink off in defeat, leaving the visitor overhead wondering if it was something he said. Or I can stand in God’s presence with soldiers at my side and snakes in the rafters, thanking God that He created them all and is bigger than they are.

I want to stand in the shadow of the Almighty and believe He stands between me and every assault on my peace. He said He’s for me. I believe He means it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Doggie Dance

My husband used to drive an old Toyota shortbed landcruiser. It was 'A Man’s Truck’. It had no air conditioning, no power steering or automatic transmission, and hardly any brakes. Rob loved that truck. I didn’t mind riding in it, but I hated to drive it. On this particular day, though, I had no choice. I’d signed up our mis-named dog, Harmony, for some training, so she’d quit knocking our kids down every time they went outside. And we could only restrain her in Rob’s truck.

Now, I need you to understand—we homeschooled our kids through high school. They both went to college. They graduated with honors. Our son has a master’s degree. But our dog couldn’t even make it through obedience school. She flunked out the first hour and I went home with scars on my face!

Rob couldn’t go with me to the first lesson because he was teaching a class in Chandler. He left the landcruiser for me to drive, but neither one of us remembered I’d also need the key. So I took the kids to a friend’s house who loaned me her car, then I raced over to where Rob was teaching, got the key, raced back to my friend’s home where I returned her car along with the broken pieces of her sideview mirror . . .sigh. Don’t ask. I loaded the kids in the truck, got the dog chained up inside, and then we all did the braking/lurching/driving thing all the way to Tempe where I left the kids with another friend, and then Harmony and I made it to the park in Mesa with about ten minutes to spare.

I parked, went around to the back of the landcruiser, and lifted up the rear window so I could unchain and release the hound . . . but she jumped out before I could do that. There she was, hanging out the rear window by her neck! She looked like some kind of horrifying Tim Burton Christmas tree ornament.

I finally got her loose, and then Harmony took the lead . . . literally. She drug me all over that park, running circles around my legs and between my feet, tripping me in front of God and everybody. They all knew. We were doggie trash.

All of a sudden I realized that the lead had gone slack in my hands. Because Harmony’s tiny little head—inspired by her tiny little brain—had pulled completely out of the collar, and now, she, Who Knew Not Her Name, was a free agent. Run amuck. Through the whole park.

So there I went, running after her, yelling, waving the collar wildly in the air and hoping she’d just . . . keep going! But somebody caught her. Now I had to put the collar back on her. Once again she and I did the Canine Two-Step all the way back to the starting gate, where the instructor had witnessed the entire floor show.

She walked over to me and said in a surly, patronizing sort of way, “Ya know, if you put the choke collar on her, you’ll have more control.” Right. I hadn’t had control since I brought this dog home from the pound. I gave it to her and asked her to put it in the dog, but she said I’d bought the wrong size and I’d have to “go over there and buy a new one.”

Well, that was impossible. There was no way I could hang on to this lunatic dog with one hand while I wrote a check for a new collar at the same time. I knew when I was licked. I decided to just go home. I would come back next week . . . with Rob.

One more time, we did the Doggie Dance all the way back to the landcruiser where I lifted up the rear window again and reached down to pick up my forty-five pound wonder dog who knew how to jump OUT of a truck but NOT INTO one!! I got her up almost shoulder-high when she wiggled in my arms and bumped the truck, which caused the window to fall—full force—onto the bridge of my nose.

The pain was blinding. I didn’t even know what happened! But I was pretty sure . . . it was the dog’s fault. And I wished with all my heart that she’d hung herself when we arrived. I still held her, but now, she seemed light as a feather, and THIS time I had NO TROUBLE getting her into the back of the landcruiser!

I went around to the front seat where I found a filthy Kleenex inside the man’s truck. Mopping the blood on my face with it, I went back to the registration table to ask for a refund. It didn’t take a lot of convincing for them to give me my money back. I just told them what happened.

“The dog! . . . and . . .the collar . . was too . . and then the WINDOW! . . . on my nose!” They practically threw the money at me—I think I made ten bucks on the deal.

I took Harmony home, and then I drove back to where Rob was still teaching. You see, my husband is a paramedic. My Knight In Shining Armor. And I knew, he would take one look at his battered bride, drop everything he was doing, and rush me to the emergency room where they would prep me for surgery.I went up the stairs and knocked on his door . . . again. He came outside this time, took one look at me and exclaimed, “What happened?!!”

He thought I got beat up in the parking lot. So I explained. . . clearly. . . Laura Petrie style.

“The dog! . . . and the collar . . was . . . too . . and then the WINDOW! . . . on my nose!”

You know. I really think it was just too much information for him. He threw an arm around my shoulders, gave me a quick brotherly hug, and said,

“Well, honey, I don’t think it’s broken. And uh, look, I’ve gotta finish teaching this class. Tell you what, why don’t you, go home and, uh, put a bandaid on it! You’re gonna be fine.”

And . . . he disappeared inside the building.

You know, the last time my husband showed that level of . . . concern . . . I was in labor with our first child, and just as I reached transition, Rob looked at me the way only a young, inexperienced husband can, and said, “I don’t think you have a very high threshold of pain!”

They always say you’ll forget the physical sensations of childbirth. But I’m sorry to report—that may be the only thing women ever forget.

Well, the next morning I had two beautiful black eyes and an attractive butterfly bandage on my nose—which was NOT broken—courtesy of my nurse friend when I picked up the kids. Rob did finish teaching his class that night, but later . . . he realized he may have missed an opportunity when I showed up the second time. After all, I was a real patient with a real injury.

And he was teaching a first aid class . . . on bandaging.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Secret of Being Old


I guess it was bound to happen. I’ve been dodging this bullet for a while, walking around with my fingers in my ears while I sing that catchy tune, “la la la la la! I can’t hear you!”

I just found out I’m old. I know, right?! Can you believe that? You should have seen me drop my bifocals when I heard it.

I can’t understand how the secret got out. After all, I spend an awful lot of my husband’s hard earned cash camouflaging whatever terrifying color is hiding under these jazzy red curls just so people will have to ask themselves, “Does she or doesn’t she . . . have an updated will?”

It’s not like I don’t try to take care of myself. I had my second ever facial yesterday and the aesthetician (who looks my daughter’s age . . . hmm) never once called any of my freckles “age spots.” She may have mentioned that “as we grow older” we need more hydrating, but I thought she was recommending the bottled water I got from the cute staff of teenagers at the front counter--the kids who called me “honey” and “sweetie” when I checked out. They sure were nice.

And I know it wasn’t any wrinkles that gave it away. One of my buddies moved up a little higher on my best friend list last week when she told me I have a baby face. How could a baby faced woman my age be old? She didn’t have her glasses on when she said it, and I did immediately pick up the lunch tab, but still—I know it’s true. I figured out a while ago that wrinkles don’t show as much if they’re fluffed up with . . . fluff. So I ordered dessert for both of us that day. That poor little skinny thing – she could do with a little more fluffing herself. (You didn’t hear that from me.)

I decided to do a little investigating. And since I’ve recently gone a’bloggin’, I figured I should look for clues in my bio. People can get the wrong idea from the most innocent sounding words, you know.

Grandmother. Okay. Well, I'll admit that certainly sounds old. Actually, I’m known ‘round these parts as YaYa since “grand” anything sounds elderly to me and I refuse to use it to identify myself. Hence, I am NOT known as GrandYaYa. Therefore, I am not old.

Movies I Like
. Yeah, there are some pretty old titles in there. For example, “While You Were Sleeping.” If you’ve never seen it, you might think it’s about that old guy with the long, long beard who fell asleep for a hundred years, and when he woke up everyone else was dead and he was the only person alive, or maybe that’s the original version of Sleeping Beauty?? I don’t mind being called a sleeping beauty, though. I’ve been taking a few more naps lately.

Interests: Starbucks. Hey, lots of young people hang out there with me (see, ‘hang out’ is a cool expression, right? Is ‘cool’ still a cool expression?) Of course, they all call me m’am and hold the door for me and smile patiently when I use phrases like ‘hang out’. Or maybe they’re just snickering because some of my body parts that used to hang in are now . . . hanging out . . . or down . . . hmmm . . .

And there’s a photo on that bio. But it’s kind of a sexy photo in a Well That’s The Best Picture We Can Expect To Get Of You At Your Age kind of way . . . I don’t think it makes me look old. Then again, it is an old picture. I guess if I was being really honest with myself, I’d have to admit it has been a long time since I was a kid. I mean, in dog years, it’s been so long, by now I’d have been dead at least twice. And I’d definitely call a dog who lived twice his expected lifetime “old.”

Ohmigosh, it’s true. I AM old. Poor Rob. He could trade me in for two twenty’s now that I’m past forty, but it’s too late for him, too. He’s not wired for 220. He'd blow a fuse.

The thing is, inside this imposter body there’s a young woman who still feels 29. Which is not actually my chronological age, of course. That would be physically impossible since my son just turned 30 on Sunday. I did have him early, though. Two weeks early. Still, no one is more surprised than me when I walk by a mirror and realize a middle-aged woman is horning in on my reflection. Where did she come from? I love her hair color, though.

I know I’m not alone in this discovery. I hang out with a few old friends who are also being stalked by a mature likeness of themselves. And we’ve come to a surprising conclusion over our Early Bird Specials—growing older ain’t all bad. After all, we’ve earned every hidden gray hair and fat-fluffed wrinkle. We’ve outlived our mothers’ conflicting prophecies. (“Stop sitting so close to that tv or you’ll go blind . . . and eat your carrots so you can see in the dark.”) We’ve survived the birth, the middle, and the empty nest exits of our children. And now we get to enjoy the reward for not following through on our death threats to our kids – grandparenting.

I think the best way to view life’s portrayal of our extensive experience is to take it as a compliment. After all, in the words of an old person who forgot to take credit for them, “Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.”

I know wisdom when I see it. I wasn’t born yesterday, you know.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Through Bleary Eyes - Esther 1 'n 2

It was after midnight one night and sleep just wouldn't come. I thought I'd do a little light reading, and jumped into this Old Testament book about a beautiful, courageous young woman. "Hmm," I thought to myself, "what this inspired book of God needs is a little editing from me!" And look! I'm still alive to post it here—God has a sense of humor, too!



The Book of Esther - through my bleary eyes
Esther 1

It was the party of the century. For six solid months King Xerxes, ruler of 127 provinces from Sudan to India, partied hearty with his royal pseudo friends, complete with an open bar. One night, he ordered his eunuchs to call his wife, Vashti, who had already hostessed the men’s wives, to come and stand in front of all his intoxicated friends so they could admire her beauty. Sounds like he wanted his beer buddies to be jealous of his wife as well as his kingdom. But his drunken demand ticked off Vashti. She refused to come, honoring her personal boundaries, which embarrassed and upset her husband. He asked his wise guys for advice as to her refusal. They said she had disrespected him and there would be no end to the discord that would occur in everybody else’s castle once her women friends heard about it. They advised him to kick her out and let that be a warning to every other woman in the land not to get too big for their britches. Women needed to understand that their husbands were rulers over their households. And by the way, they needed to speak their husbands’ language in their homes. No more Pig Latin, apparently.


Esther 2

After the king sobered up, he reconsidered his rash decision. But it was too late. The laws of the Medes and Persians are made of cement. Vashti was vanquished. Bummer. But not to worry. There are always more fish in the sea. His wise guys suggested he advertise on Craig’s List for virgins who’d like to attend his rose ceremonies. One of the eunuchs, Hegai, would herd, I mean guard, all the virgins in one big hotel, pamper them with facials and mani/pedis, and the king could date them all, narrow down the list, and finally choose one of them to replace his ex. “Sure,” the king said. He was a deep thinker.

Now there was a man named Mordecai, a Jew, who was exiled from Jerusalem and living in Xerxesville. He was guardian to his orphaned cousin, Esther, who was so beautiful, she could easily have been named Miss Persia and gone on to win Miss Universe. He had raised her and thought of her as his own daughter. For some reason, she caught the attention of the king’s toadies, and she was brought, along with a lot of other innocent girls, to stay at Hotel Hegai. She caught the attention of Hegai while she was there, and won the grand prize of special beauty treatments and lots of chocolate, all hand delivered by seven women from the palace. Wow. That’s a lot of chocolate. They even put her up in the hotel’s penthouse. See what good looks can do for a girl?

Mordecai wasn’t far away, though. He kept his ears to the ground every day, checking on Esther while she was having spa treatments at the hotel. He’d told her not to tell anyone that she was a Jew. The MP’s (Medes and Persians) were pretty racially prejudiced at the time . . . oh, yeah, they still are there in present day Iran. It took twelve months of mud packs and Brazilian blowouts before the fair young maidens were considered lovely enough to meet the King up close and personal. By then, they were all another year older, you know. Each girl had a chance for a one night stand with the King. They just had to be smart. They had to know what to take from the hotel with them for their Ken and Barbie Date Night, and the next morning they were chauffeured back to the hotel. Then it was just a lot of hanging around in the hot tub, eating donuts with the other girls, trading stories and hoping they’d get the final flower at the impending rose ceremony.

When it was Esther’s turn to meet Xerxes, she decided not to try to figure out what to bring from the hotel on her own. Instead, she asked the eunuch in charge what he thought she should bring. Pretty smart cookie, there. Stroke the little guy’s pride. All the other girls kicked themselves for not thinking of it first. But they couldn’t hold it against Esther. She was a crowd favorite and was even named Miss Congeniality by a unanimous vote. All this happened in October when the King had been in office for seven years. I’m not sure why that matters, but it’s in the Bible.

Well, the whole thing worked and the King was smitten with Esther. Nobody else even tied for second. He gave her a royal tiara, made her his wife, threw another blowout party for all his friends, and proclaimed the fourth Thursday in October as Queen Esther Day. It might have been the third Friday in October. Whatever. He even had some royal china and paper weights made with both their pictures on it for the tourists.

And they should have just lived happily ever after all of that. I mean, the king sobered up and married the prettiest little Jew girl in the . . . . oh, yeah. That’s what went wrong. He never checked her passport to make sure she was legal. Bummer again. Esther wasn’t trying to skirt the law or be dishonest. She was just listening to her Uncle/Cousin Mordecai’s advice, and he was just trying to keep her pretty head attached to her pretty shoulders until he figured out what to do about that unfortunate nationality of hers.

Well, Uncle Cousin Mordeai had become quite a fixture on the castle grounds. But nobody knew he and the Queen were relatives. He was drinking a Starbucks one afternoon in the Castle Coffee Shop when he overheard a couple of the king’s bellboys griping about only being paid minimum wage or something like that. The two guys got each other so worked up, they decided to take out a contract on the king’s life instead of just contacting their local union like normal, sane people. Mordecai heard their whole amateur plot and he told Queen Esther about it. She told Xerxes and gave the credit to her Uncle Cousin. The King had his CIA agents check it out and sure enough, it was true! Suffice it to say that those two guys were never heard from again. CIA agents don’t mess around. The King even put the whole thing down in his journal. He had a touchy feely side that way.

Through Bleary Eyes - Esther 3 'n 4

Esther 3

Now for some reason, King Xerxes became very fond of a pompous politician named Haman. He created a special position in his legislature just for the guy, and all the other fellas had to bow down anytime he strolled past by order of the King. Which he did a lot. Back and to, back and to, until the rest of Congress got pretty fed up with his arrogance. But Esther’s Uncle Cousin Mordecai refused to bow when Haman walked by. Which annoyed Haman so much he couldn’t sleep at night, what with all that stomach acid and reflux. He was so enraged at this one man who wouldn’t pay any attention to him that he decided to get even. He decided to get MORE than even. He’d discovered that Mordecai was a Jew, which made Haman hate ALL the Jews in Xerxesville. He plotted to have all the resident Jews murdered as revenge for Mordecai’s bad manners. Talk about holding a grudge. Sheesh.

Well, the King and Queen had just celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary with a nice quiet dinner at home with candles and roses and one of those cute violinists strolling around them all night. Meanwhile, Haman was in a habit of making big life decisions based on the roll of some dice, and a few months later, January I think, he played a little game at the craps table. He rolled a seven and a five, added them up, and decided that Fate was telling him December was a good month for the Jews to die.

He was a sneaky little creep, though. He didn’t just come right out and tell the King what he was so ticked off about. He fed the King a story about how there were some religious fanatics living in his city who were leaches on the economy. He told Xerxes it would be politically correct to stop tolerating them and just finish off the whole bunch, once and for all. He even offered a bribe to the King if he’d take him up on the idea. Talk about nerve!

Well, apparently good old Xerxes wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Or else he just wasn’t really listening all that closely to Haman that day. I think he just wanted to get rid of the guy, so he told him to put away his wallet, made Haman a co-signer on executive orders, and went back to watching his ballgame.

You know what happens next. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Haman wasted no time and signed a bazillion executive orders dictating the total demise of every man, woman and child with names ending in Stein or Berg on December 13th, which was probably a Friday. Attackers were given permission to loot the homes of their victims, too, just for a little incentive. It wasn’t going to be a sneak attack – it was made a law under the authority of Haman, the King’s right hand man. In eleven months to the day, Jewish citizens would be extinguished. Then the King and Haman shared a couple of beers, while Mordecai and all the Jews read the order and tried to figure out if it was something they said.


Esther 4

Mordecai’s reaction was as intense as it gets: he ripped his clothes apart in anguish, put on funeral attire, and headed back in tears to the Starbucks where he’d saved the King’s life. That’s gratitude for you, he thought, as he drowned his sorrows in a caramel macchiato. And he wasn’t the only one. Terror and grief seized the heart and mind of every victim destined for the sword. Guns hadn’t been invented yet. It was the worst epidemic of depression the world had ever known.

Esther’s servants told her of Mordecai’s mental condition and his pathetic wardrobe as soon as they saw it. Esther sent him a Sears gift card so he could put on something decent, but he refused the offer. Finally, she sent a trusted friend to ask Mordecai what was bugging him. The news she received was shocking: she learned how much money Haman had tried to bribe her husband with, and saw the actual legal directive signed under Xerxes’ authority to wipe out her very own people. Of course, he didn’t know they were her people – yet. Mordecai sent word through Esther’s agent begging her to use her influence with her husband and save all their lives. Preferably before December 13.

Esther was in quite a pickle. As she dictated to the courier to explain to her Uncle Cousin, absolutely everyone knew that it was a death wish to approach the King while he was watching a ballgame in his Man Cave. You simply couldn’t just saunter in there uninvited. And if you did attempt such a crazy thing, you’d be at his mercy, hoping he’d hold out his golden scepter to you compassionately and not use it to hit you in the head. Besides, the play-offs were going full force. The King hadn’t even seen her to kiss her goodnight in over a month. What Mordecai was asking her to do could end up making her the second ex-Mrs. Xerxes. It was just too dangerous.

Mordecai was a little taken aback by her response, and actually got kind of snippy with her. It was the stress. He sent back word through the poor, tired little messenger that Esther shouldn’t be selfish just because she lived in a big, fancy house. “You can pretend you’re not one of us for a while, ignore our predicament and somehow we will still be rescued. But cowardice is never rewarded, and you and your relatives will eventually suffer for it. Still, on a happier note, who knows, maybe you were promoted to your unlikely position as Queen Of The World for such a time as this.”

She always was a good girl with a sensitive spirit. His words hit her hard. She made up her mind. With privilege comes responsibility. She texted Mordecai back: “You’re right, of course. I need you and the rest of the town to fast on my behalf for the next three days – my friends and I’ll do the same. Then I’ll commit an act of civil disobedience and approach my husband without an invitation. And if I die, I die.” Sensitive girls tend to be a bit dramatic.